The United Nations Secretary General’s office, headed by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, publishes an annual report about the condition of children in war-torn areas. The 2015 report, released last week, revealed that during that year 1,953 children were either killed or injured as a result of armed conflict. This figure is six times higher than it was in 2014, with 60% of these casualties caused by coalition groups led by Saudi Arabia in the multisided war in Yemen. The report also stated that the same coalition was responsible for 48% of all of the attacks on schools and hospitals -with the UN establishing 101 such attacks – twice the number that what was reported in 2014.

Based on its leadership role of the Yemen coalition, Saudi Arabia appeared on the U.N.-”blacklist” of violators of children’s human rights released last week. However, shortly thereafter, Saudi Arabia was removed from the list. Ban Ki-moon’s sudden change of heart has resulted in a massive outcry from human rights groups who have accused Ban Ki-moon of letting political pressure affect his judgment. In response, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric stated that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took the decision pending a joint review of cases with Saudi Arabia. Dujarric did not specify whether the Saudi Arabia Coalition in Yemen would be added to the blacklist if the review endorsed the findings in the original report. However, Saudi Arabia’s UN Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi said they were wrongly placed on the list, and that “this removal is final.”

The Saudi Arabian Coalition in Yemen

The Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen began in 2015 with the intention of influencing the outcome of the Yemeni Civil War. Saudi Arabia headed a coalition of nine Arab states, which carried out a series of air strikes in Yemen, and also imposed an aerial and naval blockade. The intervention resulted in a dramatic worsening effect on the humanitarian situation in the region, reaching the level of a humanitarian tragedy. After the Saudi-led coalition declared the entire Saada Governorate a military target, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen said that air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition on Saada city in Yemen were in breach of international law.

A report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) concluded that from March until June 2015, almost two-thirds of civilians killed in the Yemeni conflict had died as a result of the air strikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition. The actions of the coalition resulted in over 60 percent of child deaths in Yemen, with 510 deaths and 667 children seriously injured. The report stated that the coalition had carried out half the attacks on schools and hospitals. On July 2015, the UN declared Yemen a “level-three” human rights emergency – the highest UN emergency level.

In addition to the deaths of children directly caused by the armed conflict, the war in Yemen has resulted in nearly 10,000 children under the age of five to die from preventable diseases, because of lack of access to essential health services, like vaccination and antibiotics. According to a report released by UNICEF in March 2016, nearly 320,000 children in Yemen were at risk for “acute malnutrition,” with further millions of kids at risk of respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases and measles.

The Effect of Political Pressure

After it became public that the UN had placed Saudi Arabia on the UN blacklist of children’s human rights violators, Saudi Arabia responded by threatening to break relations with the United Nations and cut hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to its humanitarian relief and counterterrorism programs. Ban Ki-moon told reporters that he had been threatened with the loss of financing for humanitarian operations in the Palestinian territories, South Sudan, and Syria, if he did not temporarily delete the Saudi-led coalition from the list. The threat worked, with the UN subsequently dropping the Saudis from the list of the world’s worst violators of children’s rights in conflict zones.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time the UN gives in to political pressure. Last year, the United States warned that Congress might cut off funding to the UN if it included Israel on the same blacklist of armed entities that killed or injured children in conflict. In that case, the Secretary General removed Israel from a draft blacklist before it was made public. Pushing for the delisting of Saudi Arabia, Abdallah al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s U.N. ambassador, stated that it was unfair for Israel to be quietly let off the hook, while the Kingdom was not.

On another occasion, in 2014, Ban Ki-moon invited Iran to United Nations-brokered political negotiations over Syria. After he was advised by American officials to rescind the invitation, he appeared before reporters and stated that Iran could not attend. The State Department had demanded that prior to attending the negotiations, Iran accept certain conditions that it knew Tehran would find unacceptable. The result was that Iran did not attend the negotiations. Again, the political pressure exerted by the US worked to change the Secretary General’s original position.

