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Lawyers ask US and UK police to investigate Saudi coalition for Yemen war crimes

At least four political and military figures from Saudi-led coalition committed unlawful killings in 2016 funeral bombing, says legal complaint
Yemeni medics and rescue workers at the hall after Saudi-led coalition air strikes hit a funeral on 8 October 2016 (AFP)
By Dania Akkad in London

Lawyers representing relatives of a Yemeni man killed when the Saudi-led coalition bombed a funeral in 2016 filed a universal jurisdiction complaint in the UK and the US on Monday over one of the war’s deadliest attacks.

The coalition strike on the Al-Kubra community hall in Sanaa killed 137 people, including children, and injured nearly 700 on the afternoon of 8 October as mourners attended the funeral.

'It's time that the people who murdered Ali and the many other innocent people on that day were made to face some consequences for their actions'

- Nabeel Gubari, Muhammad Ali al-Rowaishan's uncle

"They bombed a funeral. There is no excuse that can be given for what they did. We are angry and we have suffered helplessly for too long."

Many of those caught up in the attack were civilians, with photo and video footage in the aftermath showing burnt and mutilated bodies, some beyond recognition. 

A week later, the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) – the coalition’s mechanism for investigating alleged violations – reported that it had been misinformed about the target and failed to follow its own rules of engagement, but no one was held accountable.

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In the years that have followed, lawyers involved in the case say evidence gathered shows that war crimes, unlawful killings and torture were committed by government and military officials working for the Saudi-led coalition.

The complaints – filed with the UK Metropolitan Police Counter Terror Command and the US Department of Justice – ask each body to investigate the attack, including a list of suspects “at the highest level who were in charge of the operation, and who bear the greatest responsibility”.

There are currently four suspects on this list, all high-level political or military officials and all either Saudi or Yemeni who would have been in charge of overseeing more junior officials who perpetrated the alleged war crimes.

Their names are not being revealed in order not to jeopardise the investigation and the suspect list could expand, according to the lawyers.

Both the UK and the US have “universal jurisdiction”, which means that any national accused of committing certain serious international offences in another country, including war crimes, can be tried in British and American courts.

"It is believed that the suspects identified travel both to the US and the UK on a regular basis and are likely to go there again in the very near future. So we are seeking to cover both jurisdictions in the event that they travel there," said Rodney Dixon QC during a press conference on Monday.

Filed by Dixon and Stoke White solicitors in the UK, these are believed to be the first complaints related to the attack to be filed with British and American police and could be followed by additional universal jurisdiction complaints related to other attacks, according to the lawyers involved.

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They were submitted on behalf of relatives of Muhammad Ali al-Rowaishan, a 60-year-old father of seven, who was killed in the bombing, including his uncle, who is a UK national, and his brother, a US citizen.

Al-Rowaishan was one of 30 members of his family killed in the attack, according to the legal team.

"It's time that the people who murdered Ali and the many other innocent people on that day were made to face some consequences for their actions," said Nabeel Gubari, al-Rowaishan's uncle, in a statement.

"They bombed a funeral. There is no excuse that can be given for what they did. We are angry and we have suffered helplessly for too long."

Dixon said his clients urged the police in both countries to make their case a priority in order to prevent future attacks, referencing the attack on Saturday that destroyed attacks on two Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia.

"We have just witnessed in the last few days unfortunate attack in Saudi Arabia itself which may well be linked to this same conflict," he said.

"It just shows how serious the consequences are of nothing being done to investigate and stop these types of crimes and the wider implications and effects of this conflict, not only touching on peoples live there, in the most disastrous ways, but effecting the entire international community."

While the lawyers are using the US legal system to pursue justice for victims of the attack, Human Rights Watch found that munitions used to attack the funeral included a US-made GBU-12 Paveway II 500-pound laser-guided bomb.

Earlier this month, a UN panel of experts found that the UK, US and France may be complicit in war crimes in Yemen for arming and providing intelligence and logistical support to the Saudi-led coalition.

The panel’s report said that JIAT had failed to hold anyone accountable for attacks on civilian, raising concerns “as to the impartiality of its investigations and the thoroughness and credibility of its analysis and findings”.

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