Yemen
Children wait on a street near a house during a house-to-house polio vaccination campaign in YemenKhaled Abdullah/ Reuters

The United Nations has given into demands from Saudi Arabia by removing a Riyadh-led coalition fighting in Yemen from a child rights blacklist pending a joint review by the world body and the coalition. The international body had earlier held the group responsible for the killing of hundreds of minors.

The UN's decision has come under criticism from human rights activists, who blamed the intergovernmental organisation of succumbing to pressure.

The UN had added Saudi Arabia to the blacklist last week, saying it was responsible for 60% of child deaths and injuries in Yemen in 2015, killing 510 and wounding 667, with half the attacks on schools and hospitals, Reuters reported.

The Saudi-coalition is fighting to prevent Iran-allied Houthi rebels along with loyal pro-government militia of Yemen's ex-President Ali Abdullah Saleh from taking control of the country.

"Grave violations against children increased dramatically as a result of the escalating conflict," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in the report that was released on 2 June. He blamed both the sides involved in the Yemen conflict for the killings. Human rights organisations had welcomed the report.

However, it triggered a row with Saudi officials calling for the scrapping of the country's name from the list. They said the figures released by the UN were "wildly exaggerated", indicating the coalition was using "the most up-to-date equipment in precision targeting".

"Pending the conclusion of the joint review, the secretary-general removes listing of the coalition in the report's annex," Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

However, Saudi Arabia's UN ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi said the delisting was "irreversible and unconditional". "We were wrongly placed on the list. We know that this removal is final," he said, adding the UN did not consult Saudi before publishing the report.

The UN has already blacklisted the Houthis, Yemen government forces and pro-government milita for at least five years considering it as "persistent perpetrators". Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula also reappearance on the list.

Since the war began in 2015, some 6,000 people have been killed, of which nearly half of them were civilians.

In 2015, the UN removed Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas from the list, but criticised Israel over its 2014 military operations.

Criticising the latest retreat, Philippe Bolopion, the deputy director for global advocacy at Human Rights Watch, said: "After giving a similar pass to Israel last year, the UN Secretary-General's office has hit a new low by capitulating to Saudi Arabia's brazen pressure. Yemen's children deserve better."

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