UNITED NATIONS - Two dozen human rights and humanitarian organizations urged Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday to reconsider his decision to take the Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen's government off a global blacklist of parties whose actions have killed or injured children in conflict.
The 24 non-governmental organizations also urged the U.N. chief to reconsider taking Myanmar's armed forces, the Tatmadaw, off the blacklist for recruiting and using children in conflict. It remains on the list for killing and maiming youngsters and for acts of sexual violence.
In a letter to the secretary-general released Monday, the organizations said they were "deeply disappointed and troubled" by the de-listings and "dismayed" at the disparities between information in his annual report on children in armed conflict released a week ago and his decisions on the blacklist.
"The report found the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for killing or maiming 222 children in Yemen in 2019," the letter said. "Yet the coalition was de-listed from the report's annexes, citing a `sustained significant decrease' in casualties during the year and progress in implementing a memorandum of understanding that was signed in March of last year."
Similarly, it said the Myanmar military was de-listed for recruiting and using children "while the report found that the Tatmadaw was responsible for eight cases of new recruitment and 197 cases of use in 2019."
In 2016, then secretary-general Ban Ki-moon removed the Saudi-led coalition from the blacklist of government forces that committed grave violations against children the previous year following a vehement protest from Saudi Arabia.
Guterres added a new list of government forces and armed groups that have taken measures to improve the situation of children in 2017, which the Saudis were put on and remained on last year.
The Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition supporting Yemen's internationally recognized government is battling Houthi Shi'ite rebels and their allies. The Houthis have held Yemen's capital, Sana'a, since September 2014, and their advance across the Arab world's poorest country brought the Saudi-led coalition into the war in March 2015.
The Houthis remain on the U.N. "list of shame" for failing to put in place measures to improve the protection of children though Secretary-General Guterres said in the report he is encouraged by ongoing U.N. talks with the rebel group "to end and prevent violations for which they are listed."
The NGOs said: "It appears that the goalpost with regards to listing and de-listing continually changes to accommodate a predetermined outcome: not upsetting powerful U.N. member states."
The 24 organizations said the "omissions and discrepancies" damage the credibility of the report, which is an important tool to improve the protection of children in conflict.
They called for "an accurate and evidence-based list" that reflects the evidence that has been collected and verified.
They also urged the secretary general to reconsider de-listing the Saudi-led coalition and the Tatmadaw from the 2020 report.
Among the letter's signatories were Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, Medecins du Monde, Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, Women's Refugee Commission and World Vision International.