Although it might be unrealistic to expect the UN to be completely unaffected by political pressures, the office of the Secretary General of the UN should be expected to carry out its mandate and its responsibilities without being concerned about funds being withdrawn by countries that disagree with its decisions. Every time the Secretary General gives in to political pressure, the UN loses credibility in its alleged efforts to eradicate human rights violations. Whether the answer is to change the UN model to decentralize power and give more autonomy to the office of the Secretary General, or to force countries to commit funds for use by the UN without the ability to withdraw such funding regardless of the UN’s decisions, it is important to recognize the need for change. For the UN to maintain its authority as a supranational organization to be accorded respect by all nations, its fairness, integrity and trustworthiness must never be in doubt.




Today we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the world’s most universally ratified human rights treaty. The treaty requires the commitment of states that embrace it to do all possible to ensure children’s wellbeing, dignity and protection. The U.S., accompanied by Somalia and South Sudan, are the only three countries that have failed to ratify this important instrument of international law. One hundred and ninety-four nations – including all of America’s closest allies — have ratified the CRC. To say that the US is in bad company is an understatement.

The CRC was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989 and became one of the most rapidly and widely adopted human-rights agreements. The United States signed it in 1995 but never ratified it. Signing a treaty implies that a country endorses its principles, whereas ratification means committing to be legally bound by it. Treaty ratification under US law requires that after the President sends the treaty to the Senate it must be approved by a two-thirds majority, the same standard required for a Constitutional amendment. The Convention on the Rights of the Child has never made it to a vote.

The Convention upholds the ideal that all children, everywhere, have the same human rights to survive and thrive, to learn and contribute to society. The CRC recognizes every child’s right to develop physically, socially and mentally to his or her fullest potential, to be protected from discrimination, exploitation, abuse, discrimination, and violence; to express his or her views freely and to participate in decisions affecting his or her future.

Most American laws are already consistent with the ideals of the CRC, but not all. A notable exception is that in the United States children under 18 can be incarcerated for life without parole. Since the treaty prohibits cruel and degrading punishment of children, those laws may be deemed in contravention of the treaty. Opponents of the treaty say it would usurp American sovereignty. Although America has laws against child abuse, a third of states allow corporal punishment in schools and none bans it at home. Parent-rights groups claim the treaty would undermine parents’ authority, particularly over religious and sex education.

Studies by the Children’s Defense Fund, UNICEF, and others show that, relative to its wealth and compared to other industrialized countries, the U.S does not fare well with regards child poverty, teen birth rates, low birth weight, infant mortality, child victims of gun violence, and the number of minors incarcerated. It is incomprehensible how the richest nation on earth allows one out of six children to live under the poverty level; how its laws permit a child to be killed by guns every three hours; or how so many children and families live without basic health insurance.

Ratification of the CRC in itself would not immediately change the situation of children in American. However, it might help establish a national framework to establish clear objectives that the federal and state governments, private organizations, and individuals, can use to shape policies and initiatives to better meet the needs of children and their families.

Internationally, ratification of the CRC would help enhance U.S. standing as a global leader in human rights. Additionally, as a party to the Convention, the U.S. would be eligible to participate in the Committee on the Rights of the Child (which is the international body that monitors the CRC’s implementation), and work toward strengthening further progress for children in all countries.

On behalf of President Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright signed the CRC in 1995, signaling the U.S. government’s intention to move toward ratification. But the George W Bush administration took no further action. President Obama has done nothing tangible towards getting the treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate.

As a presidential candidate in 2008, referring to the CRC, Barack Obama underscored the importance of the US returning “[…] to its position as a respected global leader and promoter of human rights” and promised to “[…] review this and other treaties to ensure that the U.S. resumes its global leadership in human rights.” Over 100 CEOs and leaders of prominent American child welfare organizations and faith-based groups have made a joint appeal to President Obama to order such a review.

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the CRC, many of us hope that the United States will join the international community in embracing the CRC as a safeguard for the defense of children’s rights and well being everywhere.