H. R. H. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman
Minister of Defense
Ministry of Defense
Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
We write to follow-up on the August 2, 2016 statement of H.E Ambassador Abdullah bin Yahya Al-Mouallimi, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations, in which he announced that Houthi attacks on southern Saudi Arabia had led to the “destruction of more than 1,700 homes” and caused “the deaths of over 500 civilians.” We are interested in conducting further research into these potential laws of war violations, particularly in the Jazan, Najran, and Asir regions.
Human Rights Watch has previously documented how pro-Houthi forces have indiscriminately fired artillery, rockets, and other explosive weapons with wide area effect into southern Saudi Arabia. Such attacks may amount to war crimes. We would like to follow-up on this research and document more recent potentially indiscriminate attacks that may have hit civilian structures or resulted in civilian deaths in Saudi Arabia.
According to an August 20, 2016 report by Al Arabiya, cluster munition rockets have been fired from Yemen into Najran in southern Saudi Arabia as recently as August 18. We seek permission to investigate the evidence of civilian harm from this possible use of banned cluster munitions. A video on Al Arabiya’s website shows the remnants of Soviet-made Uragan rockets, including a failed rocket that clearly contains submunitions. The article identified the type as a 9M27K rocket, which each contain 30 9N210 submunitions. Houthi-affiliated media reported on August 1, 2016 that Yemen’s “army and popular committees,” comprised of Houthi and allied forces, used Uragan rockets in their cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia. Previous attacks appear to have involved the use of Uragan rockets containing antivehicle mines and fuel air explosives, but this is the first indication that cluster munition payloads may also be being used.
Human Rights Watch arms researchers previously documented civilian harm from Uragan cluster munition rockets in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and 2015. We would like to conduct a similar investigation in Saudi Arabia. It would be helpful to visit the sites of the reported cluster munition rocket attacks and meet with local authorities, including regional police, and the Army engineering battalion that may have cleared and destroyed explosive remnants of war from any attacks. We would like to interview victims and other witnesses to document the humanitarian impact of indiscriminate attacks.
Human Rights Watch welcomes official comment from Saudi Arabia on this alleged use of cluster munition rockets.
Human Rights Watch staff previously met with Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asseri on May 9, 2016. In the meeting, General Asseri kindly extended invitations to Human Rights Watch staff to visit Saudi Arabia, in addition to visiting the Saudi-led coalition “fusion cell” in Riyadh to better understand how targeting decisions are made and to examine the preliminary results of the Coalition’s investigations into particular airstrikes.
General Asseri also extended an invitation to Human Rights Watch staff to visit the Coalition fusion cell in Riyadh to better understand how intelligence and targeting decisions are made and to examine the preliminary results of the Coalition’s investigations into particular airstrikes. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with Coalition officials in Saudi Arabia to discuss challenges and achievements in implementing laws of war standards. Such visits will enable us to hear in detail the perspectives of Coalition officials which we will, as always, reflect fairly in our ongoing reporting.
Kindly get back to us by September 8, 2016 so we can plan accordingly. Please contact Sarkis Balkhian in the Middle East and North Africa Division, at @hrw.org or +1-xxx-xxx-xxxx.
We thank you for your consideration and look forward to a positive response, following which we will be pleased to send you more specific information about our proposed visit and participants.
Sarah Leah Whitson
Middle East and North Africa Division
Human Rights Watch