US, Europe mum on Saudi blackmail of UN
France and the UK have called for calm in an angry row between Saudi Arabia and the UN but have kept silent on each side’s misconduct in dropping Riyadh from a blacklist of children’s rights violators.
Both Saudi Arabia and the UN have come under criticism after United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon admitted on Thursday that he removed the kingdom from the blacklist under “undue pressure.”
“We have to do everything to appease the situation,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Friday, refusing to take any sides in the dispute.
“France is always there when it comes to safeguarding the UN’s capacity to take action,” he added, without specifying what those actions were.
The United Nations blacklisted Saudi Arabia after concluding in a report released last week that it was responsible for 60 percent of the 785 deaths of children in Yemen last year.
But in an embarrassing climbdown, the world body announced on Monday that Saudi Arabia would be scratched from the list of shame pending a joint review with the kingdom.
The UN chief said Thursday he temporarily removed Saudi Arabia from the blacklist because Saudi Arabia’s supporters threatened to stop funding many UN programs.
“This was one of the most painful and difficult decisions I have had to make,” Ban said.
One senior UN official described Ban’s choice as between the “plague and cholera” but human rights groups accused the UN chief of caving to pressure from powerful countries and said he risked harming his UN legacy.
The United States backed Ban’s remarks and said the UN chief had invited the Saudis and its allies to discuss the report in New York on June 17.
British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft also tried to gloss over the situation, saying he welcomed “the fact that the secretary-general and Saudi Arabia have reached agreement on an analysis of the cases in the report.”
The annual report is produced at the request of the UN Security Council.
The 15-member council has not intervened in the controversy. It did not get involved last year when Israel was left off the blacklist after being included in an earlier draft.
Ban took a veiled swipe at the council on Thursday.
“When UN reports come under fire for raising difficult issues or documenting violations of law or human rights, member states should defend the mechanisms and mandates that they themselves have established,” he said.
According to some diplomats, the UN chief was subjected to “bullying, threats, and pressure” and “real blackmail.”
Displaced children play near their family’s tent at a camp for internally-displaced people on the outskirts of Sana’a, Yemen, June 8, 2016. ©AP
Saudi Arabia launched its military aggression against Yemen on March 26, 2015, in a bid to reinstate former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh.
More than 9,400 people have been killed and at least 16,000 others injured in the Saudi aggression.
Many of the Western countries, including the US and Britain, stand accused of aiding Saudi Arabia in its invasion of Yemen.
Last month, Human Rights Watch criticized the US for selling cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia despite evidence of mounting civilian casualties.
Amnesty International has also said it has discovered British-made cluster bombs used by the Saudis in their war on Yemen.
In January, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said US and UK military advisers were in command room with Riyadh in the war in Yemen, working alongside the kingdom in bombing the country.
“We have British officials and American officials and officials from other countries in our command and control center. They know what the target list is and they have a sense of what it is that we are doing and what we are not doing,” he said.