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Lost in Power Politics: Yemeni Children and the United Nations

Written by Prathit Singh

Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed below represent the opinions of the article's author. The following does not necessarily represent the views of Law & Order.


It has been more than five years since Yemen crept into a bloody civil war against the coalition led by Saudi Arabia with the internationally recognized government of Abdrabbih Mansur Hadi as its face on one side and the Houthi forces on the other, determined to establish a centralized de jure government.

Ever since its commencement in 2015, the war has escalated to the point wherein 2019, the United Nations had to declare it as the worst humanitarian crisis — recognizing the fact that 24 million people, constituting about 80 percent of the population of Yemen, were in need of immediate care and assistance. (UN News, 2019)

With numerous forces involved on either side, the war has become another ground in the Gulf region for seeking power hegemony.

Furthermore, with several countries having their own vested interest in the region, ostensible factions amidst the coalition can be noted too (Al-Ashwal, 2019), besides the Houthis leading the divided resistance. The United Nations has been undoubtedly spearheading the peace process by delivering humanitarian aid to the civilian population through its various institutions. However, by analyzing the recent Secretary General’s Report on Children in Armed Conflict (Report of the Secretary-General, 2019), it could be argued that perhaps the United Nations has shown a high degree of leniency and bias towards the Saudi-led coalition by largely disregarding the grave nature of violations committed by its forces against children.

The fact that children are one of the worst affected populations in Yemen can be inferred through the ‘Situational Analysis of Children in Yemen’ Report (UNICEF, 2014). The report was published in 2014, and it elucidates the worsening condition of children, but the horrific conclusions of the Secretary General’s Report from 2019 show an utter disregard for this issue - which points to how the UN might be a lost hope for Yemeni children.

UNICEF, in its aforementioned 2014 report said that the Houthis, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the government of Yemen “are on the United Nations Annex I list of parties that ‘recruit or use children’ in armed conflict.” (UNICEF, 2014) However, the 2019 report of the Secretary-General shows an utter deviation from these concerns and shows a clear bias of the United Nations towards the Saudi-led coalition and the government of Yemen.

The Secretary General’s Report says that in 2019, Yemen recorded 136 UN verified cases of recruitment of children by the Yemeni Armed Forces controlled by the Hadi government and the Saudi-led coalition. Further, the forces have also been reported to have detained about 26 children between 12 to 16 years. 96 children were reported to be killed and maimed by the Yemeni Armed Forces. Additionally, forces of ‘The Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen’, the officiated term used to signify the coalition led by Saudi Arabia is reported to have killed or maimed around 222 children, and the lives of 161 children were claimed in the airstrikes conducted by Saudi Arabia in the region. Six schools in Yemen were attacked by Yemeni Armed Forces last year while the coalition attacked two schools. The UN report also highlights 186 cases entailing the denial of humanitarian-aid access to children by the coalition forces, and 109 of them by Yemeni Armed Forces. These statistics would not have been as alarming if they were not an indicative reiteration of what UNICEF had recorded in 2014.

However, the recordings in ‘Developments and Concerns’ by the Secretary-General is really a cause of alarm. Not even once, in his six-clause record of concerns and developments, does the Secretary-General of the United Nations condemn or express concern over the grave human rights violations committed by the coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia or the Yemeni Armed Forces.

Instead, the Secretary-General decided to commend “the endorsement of a program of time-bound activities by the Coalition, through an exchange of letters with my [the Secretary General’s] Special Representative, in order to support the implementation of the memorandum of understanding…” The Annexure 1 of the report, which is supposed to enlist parties that commit grave violations affecting children in situations of armed conflict on the agenda of the Security Council in pursuance to Security Council Resolutions is divided into two sections: Section A comprises of ‘listed parties that have not put in place measures during the reporting period to improve the protection of children’, while Section B comprises of ‘listed parties that have put in place measures during the reporting period aimed at improving the protection of children.’ Startling is the fact that the Government of Yemen as well as the Yemeni armed forces have been placed in Section B of the annexure. , The Secretary-General, notwithstanding the alarming numbers of violations against children in the reports itself, has stated that both the Government of Yemen, including the Yemeni Armed Forces and the Houthi Forces (which have committed around half of the total violations mentioned in the report) have ‘placed measures for the protection of children.’ What is even more astonishing is that the Coalition forces have been exempted from the list completely. (Report of the Secretary-General, 2019) The spirit of the report evidently shows that the seemingly ‘apolitical’ United Nations which was least expected to lean towards the interests of major powers has fallen victim to the power politics that Saudi Arabia has been playing in the region since the very beginning of the conflict. The influence of this power politics and the UN’s involvement in it was also evident with the repeated inactions or absence of sanctions by the UN for the humanitarian violations by the coalition led by Saudi Arabia despite numerous citations in the letters and reports of the UN Panel of Experts. (Oakford, 2017)

The conundrum here is: in this grave situation, can the innocent children and civilians of Yemen who are to choose between banishment or death every day, still trust the United Nations? Can the United Nations be called the upholder of peace and justice and if the report has given a green card from the UN’s side to validate the grave human rights violation committed by the Saudi led forces in Yemen?

The United Nations, being a vision of peace for the present and generations ahead, holds a larger responsibility here to act in an apolitical manner and without bias to portray its capacity as a responsible humanitarian institution. The obligation to deliver peace and justice to Yemeni children and to protect them from this ‘scourge of war’, solely rests upon the United Nations and the world must spectate if the UN stands to its cause.



1. Ammar Al-Ashwal. 2019. From Reclaiming Legitimacy to Weakening It. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

2. Catastrophic’ humanitarian blockade in Yemen putting millions at risk, UN warns. UN News. 2017.

3. Children and armed conflict. Report of the Secretary General. UN Security Council. 2020.

4. Humanitarian crisis in Yemen remains the worst in the world, warns UN. UN News. 2019

5. Oakford, Samuel. 2017. Confidential UN Document Questions the Saudi Arabian Blockade that’s Starving Yemen. The Intercept.

6. Situation Analysis of Children in Yemen. UNICEF. 2014.

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