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Saudi allies 'hide behind veil of coalition' to escape Yemen crimes

UN report says members of Saudi coalition shield themselves from responsibility for campaign that has little tactical impact on war
Malnourished Marwan Ahmad Mahyoub, 10, sits at a care centre in Hodeidah (Reuters)

Members of the Saudi-led campaign against Yemen are hiding behind the broad "coalition" name, effectively shielding themselves from responsibility for violating international law, states a leaked UN report seen by Middle East Eye.

The confidential report, drafted by a UN panel, says that under international humanitarian law, "Member states are ultimately responsible for all acts committed by individuals of their armed forces, while operating as part of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.

"Yet, some individual member states of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition seek to hide behind 'the entity' of the coalition to shield themselves from state responsibility for violations committed by their forces.

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition strategic air campaign continues to have little operational or tactical impact on the ground, and is only serving to stiffen civilian resistance

- UN draft report

"Attempts to 'divert' responsibility in this manner from individual states to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition may contribute to further violations occurring with impunity."

The Saudi-led war against Yemen has claimed at least 10,000 lives since it was launched in 2015, and the coalition has been accused of committing war crimes.

Infrastructure has often been targeted, and less than half of all health facilities are fully functioning, which has contributed to a widespread cholera epidemic.

In January, a UN panel of experts said that the violations by the Saudi-led air campaign "are sufficiently widespread to reflect either an ineffective targeting process or a broader policy of attrition against civilian infrastructure".

Less than a year into the war, the Emirati ambassador to the US expressed concern that the war was becoming a public relations nightmare for the UAE, according to leaked emails.

Youssef Otaiba, according to documents seen by the Intercept, wrote to senior Emirati officials that the war was becoming less easy to sell in DC.

“The increased targeting of civilian sites combined with the lack of humanitarian support is translating into a liability for Washington.”

Possibility of war crimes

The war has led to a proliferation of armed militias on both sides, the new report says, allowing the governments of Yemen and the UAE to "both deny having de facto control over forces that commit violations".

This creates "a verifiable accountability gap for grave violations that may amount to war crimes".

Many of militia groups "receive direct funding and aid from either Saudi Arabia or the UAE", the report adds, saying that these groups are challenging the authority of the "legitimate government" of president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

"Although fighting a common enemy in the Houthi-Saleh alliance," the report states "the potential for internal divisions and infighting is ever present. The effect of all this has been to fracture Hadi's base of support even further.

Yemeni protesters shout slogans calling for the release of prisoners being held in government prisons during a demonstration outside the Red Cross office in Sanaa, on 26 July (AFP)

"The ability of the legitimate government to effectively govern the eight governorates it claims to control is now in doubt."

Supporting recent claims made by Human Rights Watch, the report says that the panel has "credible information that the UAE forces have forcibly disappeared two individuals in Aden for over eight months".

HRW said in June that Emirati forces in Yemen were arbitrarily arresting or forcibly disappearing Yemenis and appeared to have "moved high-profile detainees outside the country".

The report also says that Hadi's government, the Houthi-Saleh forces, and the UAE "continue to engage in illegal detention practices, including detention without trial and forced disappearances, which violate international humanitarian law and human rights laws and norms".

Military campaign failing

From a military perspective, the report offers a damning assessment of Operation Decisive Storm, launched in March 2015, and led by one of the strongest armies in the world.

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"The Saudi Arabia-led coalition strategic air campaign continues to have little operational or tactical impact on the ground, and is only serving to stiffen civilian resistance."

But the Houthi-Saleh alliance's ability to fend off any advances may soon be pushed to the limit, the report says, stating that contrary to Houthi claims, the rebels are not producing their own missiles, and "they will eventually deplete their limited stock of missiles, and this campaign will then end unless they are resupplied from external sources".

In terms of the coalition members' roles in Yemen, "the main contribution to ground operations in Yemen by Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces is being made by Saudi Arabia… UAE, with significant support from Sudanese forces."

Sudan has provided around 1,000 troops for the war, and was reportedly paid $2.2bn by Saudi Arabia for supporting the conflict.