YEMEN: International community must hold war criminals on all sides accountable and protect Yemeni lives

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

Saudi Arabia and the UAE responsible for worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world

The undersigned rights organizations condemn the international community’s complicity in the war in Yemen, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and launched on this day four years ago. UN agencies have said Yemen is now experiencing the worst humanitarian disaster in the world. Yemen has become an arena for regional conflicts and a futile war with no end in sight, while Yemenis continue to pay the price with their lives. The international community looks on unconcerned as the architects of Yemeni suffering continue to purchase weapons from the governments of the US, the UK, and France, thus buying their silence on grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

The coalition launched the war on Yemen with claims of supporting the legitimate president. We do not believe that Yemeni citizens facing war, siege, famine, insecurity, epidemics, and the collapse of the health sector are persuaded by the legitimacy of the claims of the coalition, which has mercilessly bombed civilians, weddings, funerals, and factories, and laid waste to Yemeni cities. 84 percent of the population requires protection and humanitarian assistance and 10 million Yemenis are at risk of starving, according to a 2019 report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Some 7,000 civilians had been killed and more than 10,000 wounded since the beginning of the war, The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) announced in November 2018. The OHCHR said that most casualties resulted from “airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition.” This was confirmed by the UN team of experts on Yemen in their report of August 2018, which concluded, “Individuals from the Yemeni government and coalition forces, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and individuals from the de facto authorities have committed acts that amount to war crimes.”

Yemenis are the victims of a fierce contest of cruelty between coalition forces and Houthis, who have not hesitated to commit grave human rights violations, including torture, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killing, and the abduction of hostages to extort money. The Houthis also began recruiting child soldiers at the beginning of the war, while Saudi Arabia, according to the latest reports, has recruited children from Darfur, Sudan, to fight in Yemen and the UAE is running secret prisons where detainees are tortured.

In this context, we deplore Saudi and Emirati efforts to export a positive image to the international community of two wealthy countries striving to modernize, join the ranks of civilized societies, and combat terrorism even as they commit crimes against humanity that exceed the horrors inflicted by violent extremist groups. Reports from international and regional rights groups also confirm that their domestic rights records vie with those of the most formidable dictatorships.

In disregard for international justice and accountability, the war coalition and its leaders responded to demands from international and regional organizations to end strikes on civilians and conduct transparent investigations into allegations of violations of the laws of war by announcing, in 2016, the creation of the Joint Incident Assessment Team, a body that lacks transparency and independence. Instead of the team’s investigations resulting in the identification of and accountability for persons responsible for war crimes, King Salman in July 2018 issued a blanket amnesty for soldiers fighting in the war.

While the coalition has taken no serious action to compensate victims, Saudi Arabia and the UAE rush to participate in donor conferences in support of Yemen, pledging millions of dollars to this end absent any transparent mechanism to ensure that the assistance reaches persons harmed. At the same time, Saudi Arabia leveraged its financial weight against the UN under Ban Ki-moon to have its name removed from the list of countries that violate children’s rights, in exchange for its continued financial support of global organizations.

The undersigned organizations are also monitoring with concern Iran’s support for the Houthis and the US logistic, intelligence, and diplomatic support of the coalition. While this support began under the Obama administration, it has escalated with the Trump administration, which tirelessly defends Saudi Arabia and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and their importance to American interests, even after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The UK and France also continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia. Just a few days ago, however, and in response to Khashoggi’s killing, the US Senate voted on a resolution to end US support for Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen. The international relations committee in the British parliament also concluded that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia “are extremely likely to be a cause of substantial casualties among civilians in Yemen, which risks violating international humanitarian law.” In this context, the undersigned organizations appreciate the position of Germany, which has banned arms sales to Saudi Arabia, also due to Khashoggi’s killing. We urge Germany to maintain its position and not cede to demands by arms sellers—first and foremost France and the UK—to rescind the decision.

The undersigned organizations laud those governments that in early March criticized, for the first time, Saudi Arabia’s human rights record during a session of the UN Human Rights Council. We call on the international community to swiftly reassess its shameful positions of the last four years, and its failure to protect civilians and stop the war and destruction in Yemen.

We further urge those states that continue to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE to immediately halt all sales, conduct transparent investigations into the harm such sales have caused to the civilian population of Yemen, and hold those responsible to account.

We also call on parliaments to continue pressuring governments allied with Saudi Arabia and the UAE and demand they withdraw backing of any kind, military or diplomatic. The international community must end the bloodshed in Yemen and prioritize reaching a swift political settlement, facilitating the flow of humanitarian assistance, securing the release of detainees and the disappeared, and tearing down the torture dungeons run by the Houthis and Emiratis.

We believe there can be no peace in Yemen without accountability for the perpetrators of human rights violations, compensation for victims, and guarantees that offenders on all sides of the conflict will not evade punishment. We therefore call on the UN Security Council to convene an emergency session to put an end to Yemenis’ suffering and use all means possible to confront the violations of all parties to the conflict, first and foremost by imposing sanctions on those responsible on all sides for war crimes.

Signatory Organizations:

  1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  2. Mwatana for Human Rights (Yemen)
  3. Tunisian Forum on Economic and Social Rights
  4. Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights
  5. Committee for the Respect of Freedoms and Human Rights in Tunisia
  6. National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists
  7. Tunisian Women Association for Development Research
  8. Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
  9. Libyan Centre for Freedom of Press (LCFP)
  10. Biladi Foundation for Human Rights, (Libya)
  11. Jurists without chains, (Libya)

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