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Saudi Arabia rejects call for independent UN probe into Yemen

Saudi representative to UN human rights council says compromise needed, amid push by Netherlands and Canada for full war crimes probe
The UNHCR said Saudi-led air strike were responsible for thousands of deaths in Yemen (AFP)

Saudi Arabia has insisted the time is not right for an independent international inquiry into the war in Yemen, despite growing evidence of human rights violations caused by the Saudi-led campaign against the Houthis.

The Saudi representative to the UN human rights council in Geneva, Abdulaziz Alwasil, said a national Yemeni commission was in a better position to investigate the war, and said he hoped for a "compromise" with the UN high commissioner of human rights' demands for an independent probe.

"We are working together to hopefully come to a compromise," Alwasil said.

"We have no objection to the inquiry itself, we just have a discussion about the timing, whether this is the right time to establish an international commission, with the difficulties on the ground."

The Netherlands and Canada are backing a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council mandating an internatonal inquiry.

The UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein said on Monday that the UN had verified 5,144 civilian deaths in the war, mainly from air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition, and an international investigation was urgently needed.

"The minimal efforts made towards accountability over the past year are insufficient to respond to the gravity of the continuing and daily violations involved in this conflict," Zeid said in a speech in Geneva.

A Saudi-led coaltion is accused by rights groups of possible war crimes in Yemen, with evidence mounting of the deliberate bombing of schools, hospitals and civilian infrastructure in its campaign to support the exiled president, Abd Rabbuh Hadi.

Saudi Arabia has also enforced blockade on Yemen, making it entry or exit near impossible without Saudi approval.

In a joint open letter last year, Human Rights Watch and other NGOs called for the HRC to "establish an international, independent me­chanism to investigate alleged serious violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law committed" in Yemen.

The British government, a principal backer of Saudi Arabia, refused attempts by the Netherlands last year for an independent inquiry - leading to the the Netherlands' proposal being watered down to suggest the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) dispatch a mission to monitor Yemen.

The UK has approved the sale of more than $4bn of weapons to Saudi Arabia since it entered the war in 2015.

High estimates suggest more than 10,000 people have been killed in the war in Yemen, 600,000 have been infected with cholera and aid groups estimate half the country is on the brink of famine.

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