The United Nations this week vividly demonstrated how power not principle governs its humanitarian efforts. For a fraction of a second, the UN showed courage in the inclusion of Saudi Arabia on a listing of countries that “kill or maim children” and “parties that engage in attacks on schools and/or hospitals.” Saudi Arabia was included due to its widely denounced bombing campaign in Yemen which has indiscriminately killed civilians and children. Saudi Arabia immediately demanded that its name be removed from the list or it would kill funding for UN programs. It is the same type of threat leveled at the United States Congress that the release of long-sealed pages on Saudi involvement in the 9-11 attacks (and lifting a ban on suing the Kingdom) would result in the Saudis divesting U.S. holdings and undermine the economy. While Senators expressed outrage at the threat and voted to lift the ban, it was later learned that a poison pill amendment was put into the bill to allow the Administration to simply bar such lawsuits.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was at least honest about selling out. He admitted that the U.N.’s 2015 “Children and Armed Conflict” report originally listed the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and attributed 60 percent of the 785 children killed and 1,168 injured to the bombing coalition. However, the Saudi threats worked. He insisted “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. Children already at risk in Palestine, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and so many other places would fall further into despair.”
Saudi Arabia is one of the U.N.’s largest donors in the Middle East and threatened the funds supporting the Palestinians as well as other groups. Ki-Moon objected to threats of the Saudis . . . just before caving to the pressure. He insisted “It is unacceptable for member states to exert undue pressure. Scrutiny is a natural and necessary part of the work of the United Nations.” He lamented that the decision was “one of the most painful and difficult decisions I have had to make.” Openly caving to threats and abandoning principle is often “painful” but it appears U.N. officials have learned to overcome any lasting discomfort.