Poor old United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has egg on his face. He’s crying into his hankie saying he’s been pressured and blackmailed into removing the Saudi-led coalition from a UN children’s rights blacklist asserting the 10-country coalition is responsible for 60 per cent of child fatalities and injuries in Yemen.
Initially, he announced that he was taking the coalition off the list to review the numbers in order to “reflect the highest standards of accuracy possible”. Last Thursday he held a press conference characterising the decision as “one of the most painful and difficult” he’s ever had to make.
“I had to consider the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously if, as was suggested to me, countries would defund many UN programmes,” he said. The Saudi Ambassador to the UN, Abdullah Al Mouallimi has referred to that claim as “absolutely outrageous”.
Saudi Arabia, which funds 70 per cent of all aid to Yemen, has described its inclusion in the blacklist as “unacceptable” and denies that any pressure was exerted upon Ban, although it’s hard to imagine that he didn’t receive quite a few irate phone calls from representatives of slandered countries, especially since this was the first time in history that an international coalition had been blacklisted.
The ambassador maintains that those who compiled the report didn’t bother to contact Riyadh to garner’s Saudi’s input but relied instead upon information from the coalition’s foes.
Interviewed on CNN, Ambassador Al Mouallimi said allegations that the kingdom had threatened to withdraw from the UN along with several of its closest allies were mere rumours disseminated by individuals out to damage the country’s reputation. “There are people ready to feast on any news about Saudi Arabia,” he said. “We do not use threats and intimidation; that is not our style.”
If any reputation has been dented, it is Ban’s. Firstly, to single out a coalition that was invited by the legitimate Yemeni president to assist him in his efforts to free his country from a takeover by pro-Iranian Al Houthi militants as the bad guy was a grave mistake smacking of double standards and bias.
Tragically, children aren’t immune from being killed during wars and more so in Yemen, as Al Houthis are forcing young boys to become child soldiers or human shields or mine sweepers, which the UN report confirms.
Secondly, the coalition denies that it bombed hospitals and schools. Here it should be noted that the US has admitted launching missile strikes on an emergency trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, that robbed the lives of staff and patients, including children. Yet America, whose wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were responsible for the death of tens of thousands of women and children, has never been included in a UN blacklist. No surprise there.
Last year, despite recommendations from the Special Representative to the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, numerous Arab States and human rights organisations to place Israel on the blacklist for killing 500 children in Gaza, Ban chose not to shame Israel’s army.
It seems he’s nervous when it comes to alienating the US and Israel but had no compunction about slapping Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies in the face. The idea that the coalition would deliberately target Yemeni children is preposterous. Israel, on the other hand, has gunned down or imprisoned young kids whose only crime was throwing stones at soldiers or were carrying a knife, as seen on graphic videos posted on social media.
The United Nations has often been accused of bias and politicisation and rightly so. It’s one law for the big powers on the Security Council and their allies and another for all other UN member countries.
Ban can complain all he wants but he’s emerged from this mess looking weak, foolish and wholly unprincipled. If, as he maintains, massive pressure was exerted to force him to change his mind, then he is guilty of caving in. What he’s saying in essence is “Money talked and my principals walked”. I suspect his behind-the-curtain masters got cold feet.
He was wrong to include the coalition on the list in the first place, but rather than admit his mistake along with an apology, he’s compounding it with unsubstantiated, scurrilous verbal attacks on the kingdom. His status as a virtual marionette of western powers has been glaringly exposed.
Let’s not forget that the Senate has passed a bill permitting September 11 victims’ families to launch legal claims against the kingdom, exonerated in the 9/11 commission report, which is backed by all presidential candidates. Moreover, according to a series of interviews published in The Atlantic, President Barack Obama has made scathing remarks about Saudi and Gulf States accusing them of being “free riders” which should learn to share the region with Iran. The Saudi-US relationship has further been undermined over the kingdom’s unwillingness to cut oil production which would raise prices and salvage America’s faltering shale oil industry.
If the United Nations wishes to salvage what remains of its credibility it should come up with a hire and fire list and there’s no prize for guessing whose name I believe should top that.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.