In a vote that divided the Human Rights Council, the United Nations will end its war crimes probe in Yemen. The vote, which would have extended the investigation by two years, revealed two competing priorities within the Council: western states’ desires to continue the investigation and the Saudi-led coalition’s advocacy to end it. The vote against the proposed extension marks the first time in the Council’s fifteen years that a resolution has not been passed. It begs a question of whether political priorities within the UN interfere too much with its ability to uphold the principles of protecting human rights.
After the vote, Dutch ambassador Peter Bekker, addressed the other delegates and remarked that the Council “failed the people of Yemen.” His sentiments were shared by other ambassadors who believe that there is “no peace in sight” and that ending the war crimes probe will allow human rights violations to continue without fear of consequences. Former Security Council consultant Catherine Shakdam said the vote was not surprising and acknowledged how it could be seen as a failure by the UN. However, she told Al Jazeera that “pointing fingers” might not be the best way to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Yemen. Ending the investigation could also provide the UN with the opportunity to take more active roles in protecting Yemeni civilians. On the other hand, many believe the vote signifies the international community’s abandonment of Yemen and appeases the Saudi-led coalition, accused of multiple human rights abuses in Yemen, including bombing civilian targets.
The vote for the UN to end its war crimes probe in Yemen brings attention to the ways political motivations can interfere with the organization’s efforts for peacekeeping, making them almost insignificant. Akshaya Kumar, director of Crisis Advocacy at Human Rights Watch tweeted that the Council put “politics before principle,” abandoning victims in Yemen and endangering those who would be future targets of violence from the conflict. No matter the political motivations behind the vote, the decision to end the search for accountability in Yemen puts human lives in danger and threatens any kind of peace that could have been achieved with UN interference. The vote to end the investigation in Yemen might not be a sign that the UN is finished monitoring the conflict, but many international communities view it as a concession to the Saudi-led coalition. The Yemeni people may view it as a complete abandonment of the Council to try to bring peace and an end to the conflict.
The conflict in Yemen has been ongoing since 2014, when Houthi rebels seized the capital and a Saudi-led coalition joined forces with the Yemeni government against the rebels. The civil war has resulted in fault on both sides, along with tens of thousands of deaths and millions of displacements. The UN believes the conflict is one of the largest humanitarian crises and intervened in 2017 to investigate violations by the Saudi-led coalition. According to Reuters, independent investigators said that both sides of the conflict have potentially committed war crimes and human rights violations, although each deny this. The Saudi-led coalition’s desire to avoid blame for human rights abuses was a main motivator in advocating against the most recent vote. It would have extended the war crimes probe for two more years, and given the UN more time to hold either side accountable, as well as attempt to bring peace to Yemen.
The UN’s decision to end its war crimes investigation in Yemen has been viewed by many internationally as an abandonment of the Yemeni people and an appeasement to the Saudi-led coalition. The decision could have devastating repercussions in threatening the safety and security of Yemeni civilians during the ongoing civil war, but could also encourage the Human Rights Council to take action beyond searching for an accountable party. Still, it does not seem like there is a peaceful end for the Yemen conflict in the near future. The UN’s decision to end its war crimes probe could open the door for even more violence and human rights atrocities, as there is no longer an imminent fear for accountability.
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