Saudi Arabia and its allies have threatened to cut off funding to UN programs if United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon doesn’t drop the kingdom from a blacklist of violators of children rights, diplomatic sources say.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the sources said Tuesday that Ban’s office was bombarded with calls from the foreign ministers of the Persian Gulf littoral states, as well as ministers from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), after the blacklisting was announced last week.
On Monday, the UN temporarily removed the Saudi kingdom from the blacklist of states and armed groups that openly flout the rights of children, pending a review. But Saudi envoy to the UN said the removal was “irreversible and unconditional.”
One UN official said Saudi Arabia is organizing a “full-court press” over the blacklisting.
“Bullying, threats, pressure,” an anonymous diplomatic source told Reuters on the nature of the contacts, adding that it was “real blackmail.”
The source said that Saudi clerics have also threatened to issue a fatwa (religious decree) “against the UN, declaring it anti-Muslim, which would mean no contacts of OIC members, no relations, contributions, support, to any UN projects, programs.”
According to Ban’s spokesman Stephan Dujarric, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Bangladesh contacted Ban’s office to protest the listing of the kingdom. Diplomats said Egypt, Kuwait and Qatar also complained to Ban’s office.
The UN had added Riyadh and the coalition of countries supporting it in its war on Yemen to the blacklist for being responsible for 60 percent of child casualties in the Arab country last year, when it killed 510 children and injured 667 others.
Riyadh, angered by the report, demanded its “correction” and on Monday UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon agreed to the kingdom’s proposal to jointly review the report.
“Pending the conclusions of the joint review, the secretary-general removes the listing of the coalition in the report’s annex,” Dujarric said.
Human Rights Watch criticized the UN move to remove Saudi Arabia from the blacklist and said the UN chief had capitulated to Saudi pressure, highlighting that the UN itself had extensively documented the Saudi airstrikes on Yemeni schools and hospitals.
Amnesty International decried the “blatant pandering,” which it said “damages the credibility of the UN as a whole”.
“It is unprecedented for the UN to bow to pressure to alter its own published report on children in armed conflict. It is unconscionable that this pressure was brought to bear by one of the very states listed in the report.”
“This is a stark example of why the UN needs to stand up for human rights and its own principles – otherwise it will rapidly become part of the problem rather than the solution,” said Amnesty.
The British charity group Oxfam said the world body’s decision to retract its findings was “a moral failure.”
Saudi Arabia launched its military aggression against Yemen on March 26, 2015, in a bid to reinstate resigned president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh, and undermine the Houthi Ansarullah movement.
Riyadh has been backed by Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain in the military campaign.
More than 9,400 people have been killed and at least 16,000 others injured in the aggression.