Saudi-led coalition denies committing war crimes in Yemen

28th Sep 2018
Saudi-led coalition denies committing war crimes in Yemen

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes killing civilians on Hada Street in Sanaa, Yemen September 5, 2015
(Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency)

Hamed Chapman

The Saudi Arabian-led coalition involved in carrying out routine air strikes in Yemen has rejected a UN report that human rights violations have been carried out in the war-torn country and that little attempt has been made to minimise civilian casualties.

The 41 page report published this month confirmed that the coalition air strikes caused most of the direct damage during the five-year civil war and have hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities.

The Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen, mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council to carry out a comprehensive examination of the human rights situation in the country, identifies significant areas where violations and abuses may have been committed.

Among the conclusions are that individuals in the coalition, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the so-called Government of Yemen, which it supports in its intervention, have committed acts that may, subject to determination by an independent and competent court, amount to international crimes.

“There is little evidence of any attempt by parties to the conflict to minimize civilian casualties. I call on them to prioritise human dignity in this forgotten conflict,” said the group’s Chairperson, Kamel Jendoubi of Tunisia. Other experts include Charles Garraway from the UK and Melissa Parke from Australia.

According to United Nations Human Rights Office, since March 2015 up to August 23, 2018, 6,660 civilians were killed and 10,563 injured; however, the real figures are likely to be significantly higher.

Three million Yemenis are estimated to have fled their homes to elsewhere in the country, and 280,000 have sought asylum in other countries.

Apart from routine air strikes, the Saudi-led coalition has imposed severe naval and air restrictions in Yemen, to varying degrees, for the past three years. The report also found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that such restrictions imposed by the coalition constitute a violation of the proportionality rule of 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 primary legal responsibility for addressing these violations and crimes lies with the Government of Yemen, which bears the duty to protect persons under its jurisdiction. I call upon the Government of Yemen to investigate and prosecute violations that amount to crimes by their nationals and armed forces,” he said.

But in response, the coalition, which includes Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan and Senegal as well as Saudi Arabia, refuted the UN report, claiming there were “inaccuracies in its conclusions and recommendations.”

“The coalition countries completely disagree with all the report’s conclusion,” its statement said. “The report had many methodological fallacies, some regarding the description of the conflict’s facts, which lacked objectivity.”

Complicating the situation in the war-worn country, the US Government regularly launches air attacks on what it calls al-Qa’ida and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant targets in Yemen, and recently admitted to having deployed a small number of troops on the ground. Along with the US, other western powers such as the UK and France, also supply the Saudi-led coalition with weapons and intelligence.

Speaking in Parliament in London, Middle East Minister, Alistair Burt, defended Britain’s record arms deal with Saudi Arabia and also mentioned that there were also “some elements” of the UN report that the UK does not accept but was looking at it more carefully.

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