Charities urge UN to blacklist Saudi Arabia over child killing in Yemen
According to a joint report prepared by Save the Children and Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, the Saudi-led coalition committed “grave violations against children” in a series of 23 attacks on civilian sites, including hospitals and schools, in 2016, the Guardian reported on Thursday.
The campaigners urged the UN to highlight the crimes committed by the Saudi-led alliance, including massive killing and maiming of Yemeni children, in its annual report on child rights violations in conflict, expected to be released in August.
The annual UN report incorporates a blacklist of countries and groups that have committed violations such as killing or maiming children, recruiting children, abduction, sexual violence, or attacking schools or hospitals.
In 2016, Saudi Arabia forced the UN to omit the coalition’s name from the blacklist, after the annual report revealed that the coalition was responsible for 60 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen in 2015. The decision drew criticism from rights groups which accused the UN of succumbing to Riyadh’s political pressure.
According to some statistics, as a result of the Saudi-led war on Yemen, over 4,000 children have been killed or injured, while a further 2.2 million under five are acutely malnourished. Meanwhile, a growing cholera epidemic has also affected over 118,000 children.
In a single Saudi-led airstrike on a market in Mastaba district in February 2016, 25 children were killed. In October, the Saudi warplanes targeted a funeral in the capital city of Sana’a, killing 100 people and wounding 500, with the number of children killed unknown.
Save the Children warned that the UN will set a dangerous precedent for international conflicts if it does not include the Saudi-led coalition on this year’s list.
“If there is no accountability, if groups that are fighting think they can use their political influence – and if they are powerful enough and rich enough, then they can get away with killing and injuring children, or bombing schools and hospitals – it sets a really dangerous precedent not just for Yemen but for conflicts around the world,” said Caroline Anning, senior conflict and humanitarian advocacy adviser at Save the Children.
“[Children] are facing threats from all sides, they have got the threat of airstrikes from above, which are continuous – just in the past few weeks we have seen [bombs] landing on marketplaces where civilians have been killed,” she added.
“Huge numbers of children are on the brink of starvation. The airstrikes have contributed to the collapse of the health system, there are huge numbers of kids who cannot get any healthcare, there is a massive cholera epidemic spreading across the country, millions of children are out of schools,” Anning pointed out.
The charities argue that inclusion of Saudi Arabia on the UN’s blacklist would make it harder for the US and the UK to continue arms exports or diplomatic support for Riyadh.
Last week, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) lost a high-profile case calling for UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia to be stopped over humanitarian concerns about civilian death toll in Yemen, after a high court in London ruled that the arms exports to Riyadh could continue.
“The government may have won a legal victory but the moral case is clear: the Saudi-led coalition is killing children, and Britain is supplying Saudi Arabia with arms,” said George Graham, Save the Children’s director of humanitarian and conflict policy.
Saudi Arabia has been leading a destructive military campaign against Yemen since March 2015 to reinstate former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and crush the Houthi movement.
The campaign has seriously damaged the country’s infrastructure. Local Yemeni sources have put the death toll from the Saudi war at over 12,000, including many women and children.
The conflict has also left more than 17 million people in the country food-insecure, with some 6.8 million of them in need of immediate aid.
The destruction of Yemen’s health sector during the war has made it difficult to deal with the growing cholera epidemic in the country.
The UN has warned that suspected cholera cases across Yemen has surpassed 320,000 while at least 1,740 had lost their lives after being infected.
On July 12, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs Stephen O’Brien blamed Yemen’s cholera crisis on the perpetrators and their foreign supporters of the ongoing war against the impoverished country.
The US and the UK have been the main purveyors of weapons, training and intelligence to Saudis during the course of the unprovoked war, which began in March 2015.