UN To Send War Crime Investigators To Yemen

The UN Human Rights Council has passed a resolution to establish a panel to examine human rights abuses in Yemen. The resolution mandates the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein to appoint “a group of eminent international and regional experts” to conduct a “comprehensive examination” of abuses, according to the New York Times. International human rights groups have indicated they believe all parties involved in the conflict have committed various war crimes. John Fisher, director of Human Rights Watch’s Geneva office stated that “UN member states have made clear to the Saudi-led coalition, Houthi-Saleh forces and other warring parties that the world will no longer sit silent as Yemeni homes are bombed, their loved ones abducted and their children killed and maimed by indiscriminate weapons like cluster bombs and land mines.”

The continued state of conflict in Yemen has compromised the rule of law, leaving the judicial system illegitimate and untrustworthy. Impunity allows perpetrators to go unpunished and therefore undermines accountability. Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that the national human rights commission in Yemen that is investigating war crimes has been inadequate. She argued that “because the Yemeni government receives funds from Saudi Arabia, it cannot do this work impartially” and the proposed panel of experts will provide support to the national authorities in Yemen that does not currently exist. Saudi Arabia, who was in fierce opposition to an international commission of inquiry, supported this resolution as it combines international and national mechanisms which the nation often favours.

The ongoing war in Yemen is currently one of the worst humanitarian crises. The Houthis rebels, Hadi government loyalists, and several armed factions are all responsible for the ongoing killing of innocent civilians. A report released by the OHCHR stated that Saudi-led coalition airstrikes are the “leading cause of civilian deaths,” as stated in the New York Times. Additionally, BBC News reports that more than 8,530 people have been killed and 48,000 injured in the crossfires, many of which were subject to airstrikes carried out by Saudi Arabia.

The number of people affected by this protracted conflict continues to rise as 700,000 people have been affected by the “worst cholera outbreak in the world,” according to the UN. Further, 20.7 million people, many of them internally displaced people (IDPs), are in need of humanitarian assistance. The UN has appealed for $2.9 billion in aid, however, only 39 percent of the funding has been achieved.

Aid organizations have also run into major challenges in their attempt to reach the millions of suffering civilians. Rebel factions have blocked access to conflict areas in which the majority of civilians reside. The closure of airports and the blockades imposed by the Saudi-led coalition has led to shortages of food and medical supplies. Furthermore, Saudi airstrikes have destroyed Yemen’s Hudaydah, its busiest port, slowing the distribution of supplies.

The lack of political will by parties involved has disrupted the lives of millions of Yemenis and caused widespread devastation to infrastructure and public health institutions. All parties involved have been subject to international scrutiny and with the establishment of a panel of experts, they will now be subject to the international law once the findings from this year-long investigation are reported back to the High Commissioner next September.

Luisa Tembo