Saudis Seek to Fend Off U.N. Inquiry on Yemen
GENEVA — As Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies pressed their military offensive against Houthi rebels in Yemen, Saudi diplomats were waging their own battle to fend off calls in the United Nations Human Rights Council for an international inquiry into abuses by all parties to the Yemeni conflict.
Those calls came in a council resolution submitted Thursday by theNetherlands, with support from a group of mainly Western countries, that requests the United Nations high commissioner for human rights send a mission to Yemen.
The Dutch resolution draws on deepening international alarm over the civilian toll inflicted by both sides in the conflict and the effect of a blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition that has delayed delivery of humanitarian aid, including medicine and the fuel needed to keep the dwindling number of hospitals operating.
At least 1,527 civilians were killed and an additional 3,548 injured between late March and the end of June, the human rights commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said last week when he presented a report that recommended an international inquiry into actions that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The report blamed both the Houthi rebels, who emerged from Yemen’s north and who last September seized the capital, Sana, and the Saudi-led coalition for indiscriminate attacks, but it pinned responsibility for most of the casualties on coalition airstrikes.
Other United Nations estimates put the toll even higher. Leila Zerrougui, the special representative on children and armed conflict, told the United Nations Security Council last week that 1,900 civilians had died since the conflict escalated in late March, with a particularly heavy toll on children. Close to three-quarters of child casualties between late March and the end of June were attributed to Saudi-led airstrikes, she added.
At least 466 children were killed in that period, the United Nations children’s agency, Unicef, reported and an additional 658 were injured — “466 reasons why the Dutch resolution on#Yemen at#HRC30 is so important,” Julian Braithwaite, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, posted on Twitter last weekend.
The Dutch resolution submitted Thursday, without explicitly naming the Saudi coalition, voiced deep concern over reports of violations of international law by all parties, urged them to give access for humanitarian aid and, in a pointed reference to the role of the blockade, called for allowing commercial imports to Yemeni ports.
The resolution also expressed deep concern over continuing bloodshed and “in particular the recent escalation in violence nearing Sana.”
Attempts to broker peace talks in recent weeks have faltered as the clashes have intensified, hampering the efforts of aid workers to dispense medicine, food and fuel across the country. The Houthis, driven from the southern port city of Aden in July, have fought furiously to retain territory, including the city of Taiz, where hundreds have been killed.
With similar fury, the Saudi-led coalition has bombed Sana and other parts of northern Yemen for weeks, brushing off criticism as factories, markets and densely packed neighborhoods have been hit.
Air attacks last weekend struck the Interior Ministry in Sana, killing security and military personnel. Witnesses said a number of targets that appeared to have no military value had also been bombed, including private houses. Ten members of one family died.
Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have waged a vigorous diplomatic campaign to squelch calls for an international inquiry. Saudi diplomats have robustly lobbied Asian, African and European states through their capitals or missions in Geneva, human rights organizations say.
The Arab group aligned with Saudi Arabia submitted its own resolution on Monday. This also expressed deep concern for abuses but focused narrowly on those resulting from the use of force by “Houthi militias against the government.”
The Arab group recommended an “effective investigation” of all human rights abuses but said it should be conducted by the government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has been in exile in Saudi Arabia. It invited participation by the human rights office but only in providing technical assistance.
“It’s all about Saudi Arabia protecting itself from any scrutiny by the international community for its bombing campaign,” said Jeremie Smith, director of the Geneva office of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights.
The Saudi coalition’s conduct, however, is troubling for its Western allies. American officials have said they are pressing the Saudis to investigate violations, but the Obama administration has avoided any direct, public criticism of the Saudi government, one of its closest regional allies.
As matters stand, members of the Human Rights Council would have to choose between two resolutions when the session comes to vote next week, but diplomats say these positions could still change.
“Their draft is not credible,” a diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said of the Arab group’s resolution. From this perspective, the Arab group’s draft appeared to be a bargaining position to gain concessions on any international role in abuse investigations.