UN calls for international probe into Yemen war violations

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The UN has compiled a long list of allegations of human rights abuses perpetrated by all sides in Yemen's bloody civil war

Nearly 4000 civilian have been killed since the civil war in Yemen began (AFP)
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Thursday 25 August 2016 12:50 UTC
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The United Nations on Thursday called for the creation of an independent international body to investigate an array of serious violations in war-torn Yemen.

In a new report, the UN laid out a long line of allegations of grave human rights abuses by all sides in Yemen's bloody conflict, in which nearly 4,000 civilians have been killed. 

"Civilians in Yemen have suffered unbearably over the years from the effects of a number of simultaneous and overlapping armed conflicts," UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said in a statement.

"And they continue to suffer, absent any form of accountability and justice, while those responsible for the violations and abuses against them enjoy impunity," he said.

"Such a manifestly protracted unjust situation must no longer be tolerated by the international community," he insisted, demanding the creation of "an international, independent investigative body".

The report listed numerous attacks on residential areas, market places, hospitals and schools, pointing out that in several cases investigators were "unable to identify the presence of possible military objectives".

It also condemned targeted killings - including at least six journalists - the use of cluster bombs, landmines, and sniper attacks, and the rampant use of child soldiers.

The report comes as US Secretary of State Kerry meets with UN Yemen envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, Britain's Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood, and his counterparts from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to concentrate on finding a solution to the crisis in Yemen.

Those talks will be a chance "to share ideas and initiatives for getting the political discussions back on track and trying to get a political solution" for Yemen, a senior State Department official said.

The US recently scaled back the number of its military advisors working with the Saudi-led coalition that has been bombing Yemen since March 2015. Washington attributed the roll back to Riyadh and its allies requesting less tactical support and intelligence, but the moves comes amidst growing criticism of the coalition and its human rights’ record in Yemen.

Since the coalition began bombing Houthi rebels who are fighting alongside supporters of former President Ali Abduallah Saleh, an estimated 3,799 civilians had been killed and 6,711 injured. The Saudi-led largely Arab coalition has been supporting Yemen's internationally recognised government and its President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi who was removed from power by the Houthis and subsequently fled to Saudi Arabia.  

Air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition were suspected of causing around half of all civilian deaths, while attacks by groups affiliated with the rebels were blamed for around a quarter of the deaths, Thursday's report said.

Islamic State group militants, al-Qaeda and a range of other actors accounted for the remainder, it said.

Millions of people across the country lack food, clean water and adequate healthcare.

The UN rights office warned Thursday that some 7.6 million people, including three million women and children, were suffering from malnutrition, while at least three million had fled their homes.

At least 620 children have been killed and 758 maimed since July last year, while at least 559 children were recruited to man checkpoints or to fight in the country between July 2015 and May 2016, it added.

Most of the recruitment allegedly took place in and around Sanaa, mainly by the popular committees affiliated with the Houthi rebels, the report said.

In the face of such horrors, Yemen's government set up a national commission of inquiry last September, but the UN said it had been unable to conduct an effective investigation.

Noting "the gravity of allegations" and "the challenges faced by the national commission of inquiry," the report urged the creation of "an international, independent investigative body to carry out comprehensive investigations".

"The international community ... has a legal and moral duty to take urgent steps to alleviate the appalling levels of human despair," the UN rights office said.

French NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) withdrew completely from Yemen last week from its six hospitals in north Yemen after one if its hospitals was hit by the Saudi coalition.  

The Saudi coalition praised MSF for its work in Yemen and that it "deeply regrets" its operation completely from Yemen. 

Oxfam this week also accused the UK of being in denial over its weapons sales to Saudi Arabia being used to break international law.

In an address to the UN in Geneva, the NGO said the UK was complicit in war crimes as how the weapons sales to Saudis are being used have gone largely unchecked; while the Houthis have been accused of using civilians as human shields in its campaign to take control of parts of Yemen.