The United Nations has blacklisted the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition in Yemen for killing or injuring 683 children, and attacking dozens of schools and hospitals.
The coalition had been briefly added to last year’s blacklist, and then removed by then-UN chief Ban Ki-moon pending review. At the time, Mr Ban accused Saudi Arabia of exerting “unacceptable” undue pressure after sources told Reuters that Riyadh threatened to cut some UN funding. Saudi Arabia denied this.
The Saudi-led military group was involved in 38 verified attacks on schools and hospitals in 2016, the UN said.
This year’s annual report on children in armed conflict also blacklisted the Iran-allied Houthi rebel group, Yemen government forces, pro-government militia and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula for violations against children in 2016. Houthis were responsible for 414 child casualties, it said.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres spoke with Saudi King Salman by phone on Wednesday. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “They had a very positive discussion on issues of mutual interest, including the situation in the Middle East and beyond.”
In an apparent effort to dampen controversy surrounding the report, the blacklist this year is split into two categories. One lists parties that have put in place measures to protect children, which includes the Saudi-led military coalition, and the other includes parties that have not.
Yemen has been devastated by more than two years of civil war in which President Abd-Rabu Mansour Hadi’s government, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, is fighting to drive the Houthis out of cities they seized in 2014 and 2015.
More than 10,000 people have been killed and the conflict has ruined the economy and pushed millions to the brink of famine. The Houthis control much of northern Yemen, including the capital, Sanaa.
UN sanctions monitors reported to the Security Council in January that the Saudi-led coalition had carried out attacks in Yemen that “may amount to war crimes.” Riyadh denies the allegation.
The UN sanctions monitors said at the time that the coalition was made up of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan.
The coalition has received limited US support, including in logistics. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are major recipients of US arms. Saudi Arabia is also a major customer of British defense companies.
“The coalition needs to stop making empty promises to exercise caution, take concrete action to stop these deadly unlawful attacks in Yemen, and allow desperately needed fuel and aid to reach those in need,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
“Until this happens, governments should suspend all Saudi weapons sales,” she said.
The annual children and armed conflict report is produced at the request of the UN Security Council. In 2015 the United Nations left Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas off the blacklist, after they had been included in an earlier draft, but criticized Israel over its 2014 military operations.
Additional reporting by agencies