Human rights experts have urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecutions over war crimes.
A UN report has determined that weapons provided by Western powers and Iran to warring sides in Yemen are fuelling the six-year conflict, marked by deadly Saudi-led coalition air strikes and Houthi shelling.
The statement which came from UN investigators on Wednesday, declared that coalition air strikes in the past year may amount to war crimes, while the Iran-aligned Houthi movement carried out killings and other abuses that may also constitute war crimes, they said.
It was the third successive year that the panel of independent experts found that all parties had violated international law. This year's findings covered incidents from June 2019 to June 2020.
Countries including Britain, Canada, France, Iran and the United States continued their support to the warring sides "including through arms transfers, thereby helping to perpetuate the conflict," the UN panel said in a report entitled "Yemen: A Pandemic of Impunity in a Tortured Land."
"After years of documenting the terrible toll of this war, no one can say 'we did not know what was happening in Yemen'," said Kamel Jendoubi, chairman of the Group of Experts.
Referral to ICC
The three experts urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for possible prosecutions.
The Saudi-led Sunni Muslim coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the internationally recognised government from power in the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.
The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and its regional foe, Shia Muslim Iran. More than 100,000 people have been killed and millions are on the brink of famine, aid agencies say.
"During this reporting period, the Group verified a further four airstrikes or series of airstrikes involving similar failures to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian objects," the report said of the coalition backing the government of Yemen's exiled president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
"Disproportionate attacks constitute war crimes under customary international law," it said.
They included "one of the deadliest airstrikes of 2020," launched by the coalition on February 15 on a village in the Al Hayjah area of Al Jawf province, "resulting in approximately 50 civilians killed and injured," it said.
"The coalition's restrictions on imports and access to Hudaida port have contributed to shortages of fuel and other necessities and to inflation, thereby exacerbating the economic and humanitarian crisis," the UN panel said.
Mortar bombs fired by the Houthis hit a central prison in the frontline city of Taiz in April, killing six women and two girls, according to the report, which said it could constitute a war crime.
Abused army, child soldiers
UN-backed experts have also found evidence that rebels in Yemen recruited nearly three dozen teenage girls – some said to be survivors of sexual violence – as spies, medics, guards and members of an all-female force.
The report, based on more than 400 accounts and focusing mainly on a period from July 2019 to June this year, highlighted how a generation of Yemen’s children have been “immeasurably damaged through child recruitment, abuse, and deprivation of their most basic human rights, including education.”
Overall, the group documented 259 cases of children who had been recruited and used in hostilities by several sides. It said the Houthis, recruited boys as young as seven years old from schools, poor urban areas and detention centres through monetary incentives, abduction, recruitment by peers and indoctrination.
“The group also received credible reports regarding Houthi recruitment of 34 girls (ages 13-17), between June 2015 and June 2020, for use as spies, recruiters of other children, guards, medics, and members of the Zainabiyat,” the report said, referring to the female force created by the rebels – an unusual phenomenon in an ultra-conservative society such as Yemen.
“Twelve of these girls allegedly survived sexual violence and/or a forced and early marriage directly linked to their recruitment,” the report said.
'No clean hands'
For a second year in a row, the three UN-backed experts were denied access to Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition, which is allied with the internationally recognised Yemeni government. The rejection came despite repeated requests, said the report, which is to be considered by the 47-member-state rights council that starts its autumn session next Monday.
Overall, the experts insisted, there are “no clean hands” in the conflict, which has involved rights abuses and violations, including arbitrary killings and detention, rape and sexual violence, torture and other “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” — all possibly involving war crimes.