UN asks Saudi coalition to do more to prevent Yemen child deaths

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The Saudi-led coalition must address "very serious concerns" about the killing of children in Yemen, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday, but the alliance remained off a blacklist of child rights violators.

Ban reported to the Security Council on his controversial decision to temporarily remove the coalition from the UN list of shame, a move that sparked an outcry from human rights groups.

Saudi Arabia reacted angrily to the decision in June to blacklist the coalition after a UN report found the military alliance was responsible for 60 percent of the 785 children's deaths in Yemen last year.

"I still have very strong concerns about the protection of Yemeni children," Ban said, adding that the United Nations is continuing its review with the Saudi-led coalition.

Last week, Saudi Arabia outlined in a 13-page confidential letter to the UN secretary-general the measures that the coalition is taking to prevent civilian deaths.

In the letter obtained by AFP, Saudi Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi offered to share with the United Nations the results of 10 investigations of air strikes on hospitals, homes, a wedding party and markets.

Ban said he had received information on the steps taken by the coalition, but that these fell short and that "the content of the report stands."

"We will continue our engagement to ensure that concrete measures to protect children are implemented," he told a council debate on children and armed conflicts.

Leila Zerrougui, the UN envoy for children in conflict, told reporters that the review was focused on future steps to protect children, suggesting that the coalition would not be put back on the list.

"What happened in the past, for me, is behind," said Zerrougui.

Off the list

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July 5, 2016 (photo by: Abdullah Al-Qadry/AFP/File)

Speaking to reporters outside the council chamber, Mouallimi repeated that the de-listing of the coalition was "irreversible, final and unconditional."

"I said that then and it is even more true today."

The coalition has invited UN officials to come to Riyadh to discuss their concerns and to obtain information on the investigations, he added.

In his letter, the Saudi ambassador said the coalition had set up a committee to compensate victims and opened a direct dialogue with aid organizations to guarantee the protection of hospitals.

Mouallimi also provided details of steps taken to designate targets and ensure they have "identifiable military purposes."

They include drawing up a list of prohibited targets such as schools and diplomatic missions and working with "local forces to identify and vet targets for airstrikes."

Ban in June said he was forced to remove the coalition from the list after Saudi Arabia threatened to cut off funding of UN aid programs. Riyadh denies the accusations.

Human Rights Watch said the coalition had "strong-armed the secretary-general in an attempt to escape scrutiny."

"The coalition should be returned to the secretary-general's list of shame until it stops its indiscriminate bombardment of Yemen's civilians," said HRW's director for child rights advocacy Jo Becker.

The coalition launched an air campaign in support of Yemen's President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi in March 2015 to push back Huthi rebels after they seized the capital Sanaa and many other parts of the country.

The war has killed some 6,400 people and left the impoverished country on its knees, with 80 percent of the population in dire need of food aid, according to the United Nations.

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