Human Rights Groups Call On U.N. to Launch War Crimes Probe in Yemen

Humanitarian aid organizations say Security Council investigation is needed in Yemen, where the war pitting Houthi rebels against Saudi Arabia's airstrikes shows no signs of letting up.

Yemeni demonstrators hold a huge poster bearing a slogan, against ongoing military operations and airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition on Yemen, during a protest in front of the United Nations (UN) office in the capital Sanaa on October 18, 2015, .  AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS        (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Yemeni demonstrators hold a huge poster bearing a slogan, against ongoing military operations and airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition on Yemen, during a protest in front of the United Nations (UN) office in the capital Sanaa on October 18, 2015, . AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Yemeni demonstrators hold a huge poster bearing a slogan, against ongoing military operations and airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition on Yemen, during a protest in front of the United Nations (UN) office in the capital Sanaa on October 18, 2015, . AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED HUWAIS (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images)

A group of leading human rights organizations, including the Norwegian Refugee Council, called Monday for the United Nations Security Council to launch an independent probe into the possibility of war crimes by all sides in Yemen.

A group of leading human rights organizations, including the Norwegian Refugee Council, called Monday for the United Nations Security Council to launch an independent probe into the possibility of war crimes by all sides in Yemen.

In a letter to the Security Council, the aid groups said a thorough and transparent investigation is needed to explain the deaths of thousands of civilians who have been killed since Saudi Arabia began an airstrike campaign in late March against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Backed by Iran, the Shiite Houthis ousted the Saudi-supported Yemeni leader, a Sunni, in a campaign that began last year and has since devolved into civil war. Hundreds of children are among the dead.

“A truly independent and impartial international mechanism should be established to investigate abuses by all sides, including the arbitrary denial of access to humanitarian assistance, with the goal of accountability,” the joint letter to the council stated.

Last week, Foreign Policy obtained exclusive documents from a U.N. panel investigating violations made by the Saudi-led coalition, Houthis, and fighters loyal to Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The panel found that all parties involved in the ongoing conflict have committed grave violations of citizens’ rights, including intentional targeting of aid and humanitarian organizations, and strategic blockades of necessary aid.

“If restrictions on fuel and other goods are having a disproportionate impact on civilians, that would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law,” Monday’s letter said.

The call for an independent probe comes little more than a week after the United States, which has backed the Saudi campaign, blocked a Security Council proposal ordering all parties to the conflict to cooperate with international investigations. The United States has supported Riyadh despite repeated Saudi violations of cease-fire efforts and mounting evidence the strikes have targeted civilians, including an entire wedding party in late September.

In early 2015, Houthis overthrew President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, forcing him to flee to Saudi Arabia shortly before the airstrikes began. As a close ally of the United States, the Saudis looked to Washington for support and have, in turn, received weaponry — including a large number of rockets and bombs — as well as increased intelligence.

But now millions of civilians are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, and the country is falling into a full-fledged famine. Airstrikes have made it increasingly difficult to access the areas where the humanitarian situation is most dire, and ongoing blockades have made delivering necessary assistance even more difficult.

As worries over whether the Saudi campaign has targeted civilians continue to surface, Washington has backed away from the coalition and urged Saudi Arabia to draw down its presence there.

But despite repeated promises from Saudi leaders that they are willing and ready to begin peace talks with the Houthis, there is little progress to be seen. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) told FP that the United States was implicated in the deepening humanitarian crisis.

“There is the real possibility that [the air campaign] is making a bad situation worse,” Leahy said. He has authored legislation restricting the United States from providing military assistance to countries that have committed human rights violations.  

Photo credit: Mohammed Huwais/AFP

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