Saudi Arabia has denied threatening a cut-off of humanitarian funding to pressure the United Nations into removing the Arab-led coalition fighting in Yemen from a blacklist of child rights violators.
The UN had blacklisted the coalition after concluding in a report released last Thursday that it was responsible for 60 percent of the 785 children killed in Yemen last year.
“We did not use threats or intimidation and we did not talk about funding,” Saudi Ambassador Abdullah al-Mouallimi said on Thursday.
On Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that the coalition would be scratched from the list pending a joint review with the alliance.
“Pending the conclusions of the joint review, the secretary general removes the listing of the coalition in the report’s annex,” Ban’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
In his first public remarks after announcing that he removed the coalition from the blacklist, the UN chief said on Thursday that he took the decision after Saudi Arabia, along with other Arab and Muslim countries, threatened to cut off funding to UN humanitarian programmes.
“This was one of the most painful and difficult decisions I have had to make,” Ban told reporters at UN headquarters.
“It is unacceptable for member-states to exert undue pressure,” he said.
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 programmes.
“I stand by the report,” Ban added, warning that the content of the report will not change.
The UN chief appealed to member states to defend the reporting mechanisms, such as the children in armed conflict annual blacklist, and pointed out that the coalition may be put back on the list as a result of an investigation.
“I don’t think this controversy is going away any time soon,” Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from the UN headquarters in New York, said.
“Ban Ki-moon is saying that this is a temporary removal of the Saudi-led coalition from this list.
“But the Saudi ambassador has a very different view of things; he believes that the coalition is off the list permanently.”
The Arab-led coalition began a military campaign in Yemen in March last year with the aim of preventing Iran-allied Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemen’s ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh from taking power.
Some 6,000 people, about half of them civilians, have been killed in Yemen since last March, according to the UN.
The Houthis, Yemen government forces and pro-government groups have been on the UN blacklist for at least five years and are considered “persistent perpetrators”. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula also reappeared on the list.