On Thursday, October 5, the United Nations Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children in Armed Conflict was released, naming Saudi Arabia a violator of children’s rights in Yemen. The report, covering January through December of 2016, lists parties to armed conflict and the violations they have inflicted on children, including killing and maiming, forced recruitment and use, displacement, and denial of humanitarian access. According to the report, there were at least 1,340 child casualties, including 502 fatalities, in the Yemeni Civil War of 2016. Notably, the report attributes over half of the child casualties to the Saudi-led military coalition, which carried out 38 attacks on schools and hospitals.
Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN, Abdallah al-Mouallimi, dismissed the report findings as “inaccurate and misleading,” contending that the Houthi opposition are responsible for the brunt of the violence. Conversely, Amnesty International has criticized the report for not being harsher in its condemnation of Saudi Arabia. A day after the report was released, Amnesty International stated, “The international community has caved in to political pressure again, underplaying the suffering of hundreds of Yemeni children, by watering down criticism of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s grave violations of international law.”
The inclusion of the Saudi-led coalition in the report as a contributing party to violations against children in Yemen is undoubtedly true, as the purpose of the annual report is to provide a factual and impartial account of the effects of armed conflict on children. The 2015 edition was mired in controversy after the mention of the coalition’s contributions in the Yemeni Civil War were removed, reportedly due to pressure from Saudi Arabia after threats were made that the state would cut humanitarian funding to the UN. However, the most recent report has an amended format from previous years, providing a category for “parties that have put in place measures during the reporting period aimed at improving the protection of children,” of which Saudi Arabia is included. This category may be seen as a watered-down condemnation that is not applicable to the Saudi-led coalition, given the verified violations of children’s rights in Yemen attributed to the group this year.
The Saudi-led military coalition, comprising of Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Malaysia, Senegal, and Sudan, entered the Yemeni Civil War in March 2015. Fighting is predominantly between the Yemeni government, supported by the military coalition and other parties, and the Houthi rebels seeking to overthrow the government. UNICEF has recorded 1,595 child fatalities out of a total of over 10,000 since March 2015. With approximately 3 million people displaced and 17 million facing food shortages, the atrocious human toll of the war continues to be exacerbated.
The Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children in Armed Conflict has rightfully included the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen as a violator of children’s rights. The issue, as a whole, highlights a weakness in the UN’s ability to be a source of non-politicized information, largely due to the organization’s multiplicity of roles. It is imperative to report, as accurately as possible, the human impact of armed conflict in order to pursue the larger objective of constructing methods to reduce violence and sustain peace and security.
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