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Yemen conflict: Coalition rejects UN human rights report

People displaced by the fighting near Hudaydah at a camp near Aden, Yemen (23 June 2018) Image copyright Reuters

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has rejected a UN report which said some of its attacks may amount to war crimes.

The report contained many inaccuracies, a coalition statement carried by the Saudi state news agency said.

In the document, UN human rights experts said they believed war crimes may have been committed by all parties.

They accused Yemeni government forces, the coalition backing them, and the rebel Houthi movement of making little effort to minimise civilian casualties.

They pointed to attacks on residential areas in which thousands of people had died. The warring parties are also accused of arbitrary detentions, torture, enforced disappearances and recruiting children.

What does the coalition statement say?

The coalition says it has co-operated in an “open and transparent manner” with the UN group since they began working in December 2017.

It says “false allegations” have been made against it based on “misleading reports by some non-governmental organisations”.

These include claims that it had targeted civilians, restricted humanitarian aid and carried out arbitrary detentions.

The statement also expresses “surprise for the report’s disregard of the great humanitarian role played by the coalition states in Yemen, and the huge humanitarian assistance it has provided in order to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people”.

Why is there a war in Yemen?

Yemen has been devastated by a conflict that escalated in early 2015, when Houthi rebels seized control of much of the west of the country and forced President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee abroad.

Alarmed by the rise of a group they saw as an Iranian proxy, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and seven other Arab states intervened in an attempt to restore the government. They have received logistical and intelligence support from the US, UK and France.

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Media captionThe conflict in Yemen has been raging for years – but what is it all about?

At least 6,660 civilians have been killed and 10,563 injured in the fighting, according to the UN. Thousands more civilians have died from preventable causes, including malnutrition, disease and poor health.

The fighting and a partial blockade by the coalition has also left 22 million people in need of humanitarian aid, created the world’s largest food security emergency, and led to a cholera outbreak that is thought to have affected 1.1 million people.

What are the allegations in the report?

The so-called Group of Experts note that coalition air strikes have caused most direct civilian casualties, and that they have hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and medical facilities.

The report says they “have reasonable grounds to believe that individuals in the government of Yemen and the coalition may have conducted attacks in violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution that may amount to war crimes”.

They add that the naval and air restrictions imposed by the coalition on rebel-held areas to halt alleged weapons smuggling may also constitute a violation of the proportionality rule of international humanitarian law, while the effective closure of Sanaa airport may violate the principle of protection for the sick and wounded.

The experts also expressed concern at the situation in the southern city of Taiz, where the Houthis have been besieging a government-held area for three years.

The report says civilians, including women and children, have been hit by shelling and sniper attacks by the Houthis and other parties while in their homes, fetching water at local wells, or on their way to purchase food or seek medical attention.

The Houthis are accused of indiscriminately using “weapons with wide area effect” in Taiz and other urban settings, which would constitute a war crime.

The experts also found evidence of widespread arbitrary detention throughout the country by all parties, and ill-treatment and torture of some facilities.

Victims and witnesses also described to the experts “persistent and pervasive aggressive behaviour”, including sexual violence perpetrated by a pro-government force known as the Security Belt and UAE personnel, according to the report.

The experts say they also received information indicating all parties had conscripted or enlisted children – some as young as eight years old – and used them to participate actively in hostilities.

What happens next?

The UN human rights experts will present their report to the UN Human Rights Council next month.

They say they have identified, where possible, individuals who may be responsible for war crimes and have passed a confidential list of their names to the UN high commissioner for human rights.

They have also urged the international community to “refrain from providing arms that could be used in the conflict” – an apparent reference to Western countries, which are selling weapons to the coalition, and to Iran, which the coalition alleges is smuggling weapons to the Houthis.


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