Saudi-led forces, Israel among states rapped by United Nations for killing children

Mukhtar Hadi, who survived survived last month's Saudi-led air strike that killed dozens including children, stands with his brother and sister in Saada, Yemen September 4, 2018.  Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters United Nations Jul 31, 2019, 05.27 PM (IST)

A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition fighting in Yemen killed or injured 729 children during 2018, accounting for nearly half the total child casualties, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a report to the Security Council on Friday that blacklisted the coalition for a third year.

Guterres also reported that the highest number of Palestinian children had been killed or injured last year since 2014, mainly by Israeli forces, though no parties were blacklisted in the annex to the annual Children in Armed Conflict report, seen by Reuters.

The report, which does not subject those listed to action but rather shames parties to conflicts in the hope of pushing them to implement measures to protect children, has long been controversial with diplomats saying Saudi Arabia and Israel both exerted pressure in recent years in a bid to stay off the list.

The Israeli UN mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest report. In 2015 the United Nations left Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas off the blacklist, after they had been included in an earlier draft, but criticized Israel over its 2014 military operations. Israel denied lobbying then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the issue.

Saudi UN Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said the report acknowledges steps taken by the coalition to safeguard children, noting that "every child's life is precious." But he also questioned the sourcing and accuracy of the report, describing the numbers as "exaggerated."

The coalition had been briefly added to the blacklist in 2016 and then removed by Ban pending review. At the time, Ban accused Saudi Arabia of exerting "unacceptable" undue pressure after sources told Reuters that Riyadh threatened to cut some UN funding. Saudi Arabia denied threatening Ban.

Highest child casualties in Afghanistan

In an effort to dampen controversy surrounding the report, the blacklist released in 2017 by Guterres was split into two categories. One lists parties that have put in place measures to protect children and the other includes parties that have not.

The blacklist submitted to the Security Council on Friday named the Saudi-led military coalition and Yemen government forces on the first list, and the Iran-allied Houthi rebel group, pro-Yemen government militia, the Security Belt Forces and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula on the second list.

The UN report said the Houthis killed and injured 398 children and Yemeni government forces were responsible for 58 child casualties.

"I condemn the increasing number of child casualties, which are often a result of attacks in densely populated areas and against civilian objects, including schools and hospitals," Guterres said in the report, produced by UN Children and Armed Conflict envoy Virginia Gamba and issued in Guterres' name.

"The rise in the number of child casualties attributed to the Government Forces and the Coalition and the persistent killing and maiming of children by the Popular Resistance are increasingly worrying," the report said.

Last year, the report verified that 59 Palestinian children had been killed - 56 by Israeli forces - and another 2,756 injured, while six Israeli children were injured. The report found Israeli forces injured some 2,674 children "in the context of demonstrations, clashes and search and arrest operations.”

Guterres urged "Israel to immediately put in place preventive and protective measures to end the excessive use of force" and "all Palestinian actors to refrain from encouraging children's participation in violence."

The annual children and armed conflict report is produced at the request of the UN Security Council.

"In Afghanistan, the number of child casualties remained the highest such number in the present report (3,062) and children accounted for 28 per cent of all civilian casualties. In the Syrian Arab Republic, airstrikes, barrel bombs and cluster munitions resulted in 1,854 child casualties," the report said.

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The UN report said the Houthis killed and injured 398 children and Yemeni government forces were responsible for 58 child casualties.