NEW YORKÂ – UN 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 â€œthe very real prospectâ€ that millions of other children in the Palestinian territories, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and many other places â€œwould suffer grievouslyâ€ if UN programs were defunded.
â€œThis was one of the most painful and difficult decisions I have had to make,â€ 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 â€œit is unacceptable for member states to exert undue pressure.â€
The secretary-general was responding to what he called the â€œfierce reactionâ€ 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 â€œdescribes horrors no child should have to face.â€
The report said the UN verified a total of 1,953 youngsters killed and injured in Yemen in 2015 â€” a six-fold increase compared with 2014 â€” 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 â€œto temporarily removeâ€ the Saudi-led coalition countries from the blacklist of governments and armed groups violating childrenâ€™s rights pending a joint review of cases with the Saudis.
â€œWe will assess the complaints that have been made, but the content will not change,â€ 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 â€œterrorist and extremist groupsâ€ who are now listed together on the blacklist.
Saudi Arabiaâ€™s UN Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi told reporters shortly afterward that â€œIt 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.â€
He denied that Saudi Arabia used â€œthreats or intimidationâ€ in its contacts with the secretary-general saying â€œit is not in our nature to conduct ourselves in any such aggressive style.â€ Al-Mouallimi said the government pointed out that the Saudis were not contacted about the reportâ€™s conclusions as required, and therefore only one side was reflected, which made its findings â€œwrong.â€
â€œWe 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,â€ Al-Mouallimi said.
But he denied talking about defunding the UN agency for Palestinian refugees â€œor anything else for that matter.â€
Al-Mouallimi said he wouldnâ€™t be surprised if â€œtens of countriesâ€ 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 â€œboth the Yemenis and the Saudiâ€™s were consulted in early March on the content of the report.â€
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, speaking to reporters in Washington, said the United States agrees with the secretary-general â€œthat the UN should be permitted to carry out its mandate, carry out its responsibilities, without fear of money being cut off.â€
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 â€œto report objectively â€¦ without fear of reprisal.â€