UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations on Tuesday responded to accusations from human rights groups that it caved in to Saudi Arabia by taking the coalition it leads in Yemen off a U.N. blacklist on child rights by insisting that the secretary-general stands by its findings that coalition attacks killed and injured many youngsters in the war-ravaged country last year.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric reiterated that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took the coalition off the list pending a joint review of cases with the Saudis. That decision drew strong protests from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other rights groups who said the coalition belongs on the list for its attacks on children, schools and hospitals.
Amnesty International accused the U.N. of "shameful pandering" to the Saudi-led coalition saying "the credibility of the United Nations is on the line." Human Rights Watch's Philippe Bolopion said Ban's office "hit a new low by capitulating to Saudi Arabia's brazen pressure."
Saudi Arabia's U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi insisted Monday that "the removal is unconditional and irreversible," declaring that a review will determine the U.S.-backed coalition was "wrongly placed on the list" and that casualty figures involving children attributed to the coalition are "wildly exaggerated."
Dujarric sidestepped questions about whether the coalition would be put back on the list if the review upheld the findings in the report.
"We will see what the review is, and then we will adjust the list as needed," Dujarric said.
The U.N. chief's annual report on children and armed conflict released last Thursday said it had verified a total of 1,953 youngsters killed and injured in 2015 — a six-fold increase over 2014. About 60 percent of those casualties were attributed to the coalition, it said.
The U.N. said it also verified 101 attacks on schools and hospitals last year, double the number in 2014, of which 48 percent were attributed to the coalition.
"The facts in the report are what the secretary-general believes is credible, verified information gathered from a number of sources, often collected in very difficult circumstances," Dujarric said. "We stand by ... every fact and figure that is in the report."