UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia on Friday rejected a United Nations report blaming a Saudi-led military coalition for killing or injuring 683 children in Yemen and attacking dozens of schools and hospitals as “inaccurate and misleading.”
“We exercise the maximum degree of care and precaution to avoid civilian harm,” Saudi U.N. Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi told reporters at the United Nations.
In a report submitted to the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres blacklisted the Saudi-led coalition for its 2016 actions - even as he said it had taken action to improve child protection.
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the coalition reaffirm that it is taking important measures to protect civilians during all military operations to end the suffering of the Yemeni people and minimize the humanitarian cost,” Mouallimi said.
“We reject the inaccurate and misleading information and figures contained in the report and we express our strong reservation with respect to this information,” he said.
The coalition had been briefly added to the U.N. blacklist last year and removed by then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pending review. At the time, Ban accused Saudi Arabia of exerting “unacceptable” undue pressure after sources told Reuters that Riyadh threatened to cut some U.N. funding. Saudi Arabia denied this.
In an effort to dampen controversy surrounding the report, the blacklist this year is split into two categories. One lists parties that have put in place measures to protect children, which includes the Saudi-led military coalition, and the other includes parties that have not.
The report does not subject those listed to U.N. action but rather shames parties to conflicts in the hope of pushing them to implement measures to protect children.
Yemen has been devastated by more than two years of civil war in which President Abd-Rabu Mansour Hadi’s government, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, is fighting to drive the Houthis out of cities they seized in 2014 and 2015.
More than 10,000 people have been killed and the conflict has ruined the economy and pushed millions to the brink of famine.
Mouallimi blamed the Iran-allied Houthi rebels and forces loyal to Yemen’s ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh for putting civilians at risk, including using children as human shields.
The U.N. blacklist also named the Houthi rebel group, Yemen government forces, pro-government militia and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula for violations against children in 2016.
Reporting by Michelle Nichols, editing by G Crosse