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Story highlights

Saudi diplomats exerted "massive" pressure on U.N. to be removed from blacklist

Place on list was result of Saudi-led coalition's bombing of Yemen

New York CNN —  

Saudi Arabia and Muslim allies demanded to be removed from a blacklist for killing children in Yemen by applying huge pressure on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, a U.N. official tells CNN.

The Saudi-led coalition – made up of several Arab countries – 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.

Opinion: Why U.N.’s Saudi ‘blacklist’ move could backfire

But last month, a U.N. report claimed the alliance was responsible for 60% of the 1,953 children recorded as killed or maimed in the conflict in 2015 – a sixfold rise since the previous year. They were added to a blacklist of of groups violating children’s rights in armed conflict, before dropping off the list again earlier this week.

That’s because Saudi Arabia made a threat of a “total rupture” in relations between the Kingdom and the U.N., placing in doubt hundreds of millions of dollars in financial contributions to U.N. humanitarian agencies and causes, the U.N. official said.

There were also suggestions clerics in Saudi Arabia could meet to issue an anti-U.N. fatwa, declaring the organization “anti-Muslim.”

The pressure was “massive … beyond anything ever seen,” the official said.

A Saudi-led coalition carried out a widespread bombing campaign of Yemen in 2015.
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
A Saudi-led coalition carried out a widespread bombing campaign of Yemen in 2015.

’Blatant pandering’

A spokesperson for Ban 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.”

The U.N. official said the pressure came in the form of diplomatic phone calls and visits by U.N. diplomats at the organization’s headquarters in New York.

A U.N. report said the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for 60% of almost 2,000 children killed in Yemen in 2015.
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
A U.N. report said the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for 60% of almost 2,000 children killed in Yemen in 2015.

’Every word stands’

Despite the U.N.’s apparent capitulation, it remained adamant its report on the parlous situation in Yemen was accurate.

“Every word stands and we stand by the figures and the information contained in the report,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Wednesday.

“It paints a horrific picture of the suffering of Yemeni civilians, especially the Yemeni children.”

In an open letter to Ban, Human Rights Watch and 19 other organizations called on the U.N. to immediately return the Saudi-led coalition to the “list of shame.”