Edith M. Lederer / Associated Press & Alex Emmons, Zaid Jilani / The Intercept – 2016-06-10 19:59:26
UN Chief Took Saudis Off Blacklist over Threat to Stop Funds
Edith M. Lederer / Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS (June 9, 2016) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday he temporarily removed the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen from a UN blacklist for violating child rights because its supporters threatened to stop funding many UN programs.
Ban said he had to consider “the very real prospect” that millions of other children in the Palestinian territories, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and many other places “would suffer grievously” if UN programs were defunded.
“This was one of the most painful and difficult decisions I have had to make,” he said.
UN secretary-generals are always subject to pressure from the 193 member nations. But in a rare rebuke, Ban said in this case some unnamed countries had gone too far, declaring “it is unacceptable for member states to exert undue pressure.”
The secretary-general was responding to what he called the “fierce reaction” to his decision, which was denounced by human rights groups. They accused the UN chief of caving in to Saudi Arabia and said the US-backed coalition belongs on the list for its attacks on children, schools and hospitals.
Ban said he stands by his annual report on children and armed conflict, which “describes horrors no child should have to face.”
The report said the UN verified a total of 1,953 youngsters killed and injured in Yemen in 2015 — a six-fold increase compared with 2014 — and it attributed about 60 percent of those casualties to the coalition. The UN said it also verified 101 attacks on schools and hospitals last year, double the number in 2014, of which 48 percent were attributed to the coalition.
Ban said he decided “to temporarily remove” the Saudi-led coalition countries from the blacklist of governments and armed groups violating children’s rights pending a joint review of cases with the Saudis.
“We will assess the complaints that have been made, but the content will not change,” he said.
Ban did not say explicitly that the coalition could go back on the list after the review.
But the secretary-general did say that in response to concerns from Saudi Arabia and other governments the UN is considering if there is a better way to distinguish countries from “terrorist and extremist groups” who are now listed together on the blacklist.
Saudi Arabia’s UN Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi told reporters shortly afterward that “It is our firm belief that this de-listing is final, irreversible and unconditional, and when all the facts are in that will be further reconfirmed.”
He denied that Saudi Arabia used “threats or intimidation” in its contacts with the secretary-general saying “it is not in our nature to conduct ourselves in any such aggressive style.” Al-Mouallimi said the government pointed out that the Saudis were not contacted about the report’s conclusions as required, and therefore only one side was reflected, which made its findings “wrong.”
“We did say such listing and such unfair treatment of Saudi Arabia and the coalition forces would obviously have an impact on relations with the United Nations,” Al-Mouallimi said.
But he denied talking about defunding the UN agency for Palestinian refugees “or anything else for that matter.”
Al-Mouallimi said he wouldn’t be surprised if “tens of countries” told the secretary-general that his listing of the coalition was unacceptable, citing statements from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council criticizing the report.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said later that “both the Yemenis and the Saudi’s were consulted in early March on the content of the report.”
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, speaking to reporters in Washington, said the United States agrees with the secretary-general “that the UN should be permitted to carry out its mandate, carry out its responsibilities, without fear of money being cut off.”
He acknowledged that the US in the past has withheld and threatened to keep funds from the UN, explaining that the administration believes that on issues such as protecting children the UN should be able “to report objectively . . . without fear of reprisal.”
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report from Washington. Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
UN Chief Admits He Removed Saudi Arabia From Child-Killer List Due to Extortion
Alex Emmons, Zaid Jilani / The Intercept
NEW YORK (June 9 2016) — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly acknowledged Thursday that he removed the Saudi-led coalition currently bombing Yemen from a blacklist of child killers — 72 hours after it was published — due to a financial threat to defund United Nations programs.
The secretary-general didn’t name the source of the threat, but news reports have indicated it came directly from the Saudi government.
The UN’s 2015 “Children and Armed Conflict” report originally listed the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen under “parties that kill or maim children” and “parties that engage in attacks on schools and/or hospitals.”
The report, which was based on the work of UN researchers in Yemen, attributed 60 percent of the 785 children killed and 1,168 injured to the bombing coalition.
After loud public objections from the Saudi government, Ban said on Monday that he was revising the report to “review jointly the cases and numbers cited in the text,” in order to “reflect the highest standards of accuracy possible.”
But on Thursday, he described his real motivation. “The report describes horrors no child should have to face,” Ban said at a press conference. “At the same time, I also had to consider the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously if, as was suggested to me, countries would defund many UN programs. Children already at risk in Palestine, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and so many other places would fall further into despair.”
Saudi Arabia is one of the UN’s largest donors in the Middle East, giving hundreds of millions of dollars a year to UN food programs in Syria and Iraq. In 2014, Saudi Arabia gave $500 million — the largest single humanitarian donation to the UN — to help Iraqis displaced by ISIS.
Over the past three years, Saudi Arabia has also been become the third-largest donor to the UN’s relief agency in Palestine, giving tens of millions of dollars to help rebuild Gaza and assist Palestinian refugees.
“It is unacceptable for member states to exert undue pressure,” the secretary-general said. “Scrutiny is a natural and necessary part of the work of the United Nations.”
Ban called the decision “one of the most painful and difficult decisions I have had to make.”
Saudi Ambassador to the UN Abdallah al-Mouallimi, who held his own press conference afterward, offered his own back-handed confirmation of what happened. “We didn’t use threats,” he said, “but such listing will obviously have an impact on our relations with the UN”
“It is not in our style, it is not in our genes, it is not in our culture to use threats and intimidation,” he concluded.
Ban has invited a team from the Saudi-led coalition to New York to conduct a “joint review” ahead of scheduled UN discussions on the report, scheduled for August.
On Monday, however, after the changes were announced, the Saudi ambassador to the UN declared that the changes were “final and unconditional” and that Saudi Arabia had been “vindicated.”
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