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Saudi strikes on Yemen may amount to war crimes: UN experts

Thousands of Yemenis vent their anger against at Riyadh and Washington on August 13, 2018 as they take part in a mass funeral in the city of Sa'ada for children killed in a Saudi airstrike. (Photo by AFP)

United Nations human rights experts have raised the alarm at the high rate of civilian casualties in aerial assaults by Saudi Arabia and its allies on Yemen, saying the strikes “may amount to war crimes.”

In a 41-page report published on Tuesday, the Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen raised “serious concerns about the targeting process applied by the [Saudi-led] coalition.”

“Coalition airstrikes have caused most direct civilian casualties. The airstrikes have hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities,” the report said.

Forces loyal to the former Yemeni president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, and the Saudi-led coalition “may have conducted attacks in violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution that may amount to war crimes,” it added.

Saudi Arabia and its allies launched the war, code-named Operation Decisive Storm, against Yemen in March 2015 in an attempt to reinstall Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh, and crush the Houthi Ansarullah movement.

The Western-backed offensive initially consisted of a bombing campaign, but was later coupled with a naval blockade and the deployment of ground forces to Yemen.

The imposed war, however, has so far failed to achieve its goals, thanks to stiff resistance from Yemeni troops and allied Houthi fighters.

Charles Garraway, a member of the UN team said they had “reasonable grounds to believe that parties to the armed conflict in Yemen have committed a substantial number of violations of international humanitarian law, subject to determination by an independent and competent court.”

“That is, individuals in the government of Yemen and the coalition including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates may have conducted attacks in violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and/or precautions which may amount to war crimes and also acts which may amount to war crimes including cruel treatment and torture, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15,” he added.

The team of experts was set up by the UN Human Rights Council last year to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in Yemen. 

Tuesday’s report analyzed Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen between September 2014 and June 2018.

It confirmed “persistent and pervasive aggressive behavior, including sexual violence perpetrated” by UAE-backed militants in Yemen as well as relentless smear campaigns by pro-Hadi and coalition forces against rights defenders and journalists.

Additionally, the group’s chairman Kamel Jendoubi called for an investigation and the prosecution of violations amounting to crimes in Yemen.

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