UN to Extend War Crimes Investigation in Yemen


The current civil war in Yemen, which has raged since 2015, has recently reached another critical point.  Just last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted twenty-one to eight to extend an ongoing war crimes investigation.  Those in favor of the extension claim that there are ample amounts of evidence in support of “possible war crimes committed in Yemen by the Saudi backed coalition and Iran backed Houthi rebels” writes Al Jazeera.  However, those who opposed the UN resolution, including both Yemen and Saudi Arabia, claim that extending the investigation would only aggravate the crisis and further destabilize the region.

Back in late August of this year the UN released a report in which it provided evidence that all sides of the conflict had carried out some form of war crime or human rights violation.  The details of the report were described in an article from Al Jazeera in which the UN said it had “reasonable grounds to believe that the parties to the armed conflict in Yemen have committed a substantial number of violations of international humanitarian law.  Many of these violations may amount to ‘war crimes,’ the report said, pointing to widespread arbitrary detention, rape, torture and the recruitment of children as young as eight to fight.”  It also concluded that many of the civilian casualties sustained during the civil war were due to airstrikes from the Saudi led coalition with nearly a third of all airstrikes hitting “non-military” targets.  Furthermore, the Save the Children charity estimates that approximately 130 children day each day because of starvation and disease, both of which have been indirect crises as a result of the ongoing conflict.

The UN is not alone in accusing all actors of war crimes and human rights violations.  The international organization Human Rights Watch has also accused Houthi rebels and Saudi forces of carrying out egregious violations.  In an article for ABC News, Samy Magdy explains some of the violations found by the Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, Leah Whitson: “The Houthis have added profiteering to their long list of abuses and offenses against the people under their control in Yemen…Some Houthi officials are exploiting their power to turn a profit through detention, torture, and murder.”  Relatives of those detained by Houthi forces have tried tirelessly to get their loved ones back.  Some have attempted to reach out to leaders directly asking what it is they want.  However, despite giving in to ransom demands and paying thousands of dollars, relatives and family members still remain in detention.

The Houthis are not the only ones accused of unlawful detention and torture.  Government officials from Yemen and the United Arab Emirates have also illegally detained, arrested, and tortured scores of people.  In an effort to change the current situation, Human Rights Watch implore the United Nations to continue its investigation of war crimes.  John Fisher, the director of Human Rights Watch in Geneva, urged the UN saying, “The UN Human Rights Council should act to ensure that abuses against Yemeni civilians get continued international scrutiny and that steps are taken to hold violators accountable.”

Fisher was not the only one beseeching continued investigation.  Mark Lowcock, emergency relief chief for the UN, addressed the UN Security Council a few weeks ago.  A New York Times article written by Nick Cumming-Bruce details Lowcock’s comments to the UN: “Mr. Lowcock warned that Yemen was reaching a tipping point ‘beyond which it will be impossible to prevent massive loss of life as a result of widespread famine across the country.’”  With no end in sight to what many have labeled as the worse humanitarian crisis ever, the UN and similar watchdogs will remain vigilant and intervene where and when it can to help ease the conflict.