Despite overwhelming evidence, Saudi-coalition spokesman Colonel Turki Al Malki slammed the still-unreleased report as “inaccurate” and asserted that the report’s conclusions are based upon “unreliable facts.”
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA — In the lead-up to the release of a UN report focusing on mass child casualties in the Yemen conflict, the Saudi-led coalition that has largely been blamed for those deaths is already contesting the results of the report, some of which were leaked to the press late last month.
According to media reports, the UN was able to confirm the deaths of 552 children last year in Yemen. Sixty-seven percent of those children, 370 in total, were found to have been killed by coalition airstrikes. The report also found that 83 Yemeni children were killed by attacks launched by the Houthi rebels and 41 killed by fighters loyal to the Saudi-backed government while the remainder were killed by the coalition’s international allies — the United States among them — as well as terror groups active in Yemen, such as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
During a Tuesday press conference in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, coalition spokesman Colonel Turki Al Malki slammed the still-unreleased report as “inaccurate” and asserted that the report’s conclusions are based upon “unreliable facts.”
Al Malki claimed that “there were no documented cases either by photos, place or time” of incidents cited in the report. He also blamed Yemeni resistance groups, specifically the Houthis, for the deaths of children in Yemen, stating that many of the children who had been killed by the Saudi-led coalition had been recruited as fighters by the Houthis and had been present at military targets as a result.
Well-documented evidence backs UN reports
Since the Yemen conflict began in 2015, Saudi Arabia and other coalition members and supporters have contested the UN’s criticisms of the high civilian casualties that have resulted from coalition airstrikes. Last year, the UN similarly accused the coalition of violating the rights of children and of being responsible for more than 687 child injuries and deaths in Yemen over the course of 2016. At the time, Saudi Arabia called the UN’s conclusions “misleading” but offered no evidence to back up that claim.
Despite Saudi claims to the contrary, the well-documented evidence that the coalition has repeatedly bombed civilian targets — such as hospitals, schools, clinics, markets and critical infrastructure — substantially weakens Saudi Arabia’s past and present assertions that it is responsible for child casualties resulting only from the coalition’s targeting of Houthi military targets.
In addition, the Saudi-led coalition has contributed to child deaths in ways that were unnamed in the report, making the actual number of Yemeni children killed due to coalition actions much higher. For example, the deaths of Yemeni children that resulted from the country’s preventable cholera outbreak or as a result of famine — crises that both have been caused and exacerbated by the coalition’s de facto blockade of imports into Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen — were not counted in the UN report.