In its first report to the UN Human Rights Council on the war in Yemen, the UN experts pointed to the killing of civilians, especially in coalition air strikes, as possible war crimes. The UN also referred to possible war crimes by Houthi rebels.

A house destroyed by an air strike in the old quarter of Sanaa, Yemen on August 8, 2018.
A house destroyed by an air strike in the old quarter of Sanaa, Yemen on August 8, 2018. (Reuters Archive)

Three experts working for the UN's top human rights body said on Tuesday that the governments of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Yemen may have been responsible for war crimes including rape, torture, disappearances and "deprivation of the right to life" during more than three years of escalated fighting against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The experts have also chronicled the damages from coalition air strikes, the single most lethal force in the fighting, over the last year.  They said air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition have caused heavy civilian casualties — including at marketplaces, weddings and on fishing boats — some of which may also amount to war crimes.

They urged the international community to refrain from providing arms that could be used in the conflict in Yemen.

But the panel, headed by Tunisian expert Kamel Jendoubi, neither specifically referred to the United States and Britain, which provide arms and intelligence to the Saudi-led alliance, nor did it point a finger at Iranian support for the Houthis.

In their first report for the Human Rights Council, the experts also pointed to possible crimes by Shia Houthi rebels, who have been fighting the Saudi-led coalition and Yemen's government since March 2015.

TRT World spoke to Catherine Fiankan-Bokonga in Geneva for more details.

Fighters of the Houthi movement have fired missiles into Saudi Arabia, blocked delivery of supplies to Taiz and shelled the strategic city from the highlands, the panel said. They have also committed torture, a war crime, it said.

Saudi Arabia is leading a Western-backed alliance of Sunni Muslim Arab states trying to restore the internationally recognised government of exiled Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was ousted from the capital Sanaa by the Iran-aligned Houthis.

Severe restrictions

Coalition forces have imposed severe restrictions on Red Sea ports and Sanaa airport, depriving Yemenis of vital supplies which may also constitute international crimes, the independent experts said in their first report to the Human Rights Council.

The coalition's additional inspection procedures at Hudaida port have had a "chilling effect on commercial shipping," although no UN or coalition searches had discovered weapons being smuggled into Yemen where 8.4 million people are on the brink of famine, it said.

"Coalition air strikes have caused most of the documented civilian casualties. In the past three years, such air strikes have hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities," the panel said.

Its investigation of 11 incidents raised "serious concerns about the targeting process applied by the coalition." Strikes that fail to spare people or structures protected by international humanitarian law would be unlawful violations.

War crimes

"Individuals in the [Yemeni] government and the coalition, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, may have conducted attacks in violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution that may amount to war crimes," the experts said, adding that they had compiled a confidential list of suspects.

There was no immediate reaction from those governments, which received an advance copy of the report from the United Nations.

All sides have conscripted children between 11 and 17 years and used them to participate in the hostilities, also war crimes, the 41-page report said.

It was released ahead of UN peace talks between the government and Houthis on September 6 in Geneva.

Source: Reuters