Saudi Arabia, UAE accused in UN report on Yemen war crimes
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Saudi Arabia, UAE accused in UN report on Yemen war crimes

Geneva: The military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and supported by the United States in Yemen has killed thousands of civilians in airstrikes, tortured detainees, raped civilians and used child soldiers as young as 8 — actions that may amount to war crimes, UN investigators said in a report issued on Tuesday.

The report singled out Saudi and Emirati airstrikes for causing the most civilian casualties, saying they had hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, jails, boats and medical facilities.

Charles Garraway, member of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen.

Charles Garraway, member of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen.Credit:AP

"There is little evidence of any attempt by parties to the conflict to minimise civilian casualties," Kamel Jendoubi, the chairman of the panel of experts that produced the report.

The report also said that the Houthi rebels, who control northern Yemen and are fighting the Saudi-Emirati coalition, may have committed war crimes. They were accused of shelling civilians, torturing detainees, recruiting young children to fight and blocking access to humanitarian agencies.

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"None have clean hands," one of the experts, Charles Garraway, a retired military officer who served for 30 years as a legal officer in the British army told reporters in Geneva. "Despite the severity of the situation, we continue to witness a total disregard of the suffering of the people of Yemen."

A spokesman for the coalition said it would respond after its legal team had reviewed the report.

The Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said on Twitter that his government would need to study the report before responding, but he said the culpability of the Houthis for civilian suffering needed to be recognised.

Yemeni people attend the funeral of victims of a Saudi-led airstrike, in Saada, Yemen.

Yemeni people attend the funeral of victims of a Saudi-led airstrike, in Saada, Yemen.Credit:AP

US Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis told reporters in Washington that the Trump administration had reviewed its support for the Saudi-Emirati coalition.

"We determined it was the right thing to do in defence of their own countries, but also to restore the rightful government there," he told reporters. "Our conduct there is to try to keep the human cost of innocents being killed accidentally to an absolute minimum.''

The US goal, Mattis said, was to encourage the combatants to negotiate a settlement to the conflict.

Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni human rights activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, responded to Gargash, the Emirati foreign affairs minister on Twitter. She said the United Nations report would not be credible unless it cited the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as well as the head of the Houthi movement, as responsible for the civilian massacres.

A man inspects the wreckage of a bus at the site of a deadly Saudi-led coalition airstrike in Saada, Yemen.

A man inspects the wreckage of a bus at the site of a deadly Saudi-led coalition airstrike in Saada, Yemen.Credit:AP

Political factions and militias have been fighting for control of Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, since power-sharing talks collapsed in 2014 and the Houthis ousted the internationally backed government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Since then, fighting has devolved into proxy warfare, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates arming and fighting alongside a disparate group of Islamist, tribal and regional militias against the Houthis, who control Sanaa, the capital, as well as the major port of Hodeida and their ancestral territories along the Saudi border.

Exiled: Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in Saudi Arabia.

Exiled: Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in Saudi Arabia.Credit:File

The Saudis and their allies have accused Iran of aiding the Houthis. Iran has denied involvement, despite evidence that the rebels are using Iranian weaponry, including missiles.

The report accused the coalition of routinely having failed to consult its own "no-strike list" of more than 30,000 sites in Yemen, including refugee camps and hospitals. It also said the Saudi Air Force had not cooperated with investigators about its targeting procedures.

The conflict has resulted in at least 16,700 casualties, including 6475 civilians killed, but the real figure is almost certainly significantly higher, according to the UN.

The main cause of civilian casualties in the war, the report says, has been airstrikes by the coalition. It estimates that there have been 18,000 such strikes in little more than three years, inflicting a level of damage on civilians that "certainly contributed to Yemen's dire economic and humanitarian situation."

The report, to be delivered to the UN Human Rights Council next month, comes not long after a Saudi-coalition strike this month killed 40 children on a school bus.

A child injured in a deadly Saudi-led coalition airstrike on on a school bus rests in a hospital in Saada, Yemen.

A child injured in a deadly Saudi-led coalition airstrike on on a school bus rests in a hospital in Saada, Yemen.Credit:AP

The experts who wrote the report said that the names of individuals suspected of abuses would be sent to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. They declined to provide details, but the report said offences had been committed by individuals at all levels in the Saudi-led coalition's member states and their governments, including civilian officials.

Sixty coalition attacks on residential areas reviewed by the experts killed more than 500 civilians, including 233 children, they said. An attack on a funeral hall in Sanaa in October 2016 killed at least 137 civilians, according to the report.

The experts said that the coalition had kept up the intensity of the airstrikes even after it had become clear that civilians were suffering dire consequences.

Civilians were further harmed, they said, by the coalition's arbitrary restrictions on shipping and air travel. The screening of ships coming into Hodeida — ostensibly to prevent arms from entering the country — has had "a chilling effect on commercial shipping supplies of fuel and food needed to fend off starvation, even though United Nations searches of shipping had found no weapons," the experts said.

"No possible military advantage could justify such sustained and extreme suffering of millions of people," they said.

The report detailed allegations of rape and abuse by a proxy unit called the Security Belt Forces, which is under the control of the United Arab Emirates, that targeted not just detainees but also refugee and migrant women and children.

The experts faulted in particular the coalition's Joint Incidents Assessment Team, which is supposed to investigate claims of military abuse but which human rights groups say was set up to deflect pressure for an international inquiry into the war.

The assessment team's work lacked transparency, its investigations lacked legal analysis and its findings regularly ignored civilian casualties and were often substantially altered by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the experts said.

A report released by Human Rights Watch last week warned Britain, France and the United States that they risked complicity in unlawful attacks in Yemen by continuing to supply arms to Saudi Arabia.

New York Times