The United Nations Human Rights Council has voted to extend probe investigations into alleged war crimes and human rights violations by the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen, despite avid opposition from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the internationally recognized government of Yemen itself.
In a 21 to 8 vote (with 18 abstentions), the UNHRC moved to renew expert inquiries into the actions of the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen, which began in December 2017, for a period of one year. This comes after the probe’s initial reports suggested that the Saudi, Emirati, and Yemeni governments could be responsible for war crimes such as rape, torture, and “deprivation of the right to life”. With three million refugees displaced, and 22 million people – over 75% of Yemen’s population – in need of humanitarian aid due to the effects of fighting and the partial blockade of imports, the UN has declared the Yemen conflict the world’s greatest ongoing humanitarian disaster. As such, while Saudi Arabia and its allies protested that this move to extend investigations would only add to the instability in Yemen, the Human Rights Watch recognized that this vote sends “a clear message that [the UN] stands with Yemeni civilians”. It is hoped that this continued investigation will create increasing pressure on the Yemeni government and coalition to reassess their actions in northern Yemen.
2015 saw a drastic escalation in the Yemen conflict, when a rise in activity by Shiite Houthi rebels prompted Saudi Arabia, alongside the UAE and seven other Arab states, to form a hastily assembled military coalition in an attempt to defend the Yemeni Government. While the Saudi-led coalition initially received support from many western bodies, including the U.S., U.K., and France, the UN has confirmed nearly 10,000 deaths in this conflict since 2015, with the actions of the coalition – including partial blockades of food imports and air strikes which have caused civilian casualties – sparking concerns from international human rights bodies. It was this that led to the initial UN probe.
While a full ceasefire may not be a prospect for Yemen in the immediate future, the continued pressure from the UNHRC and its probe reports will hopefully spark a de-escalation of war acts which threaten the safety of Yemeni civilians, and encourage Yemen’s government to take further responsibility for the humanitarian protection of its citizens. Indeed, the past month has seen the Yemeni government state that they are prepared to recognize the Houthis as a political entity through a democratic process that reflects their true size, which would allow the Houthis to be assimilated into the wider political community of Yemen.
Beyond Yemen itself, the results of this extended probe will put additional pressure on the U.S. to cease arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition, and illustrate that the requirements of America’s National Defence Authorization Act are not sufficient to combat violations of humanitarian law. Continued investigation by the UNHRC will mean that neither the Saudi-led coalition nor Western bodies who support the war efforts of this coalition, may act without scrutiny.