The High Commissioner has rightly condemned the repeated unlawful killing of civilians by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen airstrikes.
Since the beginning of the conflict a year ago, the Office of the High Commissioner has recorded a total of almost 9,000 casualties, including 3,218 civilians killed and a further 5,778 injured.
Civilians are being killed in Yemen on a depressingly regular basis – many by Houthi abuses, but the vast majority by airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition. These airstrikes have hit hospitals, schools, and market places. The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen, established under UN Security Council Resolution 2140 (2013), in a report made public on January 26, 2016, documented 119 coalition sorties that violated the laws of war.
For the past year, governments that arm and provide military assistance to Saudi Arabia, in particular the United States and the United Kingdom, have rejected or downplayed compelling evidence that the coalition’s airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians in Yemen.
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other international and Yemeni groups have issued a joint statement calling for the cessation of sales and transfers of all weapons and military-related equipment to parties to the conflict in Yemen where “there is a substantial risk of these arms being used… to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law.”
By continuing to sell weapons to a known violator that has done little if anything to curtail its abuses, the US, UK, and France risk being complicit in unlawful civilian deaths.
But the rising civilian death toll resulting from the widespread, indiscriminate bombardment of Yemen is also the responsibility of every Human Rights Council Member State. Last September, the Council had the opportunity to create an international inquiry into violations and abuses by all parties to the conflict. It declined to do so, instead opting for a Yemeni-led national inquiry which could not credibly be expected to impartially investigate abuses by the very government that set it up.
To no-one’s surprise, the High Commissioner reports no real progress in the conduct of investigations. To no-one’s surprise, there has been no meaningful change in the Saudi-led conduct of the bombing campaign since that weak September resolution.
International scrutiny can save lives. We reiterate our call for the Human Rights Council to create an international mechanism to investigate alleged serious violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of international human rights law committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen.
How many more Yemeni civilian lives will be lost, how many more Yemeni homes, hospitals, schools destroyed, before this Council takes the action needed to fulfill its mandate and put an end to impunity?