(HRW) – The United Nations Human Rights Council should create an independent, international inquiry into abuses committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen, Human Rights Watch and 61 other national, regional, and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said today in a letter to council member countries.
Parties to the conflict continue to commit serious violations and abuses of international humanitarian and human rights law, the organizations said. Yemen is home to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with at least 7 million people on the brink of famine and hundreds of thousands suffering from cholera. The Yemeni government and the Saudi-led coalition supporting it have failed to impartially and transparently investigate alleged abuses by their forces.
“What was a steady drumbeat of support for an international inquiry into Yemen abuses has become a crescendo,” said John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “Human Rights Council member countries should live up to their own mandate, heed these calls, and put in place a body to begin chipping away at the impunity that has been a central facet of Yemen’s war.”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the head of OCHA, the UN’s lead humanitarian agency, and the Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Yemen have also called for an international inquiry into Yemen abuses. They have been joined in the call by dozens of Yemeni organizations from areas under the control of both Houthi-Saleh forces and of the Yemeni government.
Since March 2015, the UN human rights office has specifically verified that at least 5,110 civilians have been killed and 8,719 wounded during the conflict, but believes “[t]he overall number is probably much higher.”
Since March 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has conducted scores of unlawful airstrikes, some of which may amount to war crimes, and Houthi-Saleh forces have fired weapons indiscriminately into populated areas in cities such as Taizz and Aden, that may also amount to war crimes. Both sides have harassed, arbitrarily detained, and forcibly disappeared Yemeni activists and other people, with the number of the “missing” growing across Yemen. Both sides have used widely banned weapons that can endanger civilians long after a conflict ends and have impeded the delivery of aid.
The Human Rights Council in 2015 and 2016 failed to create an international inquiry into Yemen abuses, instead endorsing processes that have – over the course of two years – failed to provide the impartial, independent, and transparent investigations needed to address the gravity of violations in Yemen. The 62 organizations that signed the letter urged the council to establish an independent, international inquiry with the mandate to establish the facts and circumstances, collect and preserve evidence, and clarify responsibility for alleged violations and abuses with a view to providing accountability in the long-term.
“Council member countries have twice capitulated to pressure from the Saudi-led coalition and failed to take a principled stance in the face of repeated war crimes and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” Fisher said. “Governments this September should not cave to political pressure, but instead respond in a way that best helps the Yemeni people and ensures that the council lives up to its mandate by promoting accountability regardless of the parties involved.”
This report prepared by Human Rights Watch.