By Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, June 6 – The United Nations said on Monday it had removed the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen from a child rights blacklist pending a joint review by the world body and the coalition of the cases of child deaths and injuries.
The U.N. report on children and armed conflict – released last Thursday – said the coalition was responsible for 60 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen last year, killing 510 and wounding 667, and half the attacks on schools and hospitals.
Following a complaint by Saudi Arabia, however, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon agreed to a joint review by the world body and the coalition of the cases cited in the annual report of states and armed groups that violate children’s rights in war.
“Pending the conclusions of the joint review, the secretary-general removes the listing of the coalition in the report’s annex,” Ban’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
But Saudi Arabia’s U.N. ambassador, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, said the removal of the coalition from the blacklist was “irreversible and unconditional.”
“We were wrongly placed on the list,” he told reporters. “We know that this removal is final.”
Mouallimi, who described the removal as a vindication, earlier on Monday said the figures in the U.N. report were “wildly exaggerated” and that “the most up-to-date equipment in precision targeting” is used.
Saudi Arabia had not been consulted prior to the publication of this year’s report, Mouallimi added.
Coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asseri said in a statement sent to Reuters late on Sunday that the U.N. had not based enough of its report on information supplied by the Saudi-backed Yemeni government.
The Saudi-led coalition began a military campaign in Yemen in March last year with the aim of preventing Iran-allied Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemen’s ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh from taking power.
Some 6,000 people, about half of them civilians, have been killed in Yemen since last March, according to the U.N.
The Houthis, Yemen government forces and pro-government militia have been on the U.N. blacklist for at least five years and are considered “persistent perpetrators.” Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula also reappeared on the list.
Last year, 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.
“After giving a similar pass to Israel last year, the U.N. Secretary-General’s office has hit a new low by capitulating to Saudi Arabia’s brazen pressure,” said Philippe Bolopion, deputy director for global advocacy at Human Rights Watch. “Yemen’s children deserve better.”