UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon indicated Tuesday that the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting rebels in Yemen won’t be returned to a U.N. blacklist for violating child rights despite his “very strong concerns” about the protection of children in the war-torn country.
Ban said in June that he temporarily removed the U.S.-backed coalition from the blacklist pending a joint review of cases because its supporters threatened to stop funding many U.N. programs.
The U.N. chief told the Security Council on Tuesday he stands by the report that led to the blacklisting, accusing the coalition of killing and injuring about 1,200 children in 2015.
The secretary-general said he has held talks with Saudi Arabia at the highest level, including with the deputy crown prince and foreign minister, and has received information about measures taken by the coalition “to prevent and end grave violations against children.”
“The forward-looking review continues — and the situation on the ground will be closely monitored,” Ban said. “We will continue our engagement to ensure that concrete measures to protect children are implemented.”
The secretary-general’s use of the phrase “forward-looking” indicated that he is now looking ahead and Saudi Arabia is unlikely to return to the blacklist. That was reinforced by Leila Zerrougui, the U.N. envoy for children and armed conflict, who told reporters: “What happened in the past for me is behind.”
Saudi Arabia’s U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said he is certain his country is off the list for good.
Al-Mouallimi expressed regret at what he called the “lack of accuracy” in some information that led to the blacklisting. He said Saudi Arabia will inform the U.N. as soon as possible about the results of 10 investigations into alleged attacks. He also reiterated an invitation to the U.N. to send experts to Riyadh to discuss the report.
“We will do everything possible from our side to minimize casualties on our part,” he said.
Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch called for the coalition to 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. also verified 101 attacks on schools and hospitals, attributing 48 percent to the coalition.