UN buckles under Saudi pressure, removes coalition from blacklist

Responding to threats by Saudi Arabia to cut funding to the UN, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon removed the kingdom from a recently-issued blacklist of groups responsible for killing and maiming children. The Saudi-led coalition was listed in the report as being responsible for 60% of the 1,953 child deaths and injuries in Yemen since last year. The decision to include Saudi Arabia was reversed days after the report's publication once officials in the kingdom threatened to sever ties with the UN and cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid money. Humanitarian organizations have strongly criticized the UN for succumbing to Saudi pressure, but Mr. Ban justified the reversal by claiming that he had to “consider the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously if, as was suggested to me, countries would defund many U.N. programs.” He added that “it is unacceptable for member states to exert undue pressure.”

Saudi withdrawal of funds from UN programs would have specifically impacted humanitarian operations in the Palestinian territories, South Sudan, and Syria. While Mr. Ban initially claimed that the decision was temporary, Saudi diplomats to the UN stated that the move was "an irreversible moral victory."

Amnesty International characterized the reversal as “unprecedented” and “unconscionable” while Human Rights Watch stated that, “Allowing governments that commit abuses against children to bully their way off the list makes a mockery of the UN’s children protection efforts.”

Human rights organizations have repeatedly documented abuses by the Saudi coalition in Yemen, such as the targeting of hospitals and schools and indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas, leading to the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of children.