Armed by Britain: Saudi-led coalition on UN ‘child killer’ list

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Britain faces condemnation for arming the Saudi-led coalition launching airstrikes in Yemen, which appeared on a UN blacklist of “child killers.” Until its removal under diplomatic pressure, it appeared alongside Islamic State, the Taliban and Boko Haram.

A UN report on children and conflict included the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, supported by the US and Britain, in a list of armed groups which commit crimes against juveniles.

However, just days after the report was released last week, the UN removed the coalition from the list as a result of “diplomatic pressure” and Saudi officials encouraging other coalition countries to “sever ties with the UN.”

The move has infuriated human rights groups, which accuse the UN of “shameful pandering” and succumbing to “political manipulation.”

But the UN’s concerns about children in Yemen remains clear in the original report, which highlights a “particularly worrisome escalation of conflict.”

Yemen has suffered a growing number of air attacks on schools and hospitals. Since 2014, there has also been a fivefold increase in the recruitment of child soldiers and a sixfold rise in those being maimed or killed, the report says.

At least 934 children have been killed in Yemen, and another 1,356 injured since 2014, according to UNICEF.

Kirsty McNeill, director of advocacy and campaigns at Save the Children, told investigative news platform the Ferret that the Saudi-led coalition is one of the world’s most violent non-state armed groups.

She says the British government must re-evaluate its diplomatic and military support to the coalition and suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

“This is the first time an international military coalition has been included, and the Saudi coalition features on the list after just 15 months of fighting in Yemen due to the sheer volume and severity of child casualties and damage and destruction to schools and hospitals resulting from coalition airstrikes,” McNeill says.

Douglas Chapman, a Scottish National Party (SNP) member of the Committee on Arms Export Controls at Westminster, says the evidence is clear war crimes have been committed by the Saudi-led coalition.

“That it joins the likes of notorious groups such as IS and Boko Haram is surely the wake-up call the West needs. The continuing reluctance to launch a comprehensive investigation into the reality of what’s happening in the region is shameful.”

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) also told the Ferret: “The UK’s unbending political and military support for Saudi Arabia has had a devastating impact on Yemen. Thousands have been killed by the bombing campaign, and it is civilians that are paying the price.

“There is growing consensus that the bombardment hasn’t just been immoral, it has also been illegal, and yet the UK government has steadfastly refused to support any kind of proper independent investigation.”

According to the UN, the removal of the coalition from the list is temporary while it reviews the report’s findings jointly with the Saudi Arabian authorities.

On Thursday UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said removing the coalition from the blacklist is “one of the most painful and difficult decisions I have had to make,” and that it raised “the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously.”

“Children already at risk in Palestine, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and so many other places would fall further into despair,” he told reporters.

Others on the blacklist include Houthi rebels, named for attacking civilians and recruiting child soldiers in Yemen.

Crimes by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) continued to have a devastating impact on children, the UN says, including child soldier recruitment and the use of boys as executioners.

Boko Haram was listed after a rise in suicide attacks in Nigeria, including the deployment of 21 girls as suicide bombers in crowded public places.