Yemen war: Human rights groups urge UN to put Saudi Arabia on blacklist of shame over child deaths

Yemen war: Human rights groups urge UN to put Saudi Arabia on blacklist of shame over child deaths

Yemen war: Human rights groups urge UN to put Saudi Arabia on blacklist of shame over child deaths

Updated 18 August 2017, 18:05 AEST

Human rights groups say a Saudi-led coalition has bombed hospitals, schools and homes in Yemen in the past year, and committed "grave violations" against children.

Hospitals, schools, factories, funeral halls and people's homes — these are just some of the civilian targets in Yemen that the US and UK backed Saudi-led coalition has bombed in the past year.

Key points:

  • A copy of the UN draft report has been leaked
  • More than 500 Yemeni children have been killed in the past year, report says
  • Last year, former UN secretary general said Saudi Arabia 'pressured' him for blacklist removal

"There has to be a change in the way they are conducting their warfare because even wars have rules," said Mark Kaye, the humanitarian advocacy advisor on Yemen for the NGO Save the Children.

"Every other party. Every other side to this war inside Yemen is on that list. It's only one side that isn't on that list and it's the Saudi-led coalition."

Each year, the United Nations releases an annual report on children and armed conflict, naming and shaming nations and armed groups responsible for killing and maiming children during war.

Human rights advocates were outraged last year when former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon admitted Saudi Arabia had been taken off the list of shame after intense lobbying.

There were also numerous reports the country had threatened to cut funding to UN refugee programs across the Middle East.

"When you delist a country based not evidence but on politics you send out a message across the globe that only certain people only certain states will be held responsible for their actions," Mr Kaye said.

In anticipation of this year's report, Save the Children has been running a campaign demanding the UN stand up to the autocratic Middle East regime and shame it for its alleged war crimes in Yemen.

"Last week we handed in a petition to the secretary-generals office with 37,000 signatures … he needs to make a strong decision. He needs to make sure that the Saudi led coalition are listed," Mr Kaye explained.

"He should do what Ban Ki-moon failed to do last year".

Saudi-led coalition commits 'grave violations' against children

Yesterday, Foreign Policy Magazine published exerts from a leaked copy of the UN draft report.

It said the Saudi-led coalition, which has been bombing Yemen now for more than two years, had committed "grave violations" of human rights against children in the past 12 months, killing more than 500 Yemeni children and injuring more than 800 others.

The magazine reported that Virginia Gamba, the UN special representative for children abused in wartime, has informed top officials that she does intend to recommend the Saudi-led coalition be added to this year's list of shame.

But the final decision will be up to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who is expected to make the report public later this month.

"This list basically holds entities, states, armed groups accountable," said Amnesty International's Rasha Mohamed, who investigates abuses in Yemen for the human rights group.

"It shows them that they are being watched. If you don't hold them accountable and you don't try to call them out then who does?"

Ms Mohamed said the list is a crucial mechanism for the UN as it tries to influence and alter how entities and states act during war.

"It will be much harder to bring them to the negotiation table and try and change their behaviour for the better if they can show they can cave under pressure," she said.

"So really violators will be really emboldened and the mechanism will be really weakened."

The list will lose all its credibility if Saudi Arabia is one again removed in the face of political pressure, Ms Mohamed said.

"If you cave under the pressure and remove and entities form the list, then other entities will just, won't feel like this list is even credible or has any standing," she told the ABC.

Children continue to be killed on the ground in Yemen

Kristine Beckerle, the Yemen expert at Human Rights Watch, said this year's report had already been delayed, purportedly to allow Saudi Arabia more time to prove it had improved its behaviour and had been killing fewer children.

But she insisted that was not what had happened on the ground in Yemen.

"So as I am reading the news about the children in armed conflict list I am simultaneously looking into five airstrikes that we have been investigating just over the last three months," Ms Beckerle told the ABC.

"Those airstrikes as far as we can tell killed 25 children.

"To be very clear about what they are listed for — it's for killing and maiming children and attacks on schools and hospitals. With total impunity."

Saudi Arabia has also gone out of its way this year to block investigators from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International as well as reporters from entering Yemen to investigate alleged war crimes.

"We were blocked from taking UN flights into the country by the Saudi-led coalition. So … for many months it has been very, very difficult nearly impossible for human rights organisations or journalists to get into the north of the country where the vast majority of these airstrikes are happening and do the on the ground investigations that are so important," Ms Beckerle said.

But the Human Rights Watch investigator vowed that Saudi Arabia would not escape scrutiny over its actions in Yemen.

"We are continuing to investigate airstrikes and we are doing everything we can to collect evidence from outside the country because from our end, even if the access is impeded, we are not going to stop trying to document and show what the impact of coalition airstrikes are on Yemeni civilians," Ms Beckerle said firmly.