U.N. report: Attacks by Yemen, Saudi coalition may amount to war crimes

The United Nations’ human rights agency said in a new report Tuesday that parties to the civil war in Yemen may have committed war crimes.

A Yemeni soldier stands guard as people bury the bodies of Houthi militia members in Sana'a, Yemen, on June 9. The Saudi-led coalition launched a military campaign against the Houthi rebels and allied positions in 2015. File Photo by Yahya Arhab/EPA-EFE
A Yemeni soldier stands guard as people bury the bodies of Houthi militia members in Sana’a, Yemen, on June 9. The Saudi-led coalition launched a military campaign against the Houthi rebels and allied positions in 2015. File Photo by Yahya Arhab/EPA-EFE

The government of Yemen and the coalition including Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates may have conducted attacks “in violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution that may amount to war crimes,” the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in an analysis.
The Saudi coalition, which has had U.S., French and British logistical and intelligence support, has carried out strikes in Yemen to reinstate the internationally recognized presidency of Abdu Rabbo Mansour Hadi, whom rebels drove into exile three years ago.

Since March 2015, at least 6,660 civilians have been killed and more than 10,500 injured in the conflict, according to the OHCHR report.

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Yemen, also reeling from a multi-year cholera epidemic that’s killed more than 2,300, has the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world, humanitarian agency Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere said.

“Since [2015], 22.2 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance, among which 11.3 million are in acute need of immediate assistance to save or sustain life, mostly women and children,” the group said.

In June alone, the coalition carried out 258 air raids on Yemen, nearly one-third of which targeted non-military sites.

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The OHCHR report noted that coalition airstrikes — which hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and medical facilities — have caused most direct civilian casualties.

“There is little evidence of any attempt by parties to the conflict to minimize civilian casualties,” said Kamel Jendoubi, chairman of the Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen. “I call on them to prioritize human dignity in this forgotten conflict.”

The 41-page report was published Tuesday by the Group Experts, which was mandated by the U.N. Human Rights Council to carry out a comprehensive examination of Yemen’s human rights crisis. It covers the period from September 2014 to June 2018 and analyzes abuses of international human rights and international criminal law committed by parties to the conflict.

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Investigators cited widespread arbitrary detention throughout Yemen and torture in some facilities. They also received substantial information that the Yemeni government, coalition forces and Houthi-Saleh forces have enlisted children into the fight.

Experts also said freedom of speech has been severely restricted, and journalists have faced relentless harassment, threats and smear campaigns by the government and coalition forces.

Witnesses told the Group of Experts that Security Belt Forces and United Arab Emirates personnel have perpetrated sexual violence against displaced persons, migrants and vulnerable groups.

The coalition has also imposed severe naval and air restrictions in Yemen since March 2015, including at the Sana’a airport, which experts said violates international humanitarian law.

“I urge all parties to take the necessary measures to remove disproportionate restrictions on the safe and expeditious entry into Yemen of humanitarian supplies and other goods indispensable to the civilian population, and the movement of persons including through Sana’a International Airport in compliance with international humanitarian law,” Jendoubi said.

The report submitted a confidential list to the OHCHR listing who may be responsible for international crimes.

An offensive to capture Al Hudaydah in June has resulted in the displacement of over 50,800 families. The U.N. Refugee Agency said it’s ramping up efforts to meet what it calls the most urgent protection needs of thousands of families displaced by fighting in the strategic port city for aid into Yemen.

The Yemeni conflict has escalated over the last few months, especially in Al Hudaydah. More than 450 civilians died there in the first nine days of August alone, making it one of the deadliest periods since the start of the war in 2015, according to the Civil Impact Monitoring Report.

“Despite the severity of the situation, we continue to witness the total disregard of the suffering of the people of Yemen,” Charles Garraway, one of the experts, told reporters.

BySommer Brokaw