UN calls grow for independent probe into Saudi massacre in Yemen

January 30, 2022 - 18:55

TEHRAN- The Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), citing preliminary figures says the airstrikes last week by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen that hit a detention facility in the northern city of Sa’ada, killed some 91 people and injured hundreds of others.

According to OHCHR, the facility was believed to be holding 1,300 pre-trial detainees, as well as 700 migrants, when it was struck on January 21 by three airstrikes in quick succession. 

OHCHR Spokesperson Rupert Colville says staff from its Yemen office were in Sa’ada city this week where the deadly attacks took place as part of an interagency mission, and the information they have collected so far “paints a chaotic and desperate picture” in the wake of the airstrikes.  

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, Colville says “We are working to verify the civilian casualties but so far, we understand that some 91 detainees were killed, many when the upper floor of one building collapsed, and 236 others were injured”.

The most severely injured detainees are said to have been taken to Al Jomhori Hospital in the city, which was struggling to deal with the number of patients in need of urgent and life-saving treatment. 

On Thursday, the Saudi-led coalition announced that it is investigating the airstrikes, according to media reports, and according to Colville the message was reiterated on Friday. 

However, Colville says “we urge [the Saudi-led coalition] to ensure that the investigation is in line with international standards and is transparent, independent and impartial, to establish why the prison was hit, to ensure individual accountability for any breaches of international humanitarian law, and to identify measures and procedures required to prevent such incidents in the future”.

The OHCHR official notes that “during the recent visit by our team this week, we saw no signs indicating that this site, formerly a barracks, continues to have a military function. And in light of this, we have asked the coalition to share their information with us.” 

He says the “remand” detention facility was run by the Ansarallah movement (a main component of the National Salvation Government in Sana’a) which has been spearheading the resistance against the Saudi-led American-backed coalition waging war on Yemen for the past seven years.

Prior to the airstrikes, OHCHR had warned about the escalating conflict in Yemen. 

During 2021, the UN recorded just under 600 coalition airstrikes a month across Yemen, and 340 missile and drone attacks by Ansarallah forces on Saudi Arabian territory. 

So far this year, there have been 1,403 coalition airstrikes, and 39 cross-border attacks by the Ansarallah forces, mostly on Saudi Arabia but also on the United Arab Emirates.  

Colville says “As the fighting intensifies throughout Yemen, we remind parties to the conflict that international humanitarian law must be scrupulously respected during the conduct of hostilities. This includes taking all feasible measures to verify that targets are indeed military objectives at the time they intend to strike”.

Violence has also reportedly increased this month in the strategic city of Marib and the adjacent Governorate of Shabwa, as militants loyal to the former government and backed by Saudia Arabia and separatist militants backed by United Arab Emirates have suffered major losses.

Earlier attempts by the Saudi-led coalition to launch a major counter-offensive against Ansarallah in both regions saw a setback after Emirati-backed forces withdrew from the Governorate of Shabwa.

The surprise withdrawal comes after Yemeni forces launched a retaliatory attack against Abu Dhabi and it’s commercial hub Dubai with drones and missiles leading to significant damage.

The extent of the damage led to Emirati authorities cracking down on its own nationals who shared footage of the aftermath of the attacks on social media.

According to Emirati media (citing national security reasons), those who did share footage of the attack were summoned by state prosecutors.

Analysts say the UAE feels a sense of embarrassment whenever it receives some form of a retaliatory attack from Yemen especially as the Emirates rely on the United States to help them repel these types of attacks.

It would explain why the UAE publicly stated it was withdrawing from the Saudi-led war on Yemen several years ago after Yemeni forces launched similar attacks on Emirati territory.

Should another relatively cheap Yemeni-made drone evade the radar systems of quite expensive defense systems the UAE has purchased from the West, it would have a major impact on the country’s economy.

Observers have noted that the UAE relies on foreign military advice and personnel for security which leaves them especially vulnerable.

On top of that, Abu Dhabi relies on imports for just about everything, in particular, it’s workforce and it’s economy depend heavily on foreign investments. If the UAE is presented as an unsafe environment, that may undermine the willingness of people to work there and tourists to visit.

The same can be said about Saudi Arabia, however, Riyadh finds itself in a quagmire. After all, it publicly announced “a military offensive” by then Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, albeit during a visit to Washington in the early months of 2015, an offensive that “would take a few weeks”, to re-instate the former government, whose term expired and fled the country following a popular revolution.

Seven years later, the war has eclipsed Adel al-Jubeir term office, where as Washington, (focusing more on Russia, China, and Iran) is not as enthusiastic as it used to be in supporting the Saudi-led coalition.

The all-out Saudi blockade on Yemen has led to what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The Saudis have lost the time global PR campaign and more disturbingly for Riyadh; according to experts, Yemeni forces have the upper hand in the war, despite the much inferior firepower.

An independent, transparent investigation into the Sa’ada massacre may spark more international outrage towards Riyadh, something Washington wants to distance itself from, not because Yemeni children are dying every ten minutes from preventable diseases.

According to the UN, since the war on Yemen began, around 300,000 people have been killed from violence and preventable diseases.

However, monitoring groups say the figure is much higher (with the majority of deaths being women and children) as the UN stopped keeping count of the death toll for several years acknowledging it was impossible to do so.

Yemeni officials say that in the month of January alone this year, attacks by the Saudi-led coalition have killed at least 150 people.

Can Riyadh finish in what is being described as Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam? The task seems impossible with every day that passes. At the same time, the Saudis don’t want to feel humiliated and they are being egged on to continue the war (whether Riyadh knows it or not) by hawks, weapons manufacturers, and the Zionist lobby in Washington DC.

The safest passage out of this quagmire for Saudi Arabia would be to listen to the countries in the region, especially those who are advocating for intra-Yemeni talks to allay any concerns Riyadh may have.

Judging by the latest developments, Saudi Arabia may be considering this path. The Kingdom has held several rounds of talks with the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, where the latest developments in the region may have been on the agenda.

Leave a Comment

7 + 4 =