The United Nations has listed the Saudi-led Arab coalition in Yemen on its annual blacklist of countries and entities that commit crimes against children, according to a recent report. The document noted that, in 2016, more than 4,000 cases of violations were committed by government forces, and more than 11,500 cases were attributed to government-backed armed groups.
The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, delivered his annual report on “Children and Armed Conflicts,” which included the name of the Arab Coalition, one of the parties in the conflict in Yemen. UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said, “With this decision, the Secretary- General has stood up for Yemen’s children and for the rights of all children in conflict. Now the UN and wider international community must make sure the violations by all parties to the conflict end. Being added to this shameful list should act as a wake-up call to every party in Yemen’s conflict – and countries that are supporting or arming them.” The inclusion of the coalition in the United Nations list means that all conflict parties in Yemen will be named in the list of violations, including child militarization, the bombing of schools and hospitals, and the killing and maiming of children. In the same report, issued in August 2017, the Secretary-General touched upon the situation of children in Yemen and the responsibility of Saudi Arabia for violations against Yemeni children. The report stated that “The United Nations documented the arrest or detention of 10 boys on the basis of their suspected association with an opposing party in the conflict, seven of which cases were attributed to the Yemeni Armed Forces and three to the Popular Resistance. In June, as part of a confidence-building measure during peace talks facilitated by the United Nations, the coalition to restore legitimacy in Yemen, led by Saudi Arabia, released 52 children who had reportedly been associated with parties in the conflict. The children were handed over to the government of Yemen and some were reunified with their families.” In the same week, Save the Children President and CEO Kevin Watkins said, “All parties in the Yemen war failed to respect international law, and children paid a terrible price. As a cholera epidemic continues to infect thousands of children every day, they are also being bombed in their homes and schools, denied humanitarian relief and forced to fight on the front lines.”
The United Nations pointed out that the Saudi authorities have taken measures to strengthen the protection of children in Yemen, but have been included in the report because of the confirmed killing and injury of children as a result of airstrikes carried out by the Arab Alliance in Yemen. The list of those responsible also included the Houthis, Al-Qaeda in Yemen, government forces, and government-backed armed groups. The United Nations report said the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for killing and injuring 683 children, as well as for 38 attacks on schools and hospitals during 2016. The report said the Houthis and their allied forces were responsible for the killing and wounding of 414 children in 2016. When the first draft of the report was released in August, the Saudi mission said that “there is no justification at all” for putting the coalition on the blacklist, calling the report inaccurate and misleading.
According to UN estimates, the armed conflict in Yemen has, since 2015, killed 8530 people, 60% of them civilians, in addition to injuring 48,800 individuals. The war has also caused suffering for 20.7 million people from a severe shortage of humanitarian assistance. On March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia announced “Operation Determination Storm” and established a military alliance comprised of the GCC (except for Oman) as well as Pakistan and four other Arab countries — Egypt, Sudan, Morocco and Jordan. The alliance, which is backed by the Arab League, has set its sights on restoring legitimacy and disarming the Houthis after they withdrew from the capital, Sana’a. The Arab coalition forces made the liberation of Aden and the southern regions a military priority and succeeded after troops landed on the coasts of the city to push the Houthis out of Aden. Then the coalition used the city as a base for the liberation of the rest of the southern provinces.
After the return of President Hadi and members of his government, and the movement of the Central Bank to Aden, large segments of the Yemeni people hoped that they were getting closer to the overthrow of the Houthi coup. However, they were due for disappointment. With the end of “Operation Determination Storm” and the launching of “Operation Restoring Hope,” it was clear that, for several reasons, the legitimate authority in Yemen was ineffective, and did not have the needed support to enforce security and political stability. In addition to that, according to Foreign Policy magazine, a leaked report from the United Nations said that an assessment made by UN security council experts has concluded that the work of the Arab Coalitions is strengthening the military alliance between Houthi rebels and the former Yemeni President, Ali Abdulla Saleh, while both are controlling 13 of Yemen’s provinces.
Foreign Affairs magazine recently published an article saying that about 7 million Yemenis live in areas facing famine. About 2 million Yemeni children suffer from acute malnutrition, and the cholera outbreak has spread to more than 600,000 people, including women and children. The United Nations said the cholera epidemic in Yemen was at its highest level ever, with more than 820,000 suspected cases. The epidemic has claimed the lives of more than 2,150 Yemenis since April 27th. The UN Secretary-General’s spokesman said that the cholera outbreak is now rampant in 92% of Yemen’s total area, and pointed out that the epidemic was the biggest outbreak ever in a single year.
The implications of listing the Saudi-led Arab coalition on the UN blacklist should not be underestimated. This report will initially embarrass the Saudi decision-makers, along with the countries participating in the coalition. This embarassment might push those nations to reduce their level of participation or to withdraw from Yemen completely. This could cause an international embarrassment for the Saudis and force them to end the operation at any cost.
Second, the Arab alliance and Saudi Arabia will have to rebuild Yemen and contribute to Yemen’s future after the conflict has ended. This will put pressure on Saudi Arabia’s economy, which is suffering from a drop in oil prices, as well as the costs of conflict in Yemen and elsewhere.
The report could also be used by western countries — in particular, the United States, the main ally of the Saudis — to pressure the Saudis to comply with their policies, impose sanctions on them, or restrict arms deals and block trade agreements.