UN chief: Concern Saudi coalition not protecting Yemeni kids

AP News
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Posted: Aug 02, 2016 12:15 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday he still has "very strong concerns" about the protection of children in Yemen and stands by a report that saw the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting rebels being added to a U.N. blacklist for killing and injuring about 1,200 children in 2015.

Ban said in June that he temporarily removed the U.S.-backed coalition from the blacklist for violating child rights pending a joint review of cases because its supporters threatened to stop funding many U.N. programs. He accused some unnamed countries of exerting unacceptable and "undue pressure."

He told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that "the forward-looking review continues — and the situation on the ground will be closely monitored."

Ban's use of the phrase "forward-looking" indicates that the coalition is unlikely to be put back on the blacklist. Saudi Arabia's U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said in June "it is our firm belief that this de-listing is final, irreversible and unconditional."

The secretary-general said he has held talks with Saudi Arabia at the highest level including with the deputy crown prince and foreign minister "to express my serious concerns about the situation on the ground and the devastating impact on children." Since then, he said, he has received information about measures taken by the coalition "to prevent and end grave violations against children."

"I still have very strong concerns about the protection of Yemeni children," he said. "We will continue our engagement to ensure that concrete measures to protect children are implemented."

Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said Tuesday that "the coalition should be returned to the secretary-general's list of shame until it stops its indiscriminate bombardment of Yemen's civilians."

Ban's annual report on children in conflict said the U.N. verified a total of 1,953 youngsters killed and injured in Yemen in 2015 — a six-fold increase compared with 2014 — and it attributed about 60 percent of those casualties to the coalition. 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 secretary-general added in his briefing to the Security Council that five times as many Yemeni children were recruited into fighting in 2015 than in 2014.

Not only in Yemen but in places like Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria, Ban said "children still pay the highest price in wartime ... (and) suffer through a living hell."

Last year, Afghanistan recorded its highest rate of child casualties since 2009 while violations against children in Somalia increased by 50 percent from 2014, and violence against Palestinian and Israeli youngsters continued to take a toll, he said.

"My last report called on Israel to ensure accountability," Ban said. "This remains critical."

He said more than half the world's refugees are "frightened children."

Extremists are sending children on suicide missions, selling them as sex slaves, torturing, detaining and killing them, Ban said, and youngsters are increasingly being arrested and even killed in counter-terrorist operations.

The secretary-general renewed his appeal to all 193 U.N. member states and every party to conflict: "If you want to protect your image, protect children."