Rights groups demand Yemen war probe

December 3, 2021 - 17:24

THERAN - Sixty human rights organizations are demanding that the United Nations General Assembly establish a fresh committee comprising of independent experts to seriously probe potential war crimes committed during the war on Yemen. The rights groups are calling for a body to "investigate and publicly report on the most serious violations and abuses of international law committed.” They also want the evidence to be preserved for possible prosecution of the perpetrators of any crimes in the future.

In October, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) surprisingly voted against renewing the mandate of the Group of International and Regional Experts established four years earlier; In August 2018, the group had reported evidence of possible war crimes. The HRC first voted to establish an expert team to investigate possible violations of humanitarian law and human rights in 2017.

In the Joint Statement, the rights groups, among them many prominent ones, called "upon the UN General Assembly to move quickly and establish a new international accountability mechanism for Yemen.” Human Rights Watch argued “there is a deadly vacuum of accountability in Yemen. That's because the Saudi government killed the one existing mechanism.” The statement said Saudi officials “bribed, coerced and arm-twisted the Human Rights Council” with heavy lobbying efforts into closing the UN’s previous Yemen war crime investigation. It argued that the “credibility of the UN human rights system is at stake in Yemen. Through threats and bribes, the Saudi government has corrupted the UN Human Rights Council to end scrutiny of Yemen. The UN General Assembly should restore the scrutiny and UN integrity.” 

Saudis launched a “stealth campaign” to influence officials in order to guarantee the defeat of the resolution. Afrah Nasser is a Yemen researcher with Human Rights Watch and said in a statement: "Saudi Arabia, a leading party to the conflict in Yemen accused of serious violations including likely war crimes, together with its coalition allies, is engaging in a tireless lobbying campaign to deter states at the Human Rights Council from renewing the (inquiry) mandate." She says that should the HRC bow down to Saudi pressure and fail to extend the mandate, it would be "a slap in the face to victims.”

In the same statement, Amnesty International has also accused Saudi Arabia of an "aggressive lobbying campaign" to cancel the Geneva-based expert panel set up four years ago. Speaking at a press conference, the Secretary-General of Amnesty International told reporters that the United Nations had failed the Yemeni people who have been enduring years of widely-documented suffering. Agnes Callamard says, "bullying and bribing and corruption of the system has won the day, Saudi Arabia and the UAE and their allies shamelessly and aggressively lobbied states through their capital cities and got rid of the Group of Eminent Experts. So, we would like to see General Assembly action certainly within the next month or two, this is something that needs to proceed expeditiously."

A joint statement by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and Yemeni rights group Mwatana said a Saudi lobbying campaign appeared to be intensifying globally in a bid to dissolve support for the resolution and deliberately cause the investigating experts group’s collapse. Last month, the Group of Independent Experts, presented its latest report, which said airstrikes launched by the Saudi coalition "continue to exact a huge toll on the civilian population.”

The calls and demands by the rights groups come just days after media reports surfaced in the United Kingdom that Saudi Arabia has used “incentives and threats” as part of a strong lobbying campaign to shut down the UN investigation of human right violations committed in Yemen. The reports, citing anonymous diplomatic sources as saying the attempts by Riyadh ultimately succeeded when the council voted in October against extending the independent war crimes investigation. The vote was the first defeat of a resolution in the Geneva body’s 15-year history.

The reports highlighted the extent the Kingdom went to launch a “stealth campaign” to influence officials in order to guarantee the defeat of the resolution. In one case, Riyadh is reported to have warned Indonesia that it would make it difficult for Indonesians to travel to the holy city of Mecca if the country’s officials did not vote against the 7 October resolution. In another case, the African nation of Togo announced at the time of the vote it would be opening a new embassy in Riyadh, and receive financial support from the Saudis. Both Indonesia and Togo abstained from the Yemen resolution in 2020. In October this year, both countries voted against the resolution.

The measure was defeated by a simple majority of 21-18, with seven countries abstaining. In 2020, the resolution passed by a vote of 22-12, with 12 members abstaining. One political official has been cited as saying “that kind of swing – from 12 noes to 21 – does not just happen.” 

John Fisher, the Geneva director of Human Rights Watch, said: “It was a very tight vote. We understand that Saudi Arabia and their coalition allies and [Saudi-backed former Yemeni government] were working at a high level for some time to persuade states in capitals through a mixture of threats and incentives, to back their bids to terminate the mandate of this international monitoring mechanism.”
“The loss of the mandate is a huge blow for accountability in Yemen and for the credibility of the human rights council as a whole. For a mandate to have been defeated by a party to the conflict for no reason other than to evade scrutiny for international crimes is a travesty.” He added.

In 2020, the UN-backed experts, for the first time, recommended that the international community focus their attention on accountability for potential war crimes. They included five recommendations, including that the UN Security Council refer the matter to the international criminal court. Reports cited one source as saying “I think that must have been the trigger moment when the Saudi coalition realized this is really going too far.” Saudi-backed western allies who initially supported the measure are said to have been taken aback by the unexpected recommendation.

The Saudi Kingdom’s communications center has not issued any immediate comments on the accusations. Likewise, the UAE has yet to respond to a media request for comment.

The war on Yemen began in March 2015 after a Saudi-led coalition using weapons purchased from many Western countries especially the U.S. and the UK began a bombing campaign to reinstate a government whose term had expired and a President who fled the country amid a popular revolution. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed since and millions more internally displaced in what the UN labels as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The conflict has exacted a heavy humanitarian toll, with a recent report from the UN’s International Organization for Migration, revealing the number of internally displaced people in Yemen rose tenfold since September this year. The report noted that many of Yemen’s communities are “seeing their homes destroyed on a daily basis” and predicted that the majority of future deaths from the war’s indirect impacts will come from “young children.” 

Saudi Arabia said it would take several weeks for the military intervention against its southern neighbor to succeed. The war has now dragged on to nearly seven years with growing calls by regional countries for peace talks to end the suffering of the people of Yemen. Western powers have benefited the most by making hundreds of billions of dollars in profit by selling arms to Saudi Arabia and essentially ensuring the conflict continues despite the humanitarian crisis.


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