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UN experts on Yemen tell of more abuses

18 September 2020

Calls for war crimes to be referred to International Criminal Court


Fire is seen at the site of Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen, on Sunday

Fire is seen at the site of Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen, on Sunday

UNITED NATIONS investigators have issued their third report alleging war crimes by both sides in the conflict in Yemen, and calling for atrocities to be referred to the International Criminal Court.

The latest report by a panel of expert investigators designated by the UN Human Rights Council catalogued another year of abuses in the six-year conflict that has devastated Yemen and caused a massive humanitarian crisis. The abuses include unlawful deaths, torture, imprisonment, sexual violence, and the use of child soldiers. An estimated 100,000 people have died in the ongoing conflict, and 80 per cent of the population rely on humanitarian aid to survive.

Britain was named by the panel, along with France, the US, Canada, and Iran, for helping to “perpetuate the conflict” by selling arms to Saudia Arabia. Charities working in the region, including Oxfam, have branded the UK’s actions shameful and “indefensible”.

The UK Government resumed arms sales in July, saying that it believed that war crimes alleged to have been committed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen were “isolated incidents”. The UK is one of the biggest arms suppliers to Saudi, selling more than £5 billion-worth since the bombing of Yemen began in 2015.

Oxfam’s country director in Yemen, Muhsin Siddiquey, said that this latest report should “shame all those who are fuelling this conflict by selling arms to the belligerents.

“The UK Government’s decision to resume weapons exports to Saudi Arabia is indefensible when the UN is describing a consistent pattern of harm to civilians. Instead of putting arm sales first, the UK Government should be urging all parties involved to commit to a nationwide ceasefire and negotiations that will lead to a lasting peace.”

The UN’s experts also expressed clear frustration at the lack of action after their two previous reports (News, 16 August 2019). Kamel Jendoubi, who chairs the group, said: “After years of documenting the terrible toll of this war, no one can say ‘We did not know what was happening in Yemen.’ Their report says: “Over the last three years, the Group of Experts has been reporting on serious violations of IHRL (international human-rights law) and IHL (international humanitarian law), some of which may amount to international crimes. It has made repeated calls for relevant authorities to conduct prompt investigations into alleged violations and to prosecute those responsible, in line with their international obligations. The Group is not aware of any trials that have been completed relating to violations it has documented.

“The Group has also stressed the need to realise victims’ rights to an effective remedy (including reparations). Regrettably, the Group of Experts has seen no timely and effective remedies for victims in Yemen.”

Some regional commentators have expressed frustration at the UN report for its focus on future criminal prosecutions rather than on finding an immediate political solution to the conflict.

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