In a recent draft of the United Nations’ (UN) annual report on Children and Armed Conflict, it documented human rights violations of over 15,500 children last year. With more than a dozen conflicts going on around the world, four thousand of the atrocities were recognized as government violations, whereas the remaining 11,500 are attributed to terrorist organizations or insurgents. In the report, it was noted that the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition and Houthi insurgents were responsible for an “unacceptably high” number of child deaths solely in Yemen last year.
According to the draft report by UN Secretary General, António Guterres, the coalition and Houthi were committing “grave violations” of human rights against children, the study noted that there were 502 child fatalities, 838 child injuries, and the coalition led aircraft demolished 28 schools in Yemen. A reliable source working with the Foreign Policy stated that Saudi officials privately urged the UN to engage in further discussions before publishing the final report, stating that it is unfair to implicate all members of the group. The United States, although backing Saudi Arabia in this war, recommended listing individual states directly responsible for the atrocities. However, according to officials, the coalition does not release information on members for specific operations. The chief author of the confidential draft report, Virginia Gamba, intends to recommend the Saudi-led coalition be added to a list of countries and entities that kill and maim children.
This places Guterres in a difficult spot; disgracing the Saudi coalition, potentially jeopardizing the most important Arab partnership in the UN, or potentially be charged with not committing to the UN’s human rights codes. Earlier this year in February, Guterres decided to delay the report by up to 6 months to give the coalition time to improve its conduct. After this action, the UN has been skeptical on the coalition out of fear of criticism. In 2001, the UN adopted “Resolution 1379” that requires a senior UN official to produce a report documenting attacks against children in military conflicts. It is still not yet confirmed what Guterres is intending to do.
In 2012, the unopposed government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi won the Yemeni elections. A Zaidi Shia movement and militant group, Ansar Allah (or the Houthis) took control of the government between 2014 and 2015. In 2015, Saudi Arabia and a coalition with nine countries from Africa and the Middle East, launched a military intervention in Yemen in 2015, to support President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in his fight against the Houthis. According to Jamie McGoldrick, a UN Humanitarian aid official, the number of people who had died in this conflict was well over 10,000 as of January this year.
With all this said, the Saudi coalition and the Houthi rebels are still at conflict and, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it will be stopping anytime soon. No one knows the true extent of the atrocities committed in Yemen, shockingly a lot of the deaths and injuries go unreported. So the numbers in the recent report don’t document the full extent of how bad conflict is in Yemen. Guterres is in a difficult position, but the question is when and will he officially declare the findings of human right violations against children in this tragic civil war and what will the action result in for the United Nations.