A jaw-dropping decision by the UN is about to turn the UK into an international disgrace

Theresa May Hate Crime
Tracy Keeling

The UN is reportedly set to release a jaw-dropping decision that will turn the UK into an international disgrace.

Britain maintains a strong and controversial relationship with Saudi Arabia. And it’s a lucrative one for the UK’s arms dealers, because the Conservative government has approved billions in weapons sales to the kingdom.

But now, the UN has reportedly decided to include Saudi Arabia on its latest list of ‘child killers’, which it will release on 6 October. This is due to Saudi Arabia’s ongoing, brutal assault on Yemen.

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The UN’s decision, however, reflects very badly on the UK government too. And it may make the government’s ‘open arms’ policy with the regime very uncomfortable indeed.

The list

The UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict publishes the report annually. It blacklists those who carry out grave violations against children in conflict. Saudi Arabia was due to be on the list previously. But it reportedly [paywall] threatened the UN with a loss of relations and funding. The kingdom denies this. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon subsequently removed Saudi Arabia from the list, pending a review of the issue.

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But now, a leaked copy of the latest report shows that the Saudi-led coalition – which has been bombing Yemen for two years – has made it onto the blacklist; as have the Houthis, who ousted the Yemeni government in 2015. Both Reuters and Foreign Policy [paywall] have allegedly seen the draft report. It reads:

In Yemen, the coalition’s actions objectively led to the listing for the killing and maiming of children, with 683 child casualties attributed to this party, and, as a result of being responsible for 38 verified incidents, for attacks on schools and hospitals during 2016.

For the first time, however, the UN has noted those blacklisted parties that have taken measures to “improve the protection of children”. Saudi Arabia is listed as one of these. But Foreign Policy claims [paywall] that the report contains no specific examples of the steps the kingdom has taken. And Jo Becker, Children’s Rights Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, said [paywall] that the Saudi-led coalition has made only “empty promises that have failed to protect children on the ground”.

Named and shamed

The UN could change the wording of the report before its official release. And it doesn’t impose sanctions on the listed parties. Essentially, the blacklist is an attempt at naming and shaming those implicated.

But the UK, and other countries, have sold masses of weapons to Saudi Arabia. And the Saudi-led coalition is using its weapons stockpile in its “attacks on schools and hospitals” and in its “killing and maiming of children”. So countries and companies that sell arms to the country are, by direct association, disgraced too.

And that shame couldn’t come at a worse time for the UK government. Because it recently signed a new ‘Military and Security Cooperation Agreement’ with Saudi Arabia.

The final straw?

When Defence Secretary Michael Fallon signed the recent deal, he said it “further cements the UK’s long-standing relationship” with Saudi Arabia. Should the UN go ahead and name the country a ‘child killer’, many may hope it will dampen Fallon’s celebratory tone in future.

But it might not. Because the Conservative government’s loyalty to the kingdom as yet appears unshakeable. Even as seven million people in Yemen teeter on the brink of famine. People that Saudi Arabia has essentially blocked humanitarian aid planes getting to.

The UK government’s reputation is already in tatters over its dealings with Saudi Arabia so far. Should it not take action if the draft report goes ahead as planned, it will be nothing short of an international disgrace.

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