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Argentina opens war crimes inquiry on Saudi crown prince ahead of G-20 summit

Argentine prosecutors are investigating whether to charge Mohammed bin Salman for his role in Yemen's conflict
According to independent researchers, more than 56,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led coalition joined the conflict in 2015 (AFP)

Argentina has opened an inquiry on whether to press criminal charges against Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his role in leading the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday.

The inquiry was opened after HRW and an Argentine federal prosecutor lodged a complaint against the kingdom for violating international war crimes laws, according to a New York Times report.

The investigation comes ahead of the crown prince’s visit to Argentina for the upcoming G-20 summit later this week, but officials in the South American country have said bin Salman’s arrest is “extremely unlikely,” the New York Times report said.

“Mohammed bin Salman should know that he may face a criminal probe if he ventures to Argentina,” HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said in a statement.

Argentina’s laws promote the idea of universal jurisdiction, where severe human rights violations are subject to prosecution regardless of sovereign boundaries.

The country changed its legal code towards universal jurisdiction in the first half of the 2000s to address the tens of thousands of Argentinians who disappeared in the 1970s and 1980s during the days of military rule, when the government rounded up families, including children, to prisons and camps.

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The investigation comes a week after a damning CIA assessment that the crown prince ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate. However, the Argentine inquiry is primarily focused on Riyadh’s role in Yemen.

Similar legal action has been taken in Tunisia, where Mohammed bin Salman is expected to visit on Tuesday. Street protests against the Saudi leader and his apparent role in Khashoggi's murder have been organised in Tunis.

According to UN figures, nearly 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led coalition joined the conflict in 2015 to back the government of Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi against Houthi rebels. The war has triggered what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

An independent research group has put the figure for combat deaths at 56,000 since 2016, which it says is probably a conservative number.

Last Wednesday, Save the Children said up to 85,000 children under five may have died as a result of starvation or disease in Yemen since 2015.

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