An upcoming United Nations report featuring a blacklist of child rights violators is expected to refrain from toughening criticism of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen despite a bus bombing in 2018 that killed scores of children, according to diplomats. UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, is due to release the annual list of shame later in July ahead of a Security Council meeting on children and armed conflicts scheduled for 2 August.
The coalition was put on the UN blacklist in 2016 and later removed after Saudi Arabia reacted furiously, threatening to cut funding to UN programs. To appease Riyadh, the UN split the list into two sections in 2017 and put the coalition on “Section B,” which highlights efforts by the Saudi-led group to avoid killing and maiming children in Yemen.
According to diplomats with knowledge of the report, Guterres has received a draft recommendation from his UN envoy who determined that the coalition should remain on the separate section of the list that recognizes measures taken to avoid targeting children. This recommendation comes after 40 children were killed in August 2018 when their bus was attacked in Saada governorate. The coalition admitted that “mistakes” were made in targeting.
The UN envoy for children and armed conflict, Virgina Gamba, also recommended that the armed forces of Myanmar, Syria and South Sudan be moved to the sub-section of the list to recognize measures that they have taken to protect children, according to the diplomats.
It remains unclear if Guterres will endorse the recommendations of his envoy in his final report, but rights groups expressed dismay.
“Secretary-General Guterres should not mince words when it comes to calling out the perpetrators behind these crimes and must put all violators on a single ‘list of shame’,” said Adrianne Lapar, program director at Watchlist on Children and Conflict, a coalition of NGOs. “As long as Saudi and Emirati-led airstrikes keep killing and maiming children in Yemen, the coalition doesn’t deserve any praise for its empty promises to protect them,” she said.
“In 2018 and into 2019, the Saudi-led coalition continued to carry out well-documented attacks on schools and hospitals, as well as other grave violations against children in Yemen,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director for Human Rights Watch.
The coalition “should not receive undeserved praise through inclusion in section B” of the list of shame, he added.
A spokesperson from Gamba’s office declined to comment, saying the final report had yet to be published.
Gamba reported to the Security Council in April that the number of verified rights violations against children in Yemen was “staggering,” blaming the coalition and the Huthi rebels for the violence. More than 3 000 children have been recruited as child soldiers and at least 7 500 children have been killed or maimed between April 2013 and the end of 2018. The UN has verified 350 attacks against schools and hospitals in Yemen during that period, she said.
The coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to back the internationally-recognized government against the Iran-aligned Huthis, escalating a war that has led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the UN.