Saturday,17 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1363, (5 - 11 October 2017)
Saturday,17 November, 2018
Issue 1363, (5 - 11 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

No commission on Yemen

Saudi Arabia has accepted an “examination”, not inquiry, into human rights abuses in the conduct of its military campaign in Yemen, an outcome not enough for some, reports Khaled Dawoud


No commission on Yemen
No commission on Yemen

With extreme deterioration in human conditions in Yemen, both as a result of the Saudi-led war and sharp shortage in medicine and basic needs items, the oil-rich kingdom finally bowed to international pressure and agreed on a compromise that would allow the formation of an “international team of experts” to examine abuses and seek to identify those responsible.

Seeking to win Saudi Arabia’s agreement to an investigation led by the UN Human Rights Council into alleged war crimes in Yemen, the Netherlands revised a proposed resolution and agreed to give up its demand for an official panel of inquiry. Instead, the resolution, approved unanimously Friday in Geneva, called for the formation of an “international eminent group of experts” to look into claimed abuses.

The earlier version had asked for an “international commission of inquiry,” the gold standard for UN human rights investigations since a landmark report by a UN commission of inquiry into North Korea in 2014. A similar commission was formed to investigate war crimes in Syria.

Saudi Arabia and its allies have been bombing the Iran-aligned Houthi Movement in Yemen since the Houthis seized much of the country’s north in 2015. Houthis control the capital Sanaa and enjoy the support of units of the Yemeni army loyal to former oresident Ali Abdullah Saleh who was ousted in a popular revolt in 2011.

Several European member countries of the UN Human Rights Council vehemently refused the Saudi demand for an internal examination only, knowing that the local Yemeni Human Rights Commission received instructions from Yemeni President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, who spends more time in Riyadh than in the southern city of Aden.

UN Human Rights Chief Zeid Raad Al-Hussein pleaded with the council’s 47 member states to launch an independent investigation into the war, which has killed thousands, ruined the economy and pushed millions to the brink of famine.

Riyadh says the coalition is fighting terrorists and supporting Yemen’s legitimate government, but Zeid’s office has said Saudi-led air strikes cause the majority of civilian casualties.

A panel set up by the Saudi-led coalition to investigate civilian casualties found its air strikes were largely justified.

The last-minute Dutch amendment came after France, not currently a member of the council, pushed for a compromise.

“We are working in particular to narrow positions on the international dimension of the investigation mechanism on the violation of human rights committed in Yemen,” French Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Agnes Romatet-Espagne told reporters.

The French statement appeared to echo Britain and the United States, which wanted to see consensus around a single resolution.

In a letter seen by one of the diplomats, Saudi Arabia — the world’s biggest oil exporter — warned some states of possible consequences should they support the Dutch resolution, submitted jointly with Canada, calling for a full commission.

The Saudi ambassador had earlier stated in the annual three-week council session that the time was not ripe for an international inquiry.

Six major international groups, including Amnesty International, published columns in the French press over the last week calling on President Emmanuel Macron to do more on Yemen.

“By refraining from supporting efforts to advance justice in Yemen, President Macron would betray his own pledge to uphold human rights values and place lucrative arms deals with Saudi Arabia above the shattered lives of ordinary Yemenis who have endured years of war crimes, cholera and near famine,” said Louis Charbonneau, United Nations director at Human Rights Watch.

The resolution passed calls for Al-Hussein to appoint “a group of eminent international and regional experts” to conduct a “comprehensive examination” of abuses by all parties to the conflict since September 2014. The experts will report to the high commissioner within a year and discuss their findings with the Human Rights Council in September next year.

Al-Hussein’s office is meanwhile to provide support to Yemen’s national commission as it investigates human rights abuses.

 “The combination of international and national mechanisms is an excellent result for the promotion and protection of human rights,” Saudi Ambassador Abdul-Aziz Al-Wasil said as he headed into the council to seal the agreement.

The Netherlands, after coming under intense pressure to soften its position, expressed confidence that it had preserved its main demand. “We have a fully-fledged international investigation,” said Rochus Pronk, the Dutch diplomat who led negotiations for the Western Group. “I think it’s an incredible outcome,” Pronk added.

Saudi Arabia had put similar pressure on former UN secretary-general Ban-Ki Moon to remove its name from a “black list” issued by the Human Rights Council, naming countries accused of committing the worst violations of the rights of children in times of war. The outgoing UN chief gave in to Saudi pressure, in consideration of huge Saudi contributions to the UN budget for humanitarian missions and the World Food Programme.

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