The world has sat largely silent while Yemeni civilians endure horrors.
Since March 2015, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition has bombed their homes, markets, schools, and hospitals. Opposing Houthi-Saleh forces have shelled cities and laid landmines that will harm civilians for years to come. Both sides have carried out arbitrary detentions, torture, and forced disappearances.
Beyond the war crimes, Yemen is now enduring the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with at least seven million people on the brink of famine and several hundred thousand suffering from cholera. Yet, both sides are impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid.
States parties to the conflict are obligated to credibly investigate alleged abuses by their forces. For more than two years, they have failed to do so. As the UN human rights office said, the parties’ efforts have been “wholly insufficient to respond to the gravity of violations and abuses continuing every day in Yemen.”
Last week, Houthi-Saleh shelling killed three children in Yemen’s third largest city, two of whom were playing football, and gravely wounded nine more. A coalition airstrike killed 12 civilians, including five children. Yemenis do not need more of the same.
UN member countries in Geneva have a chance to change course this week, to stand up and support efforts at the UN Human Rights Council to create an independent, international inquiry into abuses by all sides in Yemen.
If they do, they will not stand alone. The Netherlands, joined by Canada, Luxembourg, Belgium and Ireland, have put forward a resolution calling for such an inquiry. The UN high commissioner for human rights has called for one for the last three years. More than 100 international, regional, and Yemeni rights organizations from across the country and across the political spectrum have also made the call. To address the humanitarian crisis, governments need to address the human rights one. The former head of OCHA, the UN’s lead humanitarian agency, and 14 major humanitarian organizations have also joined the call.
Saudi Arabia and its allies have put forward another resolution that merely maintains a Yemeni national commission that has failed to stem the abuses. At core, the Saudi text offers more of the same. While shoring up the Yemeni commission can't hurt, it's no substitute for the independent international commission that is desperately needed.
States that stand up this week in Geneva and add their name to the resolution calling for an international inquiry will be standing with Yemeni civilians who deserve to have the international community scrutinize the conduct of those who have destroyed their families, homes and livelihoods.