Friday,26 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1408, (6 - 12 September 2018)
Friday,26 April, 2019
Issue 1408, (6 - 12 September 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Violations on all sides in Yemen

Pressure is increasing to call a halt to military action in Yemen, writes Haitham Nouri


Violations on all sides in Yemen
Violations on all sides in Yemen

The publication of a UN report on Yemen last week put political pressure on all sides in the conflict which could force them to ease the impact of the war that began in March 2015.

In a rare step, the Saudi-led Arab alliance admitted responsibility for an air strike that killed dozens of children in Saada. In a statement issued four days after a UN report on Yemen was published, the alliance admitted that the strike, which killed 51 people, including 26 children, was “unjustified”. It added that the alliance “will continue reviewing the rules of engagement to prevent similar mistakes”. It continued that it will “take all legal steps to hold accountable anyone who is proven to have committed mistakes according to the rules and laws under such circumstances”. Also, that it will send assistance to the victims in cooperation with Yemen’s legitimate government.

Mansour Al-Mansour, the coalition’s legal adviser, said in a news conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh that the air strike was based on intelligence that a bus carrying children was in fact transporting Houthi leaders, which made it a “legitimate military target”.

The 41-page UN report was issued 28 August in Arabic and English and was prepared by a team headed by Kamal Al-Jendoubi (Tunisia), Charles Garraway (UK) and Melissa Parke (Australia), who were appointed by the UN’s human rights commissioner in December 2017. The report documented attacks on civilians, limitations on the delivery of humanitarian aid, arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, abuse and torture, as well as violations of freedom of expression, sexual violence, and child soldiers.

The report focused on the period between September 2014 and June 2018, and asserted that members of the Yemeni government (globally recognised and led by President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi), the Arab coalition (which includes Saudi Arabia and the UAE) and de facto powers (in areas under Houthi control) all committed acts that could amount to war crimes, “although confirming this is deferred to a special and independent court”.

At the news conference where the three UN experts released their report, Al-Jendoubi said: “There is no evidence that any parties in the conflict is trying to reduce the number of civilian victims.” He urged to prioritise “human dignity in this forgotten conflict”.

The UN’s Human Rights Office estimates that between March 2015 and 23 August 2018, 6,600 people were killed and more than 10,000 injured. The team investigated 11 incidents that occurred between 23 August 2017 and 26 June 2018, where 234 people were killed and 238 injured.

The report revealed there is credible reason to believe that coalition-imposed restrictions on access by sea, land and air violate the principle of proportionality in international law. It noted that shutting down Sanaa airport is a violation of the obligation to protect the sick and the injured. “Air strikes by the Arab coalition caused the majority of civilian victims because they target residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, boats and even medical facilities,” stated the report. These strikes violate obligations to proportionality, discrimination and due caution enshrined in international humanitarian law.

The report added that the Yemeni government, forces supported by the coalition and Houthis recruit and use children between the ages of 11 and 17 in battle, noting the existence of “credible reports that children as young as eight are recruited and deployed in battle”.

The conflict not only resulted in war crimes, according to the report, but also a cholera outbreak that infected nearly one million people according to figures by the World Health Organisation and the International Red Cross. Meanwhile, 23 million out of 28 million people need some form of humanitarian aid. Several UN agencies have warned that Yemen is on the brink of famine which could be the worst in the world since decades.

Observers believe what made matters worse is that battle lines in Yemen have mostly remained the same since the start of the war in 2015, which means that neither side was able to advance in the military field. Meanwhile, negotiations between the two sides in Kuwait and Switzerland have failed.

According to reports by the BBC and Reuters, the UN report put “pressure” on all sides in the Yemeni conflict, which could ease the harshness of the war and its impact on civilians.

The UN invited both sides in the conflict, which many believe is a proxy sectarian war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, to a peace conference in Geneva under UN mediation to avoid face-to-face negotiations.

Yemenis hope that battle fatigue or “equal inability” to win will compel the government and Houthis to reach peace and stop the war that refuses to end.

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