United Nations head Ban Ki-moon admitted Thursday that his widely condemned removal of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition from a blacklist for killing children in Yemen was the result of direct pressure from the "key UN donor."
"This was one of the most painful and difficult decisions I have had to make," Ban said, adding, "It is unacceptable for member-states to exert undue pressure."
The UN had blacklisted the coalition last week, saying it was responsible for 60 percent of the 1,953 children killed or injured in Yemen last year.
But just days later, the UN removed the group from the list, "pending a joint review by the organization and the coalition of child deaths and injuries during the year-long war in Yemen," as Reuters reported. That move unleashed a firestorm of criticism from human rights organizations who said the move was a "shameful cave." Ban acknowledged such criticism, referring to the "fierce reaction to my decision to temporarily remove the Saudi-led Coalition countries from the report's annex."
Backing up allegations that the de-listing was due to Riyadh threatening to withdraw its funding from UN programs like the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Ban said he "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 UN programs. Children already at risk in Palestine, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and so many other places would fall further into despair."
In a letter sent Wednesday to the UN chief, 20 human rights organization urged him to put the coalition back on the list, stating that "evidence of grave violations against children in Yemen by the Saudi-led Coalition is overwhelming" and that the removal "following protests by the Saudi government sets a damaging precedent and undermines the list's credibility."
"If the Saudi-led Coalition wants to be removed from the list," the letter states, "it should stop killing and maiming children and bombing schools and hospitals in Yemen—the violations for which it was listed."