(Geneva) – The United Nations Human Rights Council should immediately create an international investigation into abuses in Yemen. The UN high commissioner for human rights also called for a halt to arming the parties to the conflict in a report released in Geneva on August 25, 2016. He called the impact of the conflict on Yemen’s civilians “devastating.”
Since a Saudi Arabia-led coalition began its military campaign against Houthi forces in Yemen on March 26, 2015, at least 3,799 civilians have been killed and 6,711 wounded, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The report’s recommendations strengthen calls made by nongovernmental groups, including Human Rights Watch, to the Human Rights Council to establish an international independent inquiry to investigate alleged violations by both sides and to individual countries to stop arming parties to the conflict known to have repeatedly violated the laws of war.
“Yemeni civilians have suffered serious laws-of-war violations by all sides for more than a year,” said John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “They should not have to wait a moment longer for these abuses to be credibly and effectively investigated.”
The high commissioner’s report details numerous violations of international humanitarian and human rights law between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, by both sides to the conflict.
The high commissioner reported that “Popular Committees”affiliated with the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, and army units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh have attacked residential areas, conducted sniper attacks against civilians, recruited and used child soldiers, and imposed a blockade on the city of Taizz that has led to a “near collapse of the health system.” Human Rights Watch has also documented violations by the Houthis and allied forces, including the use of antipersonnel landmines, use of child soldiers, indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, and restrictions on aid to civilians in Taizz.
The high commissioner also said that Saudi-led coalition hadstruck schools, hospitals, markets, weddings, residential buildings, and public and private infrastructure in airstrikes; imposed a naval blockade and restrictions on air and land travel that have contributed to worsening the humanitarian crisis; and allegedly used cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International alone have documented more than 70 unlawful coalition airstrikes, some of which may amount to war crimes, that have killed more than 900 civilians, and 19 attacks using internationally banned cluster munitions.
Peace talks between President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi’sgovernment and the Houthis and former President Saleh’s party broke down in early August, and the fighting – with civilian casualties – continues. According to OHCHR figures, between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, 1,259 civilians were allegedly killed and 1,360 injured as a result of coalitionairstrikes, and 475 allegedly killed and 1,121 injured as a result of shelling by the Popular Committees and army units loyal to Saleh. The report also found that other groups, including Al-Qaida and the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), had caused civilian casualties, and that aerial drone strikes allegedly carried out by the United States may have killed civilians.
Nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have repeatedly called on 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 by all parties to the conflict in Yemen.
Over the course of the conflict, the council has missed criticalopportunities to address alleged violations in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said. On October 2, 2015, the council adopted by consensus a deeply flawed resolution that ignored earlier calls for an international inquiry into mounting abuses in the country, including by the high commissioner. Instead the council endorsed a Yemeni national commission established in September 2015 by President Hadi.
The high commissioner’s report found that the “commission did not enjoy the cooperation of all concerned parties and could not operate in all parts of Yemen,” and was “unable to implement its mandate in accordance with international standards.”
Nongovernmental organizations have also repeatedly called on countries including the US, the United Kingdom, and France to suspend weapon sales to Saudi Arabia until it curtails its unlawful airstrikes in Yemen and credibly investigates alleged violations. The high commissioner’s statement that the international community should “use its influence to prevent and end violations, and to refrain from encouraging or arming parties to the conflict,” reinforces these calls.
“The UN Human Rights Council should not turn its back on Yemeni civilians, and should deliver the justice to which they are entitled,” Fisher said. “The world’s leading human rights body should ensure that the egregious violations taking place in Yemen do not go unaddressed.”