Yemen war crimes: UN calls out U.S., UK, and France for complicity

A Journal of People report

The UN Human Rights Council slammed the U.S., UK and France for their complicity in alleged war crimes in Yemen.

The Council warned that abetting such crimes by selling arms or other aid is also illegal.

“States that knowingly aid or assist parties to the conflict in Yemen in the commission of violations would be responsible for complicity in the relevant international humanitarian law violations,” declared the UNHRC’s Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen in a report published on September 3, 2019.

The 274-page UN report enumerated possible war crimes committed by both sides in the conflict, including airstrikes and shelling, landmines, “siege-like tactics,” attacks on hospitals and other vital infrastructure, arbitrary arrests and executions, torture, and forced conscription of children into combat.

The report claimed to have forwarded the names of top military and political individuals from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and the Houthi movement to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for further investigation and possible prosecution.

The UK and France fall under special scrutiny as signatories to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which bars the sale of weapons if a country believes they will be used to commit “mass atrocities.”

However, even non-parties to the ATT may face “criminal responsibility for aiding and abetting war crimes” since after five years of fighting “there can no longer be any excuses made for failure to take meaningful steps to address” the humanitarian crisis and international law violations taking place in Yemen.

A quarter of the population malnourished

The report also provided an update on the shocking scale of the humanitarian crisis, revealing that nearly a quarter of the Yemeni population was malnourished at the start of 2019 with 230 of 333 districts at risk of famine and 24.1 million people in need of assistance merely to survive

The report calls for the immediate cessation of all acts of violence committed against civilians in violation of applicable international human rights and international humanitarian law, and demands that the parties take action to protect civilians and ensure justice for all victims.

It urges other states to refrain from providing arms that could be used in the conflict, and reminds them of their obligation to take all reasonable measures to ensure respect for international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict.

A press release from the Group said:

“Five years into the conflict, violations against Yemeni civilians continue unabated, with total disregard for the plight of the people and a lack of international action to hold parties to the conflict accountable,” said Kamel Jendoubi, chairperson of the Group.

“The international community must multiply its efforts to free the Yemeni people from the persistent injustice they have been enduring.”

Despite a lack of cooperation by the Coalition and Government of Yemen, the Group of Experts was able during the short time available this year to conduct more than 600 interviews with victims and witnesses, to examine documentary and open-source material, and to carry out investigations into emblematic cases to establish patterns of conduct indicative of alleged violations in Yemen since September 2014.

Extreme impact on civilians

The Experts found reasonable grounds to believe that the conduct of hostilities by the parties to the conflict, including by airstrikes and shelling, continued to have an extreme impact on civilians and many of these attacks may amount to serious violations of international humanitarian law.

The Experts further found reasonable grounds to believe that, in addition to violations related to the conduct of hostilities, the parties to the armed conflict in Yemen are responsible for arbitrary deprivation of the right to life, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, torture, ill-treatment, child recruitment, violations of fundamental freedoms, and violations of economic, social and cultural rights. These amounts to violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable. Subject to determination by an independent and competent court, many of these violations may result in individuals being held responsible for war crimes.

The Group of Experts has identified, where possible, individuals who may be responsible for international crimes, and an updated confidential list of individuals has been submitted to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Where identification of individuals was not possible, the Experts have identified the group responsible.

“This endemic impunity – for violations and abuses by all parties to the conflict – cannot be tolerated anymore. Impartial and independent inquiries must be empowered to hold accountable those who disrespect the rights of the Yemeni people. The international community must stop turning a blind eye to these violations and the intolerable humanitarian situation,” said Jendoubi.

The Group of Experts attributed direct responsibility to the parties to the conflict regarding the humanitarian situation in Yemen. The continued extreme impact of attacks against civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, water facilities, food transport, farms and market places, as well as the use of blockades and siege-like warfare, impeding humanitarian access, and other such measures have exacerbated the disastrous humanitarian situation.

“The inhumane deprivation of the Yemeni population of their rights to medicine, water and food should stop immediately. The very survival of the 24 million in need should be the first priority”, added Jendoubi.

The Group expressed strong concern that the parties to the conflict may have used starvation as a method of warfare, as these acts contributed to depriving the population of objects indispensable to its survival.

The Experts’ report calls on all States and international organizations to promote and support all efforts, notably those of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen to achieve a sustainable political solution including accountability.

The report urges the Human Rights Council to ensure that the situation of human rights in Yemen remains on the Council’s agenda by renewing the mandate of the Group of Experts and further suggests that the Council request the Group to continue to report to it periodically.

The Group of Experts further suggested that the Council strengthen its mandate to combat impunity by requesting it to collect and preserve evidence of alleged violations.

UK Court of Appeal

The UK Court of Appeal ruled in June that the government had “made no attempt” to determine whether Saudi Arabia was using its weapons to violate international law, and while Secretary of State Liam Fox said he would suspend licenses for export to the Saudi coalition, the Department for International Trade said it would appeal the ruling.

US global competitiveness

A rare bipartisan-supported bill to end weapons sales to Saudi Arabia by the U.S. was vetoed in July by President Donald Trump, who complained it would “weaken America’s global competitiveness” and damage relationships with allies.

French government

The French government hid the arms sales from its people entirely, and then threatened the journalists who exposed the sales with arrest for publishing confidential information.

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