Campaigners have criticised the UN for removing the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen from a list of groups violating children's rights, adding that the coalition had been responsible for the death or injury of 222 children last year.
"The Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen will be delisted for the violation of killing and maiming, following a sustained significant decrease in killing and maiming due to air strikes," said the UN's newly-published annual report on children in conflict zones, adding that the death toll had fallen since an agreement signed in March 2019.More: UN issues desperate plea for financial aid in war-ravaged Yemen Yemen's health system 'has collapsed' as coronavirus spreads: UN Yemen's war rages under shadow of looming coronavirus threat
The coalition intervened in 2015 in Yemen to support the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was deposed by the Houthi rebels in late 2014. It has been widely blamed for civilian casualties in bombing raids that campaigners say have pushed the country deeper into crisis.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced Guterres for dropping the coalition from the "list of shame," saying he was "ignoring the UN's own evidence of continued grave violations against children."
The Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict said that "by absolving the Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition of any responsibility for killing and maiming children in Yemen, the UN Secretary-General has left children vulnerable to further attacks."
Inger Ashing of Save the Children called it a "shocking decision" by Guterres.
But the secretary-general's envoy for children and armed conflict, Virginia Gamba, said the UN had come "under no pressure" from Saudi Arabia and that the removal from the list was based on data.
Gamba said the decision to remove the Saudis from the "blacklist" was taken following "the sustained, significant decrease in killing and maiming due to air strikes".
In 2016, then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon removed the Saudi-led coalition from the "blacklist" of government forces that committed grave violations against children the previous year following a threat by Saudi Arabia to cut off funding to UN programmes.
The following year, after Guterres assumed the UN leadership, the coalition was placed in a sub-section of the report created for those making efforts to avoid deaths of children. It remained there in 2018 and 2019.
The Houthis remain on the UN "list of shame" for failing to put in place measures to improve the protection of children, though Guterres said in the report that he is encouraged by ongoing UN talks with the rebel group "to end and prevent violations for which they are listed".
HRW and the Watchlist also criticised the secretary-general for leaving Israel off the blacklist despite it being responsible for 1,525 casualties among Palestinian children last year, including 29 deaths.
The report, which reviews several conflicts worldwide each year, said 4,019 children were verified as having been killed and more than 6,000 maimed in 2019.
The numbers were similar to 2018, according to the UN.
The report also partially removed the Tatmadaw, Myanmar's armed forces, from the blacklist.
They no longer appear for recruitment of children but remain on the list for sexual violence, killing, and maiming.
Guterres cited "a continued significant decrease in recruitment, ongoing prosecutions and an agreement to continue to trace and release cases".
Save the Children described the move as "premature and dangerous".