Home/Daniel Larison/Why the U.N.’s Decision to Cave Under Saudi Pressure Matters

Why the U.N.’s Decision to Cave Under Saudi Pressure Matters

The U.N. Secretary-General addressed the decision to remove the Saudi-led coalition from the U.N. blacklist of violators of children’s rights in conflicts:

Ban said his decision to temporarily remove the coalition from the list was “one of the most painful and difficult decisions I have had to make,” and that the threats to pull funding raised “the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously.”

“Children already at risk in Palestine, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and so many other places would fall further into despair,” he told reporters.

“It is unacceptable for member states to exert undue pressure,” he added. “Scrutiny is a natural and necessary part of the work of the United Nations.”

The Saudis and their allies put the U.N. in a difficult position in truly despicable fashion, but yielding to what Ban calls “unacceptable” pressure rewards these governments for exerting it. While the U.N. says that it stands by the content of the original report, conceding the Saudis’ demand to be removed lets them and their allies off the hook for documented violations in Yemen, it allows them to claim that they have been cleared of wrongdoing when the opposite is true, and it encourages other states to use the same pressure tactics when they are called to account for abuses. If scrutiny is a “natural and necessary” part of what the U.N. does, it shouldn’t be caving in to threats from the very abusive governments whose violations it is reporting on.

Peter Salisbury considers the implications of the U.N.’s reversal:

The decision to list the Kingdom and then suspend its designation is terrible for the credibility of the U.N., especially given that the report had been in circulation since at least April. If the Saudis do win the argument and have themselves removed from the list permanently by arguing that the methodology was flawed, the U.N.’s ability to pressure others to improve protections for children in conflict will be irrevocably broken.

Twenty human rights organizations have appealed to the U.N. to re-list the coalition because of the clear evidence that they are responsible for the abuses detailed in the report:

If the Saudi-led Coalition wants to be removed from the list, it should stop killing and maiming children and bombing schools and hospitals in Yemen — the violations for which it was listed,” the groups wrote.

The U.N. report, released last Thursday, said the coalition was responsible for 60 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen last year, killing 510 and wounding 667, and half the attacks on schools and hospitals.

“The responsibility of the Saudi-led coalition for grave violations against children in many of these attacks is not in doubt,” the rights groups wrote. “The evidence of grave violations against children in Yemen by the Saudi-led Coalition is overwhelming.”

It is no surprise that the Saudis and their allies dismiss proof of their wrongdoing, but no one else should be helping them to cover up or minimize what they have done in their war on Yemen.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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