Saudi Arabia Dropped From List Of Those Harming Children; U.N. Cites Pressure : Parallels United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon says he delisted Saudi Arabia because of threats to cut U.N. funding and "the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously" as a result.
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Saudi Arabia Dropped From List Of Those Harming Children; U.N. Cites Pressure

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Saudi Arabia Dropped From List Of Those Harming Children; U.N. Cites Pressure

Saudi Arabia Dropped From List Of Those Harming Children; U.N. Cites Pressure

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The U.N. secretary-general made a stunning admission today. Ban Ki-moon suggested that he bowed to financial pressure from Saudi Arabia over a report that blasted a Saudi-led coalition for killing children in Yemen. The report still stands, but the secretary-general took the Saudis off a list at the end of the report. NPR's Michele Kelemen has the story.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The report on children in armed conflict describes as the U.N. secretary-general puts it - the horrors no child should have to face. It says in the civil war in Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for 60 percent of the nearly 2,000 children killed or injured. So he understands why some were outraged when he took the coalition off the report's list of worst offenders.

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KURT WALDHEIM: I also had to consider the very real prospect that millions of other children would suffer grievously if, as was suggested to me, countries would defund many U.N. programs.

KELEMEN: He didn't name the countries that threatened to defund or cut off funding to the U.N., but he was clearly referring to pressure from Saudi Arabia and other coalition partners.

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WALDHEIM: It is unacceptable for member states to exert undue pressure.

KELEMEN: Minutes later, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.N. Abdallah al-Mouallimi stepped to the microphone in damage-control mode.

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ABDALLAH AL-MOUALLIMI: It is not in our style. It is not in our genes. It is not in our culture to use threats and intimidation.

KELEMEN: He says in his meetings, he did not threaten to withhold funds to the U.N., but he did take issue with the report noting that Saudi Arabia was not consulted before it was published with the coalition listed.

This isn't the first time the U.N. has caved to pressure in its annual report on children in armed conflict. Last year, the U.S. was seen as helping to keep Israel off a blacklist for its military campaign in Gaza. That was an unfortunate precedent, says Eva Smets, who's the director of the advocacy group called Watchlist on Children in Armed Conflict.

EVA SMETS: It's very important that there is no double standards being applied in composing this list, that you get on the list no exception if you violate children's rights.

KELEMEN: And you only get off if you end or prevent violence against children. Smets doesn't think Ban Ki-moon's mea culpa was enough. Another activist Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch says it is outrageous that the U.N. secretary-general has shown once again he can be bullied.

SARAH LEAH: There's a reason why the secretary-general called this a list of shame. It's meant to shame countries that are abusive and have been the worst abusers of children. And so the notion that you can get off it if you scream loud enough and you're rich enough is scandalous.

KELEMEN: In Yemen, hundreds of children have died in what she describes as a devastating and reckless aerial campaign by the Saudi-led coalition.

WHITSON: It's just been such an ugly bombardment campaign.

KELEMEN: So, she says, it's galling and shocking not to have the Saudis on the list of shame. Human Rights Watch and others are lobbying hard to put the Saudis back on. Saudi Arabia's ambassador says his country's delisting is permanent. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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