Skip to main content

Rights groups demand UN probe into Yemen abuses

The UN said the cholera epidemic has been declining for the past two months due to unprecedented response by 'unsung local heroes'

Mourners gather around coffins at a graveyard during the funeral of eight family members killed by a Saudi-led air strike in Sanaa (AFP)

Fifty-seven rights groups from around the world on Tuesday demanded a UN enquiry into abuses in Yemen, where a proxy war has killed thousands and fuelled a humanitarian crisis.

Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, has been wracked by violence since Arab Spring protests in 2011 led to war in 2014, when Houthi rebels and their allies seized Sanaa and forced the president into exile.

The conflict escalated when a Saudi-led coalition intervened in 2015, exacerbating the crisis that has left millions on the brink of famine and hundreds of thousands suffering from cholera.

In a letter to members of the UN Human Rights Council, the 57 signatories called for the creation of an independent body to look into violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian laws.

"Serious violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of international human rights law by parties to the conflict have continued to be committed with impunity," said Human Rights Watch, one of the signatories.

HRW said in a statement that the Saudi-led coalition had conducted scores of "unlawful air strikes, some of which may amount to war crimes, that have killed thousands of civilians and hit schools, hospitals, markets and homes".

It added that Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh "have fired weapons indiscriminately... killing and maiming scores in attacks that may amount to war crimes".

Since 2015, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had been calling for investigations into alleged violations and abuses in Yemen, it noted.

"The victims of abuses in Yemen cannot afford to wait longer for credible investigations into ongoing grave violations and abuses to be undertaken," said the letter.

More than 10,000 people have been killed and 44,000 wounded since the Saudi-led coalition intervened in the Yemen war to support the internationally recognised government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

'Unsung heroes' 

Meanwhile, the United Nations said on Tuesday that the cholera epidemic that has ravaged war-torn Yemen has been declining for the past two months because of an unprecedented response by "unsung local heroes".

A Unicef statement said that because of the efforts of thousands of local volunteers backed up by UN agencies, the weekly number of suspected new cases of cholera had fallen by a third since the end of June.

Close to 2,000 Yemenis have also died of cholera since April and another 600,000 are expected to contract the infection this year.

The United Nations has called Yemen the "largest humanitarian crisis in the world".

The collapse of Yemen's infrastructure after more than two years of war between the Saudi-backed government and Iran-backed Shia rebels who control the capital Sanaa has allowed the country's cholera epidemic to swell to the largest in the world.

On 14 August, the World Health Organisation said that cholera is believed to have affected more than 500,000 people in Yemen since late April.

According to Unicef, more than half of the suspected cases were children.

"Amid the suffering, ordinary Yemenis are leading a heroic daily fight against acute watery diarrhoea and cholera which is now paying off," the Unicef statement said.

"Massive collective efforts to treat the sick and improve water and sanitation systems have helped slow the spread of the disease," it said.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.