UN chief slams ‘undue pressure’ by Saudis over child abuse list

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon ©AFP

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has strongly criticized Saudi Arabia and its allies for putting “undue pressure” on the world body in order to seek their removal from a blacklist for overwhelmingly violating children’s rights in Yemen.

In his first public remarks about the uproar, Ban said he decided to temporarily take Saudi and some Arab monarchies off from the child rights blacklist for killing children in Yemen after they threatened to cut off funding to UN humanitarian programs.

The UN chief stressed that the threats raised “the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously.”

This has been “one of the most painful and difficult decisions I have had to make,” Ban noted.

Diplomatic sources earlier said that Ban’s office was bombarded with calls from Persian Gulf Arab monarchies’ foreign ministers after the blacklisting was announced last week.

“Bullying, threats, pressure” was behind the UN move, a diplomatic source told Reuters on condition of anonymity, adding that it was “real blackmail.”

The sources said there was also a threat of Wahhabi clerics in Riyadh meeting to issue a fatwa against the UN.

Yemeni children stand inside their house which was destroyed several months ago in an airstrike by Saudi Arabia on March 12, 2016, in the capital Sana’a. ©AFP

In Saudi Arabia, fatwas can only be issued by the group of top, regime-appointed clerics and are sometimes commissioned by the ruling family to back up its political positions.

The removal has prompted angry reactions from human rights groups, which accused Ban of caving in to pressure from powerful countries. They said that Ban risked harming his legacy as UN secretary-general.

Twenty prominent human rights groups have through a letter urged the UN chief to put Saudi Arabia back on a blacklist

The letter was signed by 20 rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Oxfam, who accused Ban of giving in to “political manipulation” by the kingdom.

On Monday, the UN dropped Saudi Arabia from its annual blacklist, only one week after it announced the blacklisting of the regime.

The report, which was released on Tuesday, attributed 510 child deaths and 667 injuries to Saudi aggression in Yemen.

More than 9,400 people have been killed and at least 16,000 others injured in Yemen since last March, when Saudi Arabia launched its military aggression against the country.

Riyadh has been backed by Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain in the military campaign.

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