UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon acknowledged this week that the Saudi government made him an offer he could not refuse.
In a surge of unexpected outspokenness, Ban admitted having removed Riyadh from a blacklist of countries responsible for the killing of hundreds of children in Yemen. The initial findings of the UN annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict found the Saudi forces guilty of bombing schools and hospitals.
Ban’s regrettable decision was the consequence of intimidation: Riyadh threatened to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the UN – a move that would have crippled the organization’s ability run its humanitarian programs in the West Bank, Gaza, South Sudan and Syria.
This heavy-handed practice is well-known to happen within the UN system, but it’s rarely acknowledged in public.
What was behind Ban’s decision to go public? An urge to remove some pebbles from his shoe before leaving the office? A pang of conscience? Or a shrewd political calculation to expose the Saudis? It is hard to say.
Whatever the reason, Ban’s words rub salt into two open wounds.
The first is related to the state of the United Nations in its 70th anniversary. Voices calling for a general reform have being raised widely amid major failures and recent scandals such as the case of peacekeepers abusing children in the Central African Republic.
The second is about Riyadh. The Saudi government has been an ambiguous ally. The list of doubts around the ruling royal family’s activities is long: the House of Saud is suspected of indulging radical Islamic groups, financing militants and systematically violating basic human rights, among other things.
Most of all, after 15 years, the Saudi government’s possible connection to the 9/11 attacks is yet to be clarified. There is still a 28-page secret chapter of the 832-page Congressional inquiry hidden from public scrutiny. Those pages might help shed light on the untold story.
The tragic events of 9/11 are a pivotal moment in recent history. Not just for the United States, but for the world. We are all still facing the consequences of that day and of the choices made in the years that followed. Hiding the truth prevents us from determining whether the response was legitimate or appropriate; and ultimately right or wrong.
Roberto Capocelli is an intern with Newsday Opinion.