On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted against banning the transfer of cluster bomb munitions to Saudi Arabia. This came only one week after a scandal surfaced about Riyadh’s targeting of children in the US-backed mission in Yemen, which the regime attempted to cover up by extorting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
On June 2, the United Nations added Saudi Arabia to the "child killers blacklist" in their annual Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) report, but only four days later the UN Secretary General announced that the regime was to be removed from the list pending further investigation of the report’s claims by Saudi and United Nations officials.
At the time, Ban Ki-moon attempted to minimize the controversy, implying the redaction was temporary. But Saudi Arabia’s envoy to the United Nations declared that Riyadh’s removal from the infamous list is permanent.
Last Thursday, the UN chief went public about the circumstances surrounding his decision to remove Saudi Arabia from the list.
"The report describes horrors no child should have to face, but at the same time, 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 UN programs. Children already at risk in Palestine, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen and so many other places would fall further into despair," Ban said.
Reports indicate that Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir informed the United Nations that if the truth about Riyadh’s war crimes against children in Yemen was not redacted, the country would move to eliminate as much as $500 million in annual funding for UN programs. He also threatened to coordinate with Arab allies.
This is not the first time that the Saudi Foreign Minister has resorted to extortion to prevent embarrassing truths to come to light. In April, Adel al-Jubeir informed Washington that Riyadh would move to dump $750 billion in US Treasury bonds if legislation was passed that allowed the family members of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia.
United Nation’s researchers had previously determined that the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen should be included under the "parties that kill or maim children" and "parties that engage in attacks on schools and/or hospitals" after uncovering evidence that 60% of the 785 child deaths and 1,168 child injuries in the conflict were attributed to Riyadh’s bombing attacks. Many of these attacks involved weapons provided by the United States.
Despite these concerns, the United States has nonetheless agreed to continue the sale of weapons that international experts say pose a disproportionate threat to young people, who can easily mistake unexploded cluster ordinances for toys.
The decision by the US Congress came in no small part through aggressive lobbying by the Obama administration’s Department of Defense.
"The Department of Defense strongly opposes this amendment," said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ). "They advised us that it would stigmatize cluster munitions, which are legitimate weapons with clear military utility."
Cluster bombs remain banned by an international treaty signed by 119 countries, not including the United States. American officials argue that while cluster munitions should not be used by other countries, the weapons used by the US military include sophisticated fail-safes that prevent unexploded munitions from falling into the hands of children.
However, extensive research by Human Rights Watch indicates that US cluster bombs pose a comparable threat to civilians.