US, Britain, France abetting possible war crimes in Yemen, says UN report

Fire and smoke rise after a Saudi-led airstrike hit a site believed to be one of the largest weapons depots on the outskirts of Yemen's capital, Sanaa, on Oct. 14, 2016.


By SUDARSAN RAGHAVAN | The Washington Post | Published: September 3, 2019

CAIRO — By arming and backing a Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, the United States, Britain and France may be helping to commit potential war crimes, the United Nations said in a scathing report Tuesday that called for more accountability by all sides in Yemen's five-year-old war.

The wide-ranging report from a U.N. team of investigators created by the U.N. Human Rights Council found that all parties to the conflict had perpetrated possible war crimes through airstrikes, shelling, snipers and land mines, as well as arbitrary killings, torture and other abuses.

The Saudi-led coalition is accused of intentionally starving Yemenis as a tactic of war in the region's poorest country, which is on the brink of famine, while killing thousands of civilians in airstrikes. The coalition's foes, northern rebels known as Houthis, are accused of planting land mines, shelling cities and deploying child soldiers.

Representatives from the coalition, the Houthis, the United States, France and Britain were not immediately available for comment.

While most of the abuses have been previously reported by journalists and human rights groups, the report is striking for its broad demand for accountability.

The investigators highlighted what many of the war's critics describe as the destructive role played by the United States, Britain and France — all permanent U.N. Security Council members. The United States, in particular, provides logistical support and intelligence to the coalition, in addition to selling billions of dollars in weaponry to the group, which is also led by the United Arab Emirates.

The report also cited Shiite-led Iran as playing a role in helping to perpetrate war crimes through its support for the Shiite Houthis.

Such "third states" that "directly or indirectly" have influence on Yemen's warring parties "may be held responsible for providing aid or assistance for the commission of international law violations," the report said.

"The legality of arms transfers by France, the United Kingdom, the United States and other States remains questionable, and is the subject of various domestic court proceedings," it said.

The report comes two days after a Saudi-led coalition launched an airstrike against a rebel prison, killing more than 100 people. On Monday, a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers launched a fresh push to stop U.S. logistical support for the coalition's air campaign and certain forms of intelligence sharing.

The U.N. investigators have sent a list of individuals "who may be responsible for international crimes" to the U.N. human rights commissioner, Michelle Bachelet. But it remained unclear whether the list included any Westerners. In the report's appendix, investigators listed the names of more than 160 key actors in Yemen's war — all Yemeni, Saudi or Emirati nationals — but did not state whether any of them have committed potential war crimes.

The coalition has been battling the Houthis since March 2015 in an effort to restore Yemen's internationally recognized government and prevent Tehran from gaining regional influence. The conflict has worsened a humanitarian crisis that has left more than 24 million people — roughly 80 percent of the population — in need of assistance.

By some estimates, the conflict has killed as many as 95,000 people, including tens of thousands of civilians.

"Five years into the conflict, violations against Yemeni civilians continue unabated, with total disregard for the plight of the people and a lack of international action to hold parties to the conflict accountable," Kamel Jendoubi, the Tunisian head of the investigations team, said in a statement. "The international community must multiply its efforts to free the Yemeni people from the persistent injustice they have been enduring."

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