UN investigators said Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Houthis may all have committed war crimes, including sexual violence and recruiting child soldiers, in a damning report detailing atrocities in the Yemen conflict.
The UNs Group of Regional and International Eminent Experts on Yemen found all parties in the conflict have committed substantial human rights violations and potential war crime in a 41-page report published Tuesday, and gave a confidential list of individual perpetrators to the UN High Commissioner. The report was mandated by the UNs Human Rights Council and encompasses the period between September 2014 and June 2018.
Coalition airstrikes & civilian casualties
Air attacks by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition were responsible for most of the documented civilian casualties. The investigators said close to a dozen of the attacks they looked at over the last year raised “serious questions about the targeting process applied by the coalition.” Targets included “residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities,” the report reads.
One “egregious” example was the March 15, 2016 strikes on Jhamees market, which killed over 100 civilians, 25 of whom were children. The UN estimates there have been 6,660 civilian deaths between March 2015 and August, but the true figure is believed to be higher.
A recent coalition bombing of a school bus, which killed 40 children and 11 adults, drew rare international attention to the conflict that has escalated since March 2015, when Saudi Arabia embarked on a bombing campaign in support of ousted President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi against the Houthi rebels, then aligned with Yemens former longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The school bus attack was carried out using a Lockheed-Martin bomb supplied the US and approved by the Obama administrations state department.
The report found the coalition regularly failed to use its own “no-strike list” when selecting targets. The list includes more than 30,000 locations, including hospitals and refugee camps. The Saudi air force failed to cooperate with investigators about its targeting.
The blockade imposed on Yemens ports and airspace by the coalition has also been accused of potentially violating international law. The report highlighted the humanitarian impact and “requisite intent” of the “severe restrictions” in its assessment. The closure of Sana'a airport was found to be a violation of humanitarian law protecting the sick and wounded.
“No possible military advantage could justify such sustained and extreme suffering of millions of people,” the report said. “The coalition has failed to cancel or suspend the restrictions, as required under international law.”
Houthi-Saleh alliance crimes
The Houthis are accused of using weapons with wide area effect in urban warfare, which the experts said was indiscriminate. The city of Taizz has experienced many civilian casualties and is home to multiple groups including Houthis, pro-Hadi forces, Salafist and Islah militias and jihadist groups. Investigators received reports that the majority of casualties there were caused by Houthi-Saleh forces which have control of the highlands, but said further investigation was required to determine responsibility.
Between July 2015 and January 2016, restrictions on the port of Taizz appeared to be in violation of international law, but again, the report said more investigation was required.
UAE torture & rape, arbitrary detention & child soldiers
The group confirmed widespread arbitrary detention across Yemen, with torture taking place in some areas. Hundreds have been detained for opposing the Saudi-backed Yemen government or the United Arab Emirates, which are part of the coalition and control southern Yemen directly and through its Security Belt Forces, Hadrami Elite Forces, and Shabwani Elite Forces.
Prisoners were “beaten, electrocuted, suspended upside down, drowned, threatened with violence against their families and held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods in violation of the absolute prohibition on torture, cruel or inhuman treatment.”
Detainees from UAE-controlled prisons reported rape during interrogations. The report found reasonable grounds to believe the actions of the Yemeni government, the UAE and Saudi Arabia may amount to war crimes including, “rape, degrading and cruel treatment, torture and outrages upon personal dignity.”
Mistreatment and torture were also reported in Houthi prisons, and Bahais have been detained because of their faith.
Cases of sexual violence are rampant, with numerous instances taking place in migrant camps controlled by Security Belt Forces.
The investigators found Information indicating all parties have conscripted or enlisted children into armed forces. Many of whom were between 11 and 17, with some as young as 8.
The Yemeni government, the coalition and the Houthis are accused of harassment, threats and smears against human rights defenders and journalists.
Arms sales & complicity
The report also urged countries to “refrain from providing arms that could be used in the conflict.” The US and UK have long been criticized for supplying weapons to the Saudis despite concerning reports about their usage at the hands of the Kingdom. Iran has been accused of supplying arms to the Houthis, a charge it denies.
Aside from weapons, the US also provides the coalition with tactical and refuelling assistance.
"Our conduct there is to try to keep the human cost of innocents being killed accidentally to the absolute minimum,” US Defense Secretary James Mattis said Tuesday. “That is our goal where we engage with the coalition. Our goal is to reduce this tragedy and to get it to the UN brokered table as quickly as possible."
The coalition said it had sent the report to its legal team. The UAE said it merited response. A group of 50 NGOs responded to the report by calling on the reports mandate to be strengthened at the UN human rights council meeting in Geneva in September.
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