Some Yemeni citizens are livid because the United Nations removed the Saudi-led coalition from a list of countries accused of violating children’s rights in Yemen. They say bombs continue to fall on civilian homes, hospitals and schools.
The cease-fire declared two months has not slowed the violence, according to Yemeni political analyst and journalist Nasser Arrabyee.
“There was no cease-fire. The warplanes are hovering over us all the time, around the clock,” Arrabyee said Wednesday from his home in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. “And sometimes bombing here or there.”
By removing the coalition from its list, adds Arrabyee, the U.N. is “officially supporting war crimes.”
All warring parties in Yemen have been accused of abusing the rights of children and other civilians, and Saudi Arabia says the U.N. report ignores their rivals' crimes.
“The report did not show the figures provided by the legitimate Yemeni government that highlights the use of children by Houthi militias in combat,” said Saudi-led coalition spokesman Brig. Gen. Ahmed Assiri last week in Riyadh, according to the Saudi Gazette. It “did not highlight the number of children killed in combat, planting mines and transferring ammunition and explosives.”
The coalition has been fighting Houthi militants and their allies in Yemen for over a year, supporting the internationally recognized Yemeni government in an ongoing civil war. The Houthis are supported by former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh and Iran; they control much of the nation, including Sana’a.
Saudi Arabian authorities say an Iranian ally in power on their southern border is a threat to their sovereignty, and maintain they are also fighting to protect Yemeni people from their regional rival.
“[Iran] is not stopping threatening Saudi Arabia or supporting the militias with weapons and trying to undermine our stability,” said Hamdan al-Shehri, an adviser at Saudi Arabia’s foreign affairs ministry.
Since the cease-fire went into effect April 11, Doctors Without Borders says it has treated more than 1,500 people wounded in fighting in one city alone, Taiz.
“None of the warring parties appear to be making an effort to prevent casualties among civilians,” the organization said in a statement on Tuesday.
The U.N. report on crimes against children says nearly 2,000 children were killed or injured in Yemen in 2015, and more than 750 young boys were recruited to fight. More than 100 schools and hospitals were attacked that year, it says, and all parties share the blame.
In a copy of the report on the U.N. website, the Saudi-led coalition is named as one of the parties that kill or maim children, and attack schools and hospitals, saying 60 percent of the child casualties were attributed to coalition airstrikes.
But last week, the United Nations announced it would remove the coalition from the report's annex, setting off a firestorm of criticism from human rights organizations.
“We urge you to place the Saudi-led coalition back on the list annexed to your report, and state publicly that your office is committed to an impartial list, based on evidence, not politics,” reads an open letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, signed by more than 35 human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Oxfam. “Children whose lives are devastated by armed conflict deserve nothing less.”
Last week, the secretary-general said the coalition was removed from the list due to “undue pressure” exerted by member states in the form of threatening to cut funding to humanitarian programs.
“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 de-fund many U.N. programs,” Ban said. “Children already at risk in Palestine, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and so many other places would fall further into despair.”