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Put Saudi-led coalition back on UN list of child rights abusers, HRW says

Put Saudi-led coalition back on UN list of child rights abusers, HRW says
A Human Rights Watch probe into a Saudi-led airstrike in Yemen that killed school children has renewed calls to place the coalition back on the UN secretary-general’s ‘list of shame’ for children’s rights abusers, after it was removed from it last year.

The results of the investigation were published Thursday by HRW, and detail another reportedly indiscriminate air bombardment that hit near a school, resulting in the deaths of two students and three more children wounded. A school administrator was also killed in the airstrike, and a further two adults were wounded. Some 900 children attend classes in the building.

HRW calls this another “unlawful attack,” and emphasizes the need to try to reinforce the Saudi-led coalition to submit to human rights principles.

The bombing, which dates back to January 10, is a reminder that Saudi Arabia needs to be investigated for its alleged violation of the laws of war in Yemen, HRW says in the report, adding that ending arms sales to Riyadh should be put on the agenda again.

“The bombing death of an 11-year-old girl on her way to school shows how little the Saudi-led coalition took to heart its brief inclusion on the UN secretary-general’s "list of shame,” said the organization’s Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson.

According to the investigation, the strike occurred sometime around 8am, hitting a gas station in the village of Bani Mea’asar, in the Nihm district of the Sanaa governorate. The shockwave reportedly shattered the windows of the Al-Falah school next door, also damaging electrical wiring and intercom. The missile hit 150-200 meters from the school, “next to some shops and an informal gas station… If it landed at that time on the school building it would have been a disaster,” said school principle of 20 years, Muhammad Mea’asar.

HRW heard testimonies from parents of children, who had minutes before the strike sent them off to class only to learn that a missile had hit the area around the time of the first bell.

It was not the first time allied airstrikes had hit the area around the village, situated around 8km from where fighting is ongoing between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Witnesses tell HRW that, although multiple strikes had previously been carried out on refueling vehicles, there was no enemy presence in the area around the time of the strike.

News of the investigation comes amid word of yet another airstrike, which killed at least eight women and a child and injured dozens more at a funeral north of Yemen’s capital in the Arhab District , AFP reported on Thursday, citing medical sources.

Another strike was reportedly carried out on a funeral reception in the village of Shiraa near Sanaa where eight women and a child were killed, medics told local media on Thursday.

The rebels have accused the coalition of carrying out the strikes. The Saudi-led coalition said it was investigating the reports.

Last year, then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon removed the Saudi coalition from the blacklist. According to reports, he was allegedly forced to do so by a number of states.

A diplomatic source then told Reuters that the UN had faced “bullying, threats [and] pressure,” which amounted to “real blackmail.” The source also said the decision to implicate Saudi Arabia in child rights violations was declared “anti-Muslim, which would mean no contracts of OIC [Organisation of Islamic Cooperation] members, no relations, contributions, support, to any UN projects [or] programs.”

Meanwhile, the UN secretary-general said back then that "it is unacceptable for member states to exert undue pressure...scrutiny is a natural and necessary part of the work of the United Nations" – though he did not specifically mention the coalition when making this statement.

“The secretary-general’s decision flies in the face of overwhelming evidence that violations by the Saudi-led coalition have killed and maimed hundreds of children in Yemen,” children’s rights advocacy director at HRW, Jo Becker, said at the time.

The organization recently wrote of its surprise that the Russian failure to retain its UN Human Rights Council seat was all over the news late last year, while Saudi Arabia not only wasn’t put back on the "list of shame," but somehow managed to retain its own seat on the council.