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UN agrees to send war crimes investigators to Yemen in compromise deal

The deal follows attempts by Saudi Arabia and its allies to block any international investigation into alleged war crimes
The aftermath of a Saudi-led coalition air strike in Yemen (AFP)

The UN Human Rights Council has agreed to send war crimes investigators to Yemen, overcoming resistance from Saudi Arabia which sought to fend off an independent international probe. 

A resolution, which was adopted by consensus on Friday afternoon, mandated UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein to send three experts to the country to “carry out a comprehensive examination of all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights” committed in the ongoing conflict. 

The move will be seen as a victory for rights group, who have called for an international investigation into allegations of warn crimes in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is accused of committing war crimes as part of a campaign against the Houthis.

More than 5,000 civilians have died since the conflict started in March 2015, with evidence mounting of the deliberate Saudi-led bombing of schools, hospitals and civilian infrastructure as part of a campaign to support the exiled president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

In a last-minute compromise hammered out between Western powers and Arab countries, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the resolution within hours of a deadline for agreement.

The Yemen delegation said it had accepted the resolution, which calls for Zeid to to establish a group to "monitor and report" on the human rights situation in Yemen and to produce a "comprehensive written report" within 12 months.

Canada and several European countries had initially pushed for a full commission, similar to the one in Syria, to document crimes that have been committed by both sides during the conflict, but this faced objections from Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the UK and France.

Saudi Arabia had warned countries earlier this week that support for the resolution could “negatively affect” trade and diplomatic ties with the oil-rich kingdom.

Ken Roth, the executive director at Human Rights Watch, said the resolution came "despite Saudi extortion" and "despite US-UK equivocation".

The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) warned, however, that the weakening of the resolution could end up setting a dangerous precedent.

“These major arms exporters, Britain, America and France, set out only to please Saudi Arabia and guarantee their own interests," said Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Director of Advocacy at BIRD, in a statement.

"These countries fuel the conflict with arms sales and their kneeling to the Kingdom reveals just how easily a wealthy country can intimidate others and avoid scrutiny if they buy enough weapons.”

On Thursday, Middle East Eye reported how the UK was blocking an attempt to establish an independent international inquiry into the war in Yemen, prompting dismay among rights groups.

The resolution comes after it emerged that Saudi Arabia has investigated just 36 out of 293 allegations that it has breached international humanitarian law in Yemen recorded by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in London.

The figures, revealed in little noticed written answers in the UK parliament earlier this month, come after Saudi Arabia’s UK-trained Joint Incidents Assessment Team reported that it only found three targeting errors in its latest batch of investigations.

The panel, which was set up after international pressure, cited the presence of fighters at the homes, school and medical clinics that were targeted. The latest report, released last week, said the coalition had acted in accordance with international humanitarian law, Reuters reported.