01:22 - Source: CNN
Saudi coalition removed from child rights blacklist

Story highlights

U.N. claims Saudi-led coalition is responsible for 60% of child casualties

Amnesty International says U.N. move is "blatant pandering" to Saudis

(CNN) —  

The U.N. has dropped a Saudi-led coalition that is bombing Yemen from a blacklist of groups violating children’s rights in armed conflict, a move that rights groups slammed as “political manipulation” of the international body.

The U.N. report, which each year shames the worst perpetrators, claimed that the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for 60% of the 1,953 children recorded as killed or maimed in the conflict in 2015. Those casualties have risen sixfold since the previous year.

A spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon confirmed that the coalition had been removed from the blacklist, saying it had agreed to a joint review with Saudi officials of the cases and numbers of casualties mentioned in the report.

Human rights organization Amnesty International described the U.N.’s actions as “blatant pandering” to Saudi Arabia that “undermines all of the U.N.’s work to protect children caught up in war.”

​”It is unprecedented for the U.N. to bow to pressure to alter its own published report on children in armed conflict,” said Richard Bennett, head of Amnesty International’s U.N. Office, adding it was “unconscionable” that pressure was brought by one of the states listed in the report.

“This is a stark example of why the U.N. needs to stand up for human rights and its own principles – otherwise it will rapidly become part of the problem rather than the solution.”

Children ‘deserve better’

The spokesperson said that Ban has “stated repeatedly his alarm at the civilian casualties caused by all parties to the fighting in Yemen.” The U.N. chief has invited the coalition to send a team to New York for more detailed discussions, the spokesperson said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch said that “Yemen’s children deserve better.”

“The U.N. Secretary-General’s office hit a new low today by caving in to brazen pressure from Saudi Arabia,” Philippe Bolopion, deputy director for global advocacy said in a statement.

“As the U.N. list of shame gives way to political manipulation, it loses credibility and taints the Secretary-General’s legacy on human rights.”

The Saudi-led coalition – made up of several Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Egypt – began a military campaign in Yemen in March 2015 aimed at preventing Houthi rebels allied to Iran and forces loyal to Yemen’s deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh from taking power.

Yemenis walk past the site of a Saudi-led airstrike that targeted a building in Sanaa on January 25, 2016.
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
Yemenis walk past the site of a Saudi-led airstrike that targeted a building in Sanaa on January 25, 2016.

Saudi backlash

Saudi’s consultative assembly, the Shoura Council, had lashed out at the U.N. for its report, saying it was based on unconfirmed information at a time the U.N. has failed to enforce resolutions against the Houthi coup and forces loyal to in Saleh, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

02:53 - Source: CNN
Houthis call for U.N.-backed peace talks

About 20% of the child casualties in Yemen last year were attributed to the Houthi rebels that the Saudi-led coalition is fighting, the U.N. report said.

Saudi officials could not be immediately contacted by CNN.

The U.N. reports that around 6,000 people, about half of them civilians, have been killed in Yemen since fighting escalated in March 2015. The Saudi-led coalition has come under fire for hitting a hospital in its air strikes, which some rights groups say constitutes a war crime.