Yemen: UN Report Details Number Of Possible War Crimes


A United Nations report on the conflict in Yemen released on Tuesday, 3 September has detailed a number of possible war crimes committed by various parties involved, including the U.S., U.K., and France. The report from The Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen has found that the governments of “Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as well as Houthis and affiliated groups,  have benefited from a lack of accountability for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law”. The report states that over the past five years since the conflict began, both the Saudi-led coalition in support of the Yemeni government, and Iranian backed Houthi rebels have participated in “airstrikes, indiscriminate shelling, snipers, landmines, as well as arbitrary killings and detention, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and the impeding of access to humanitarian aid”. The U.S., U.K. and France have continually provided weapons, information and logistical support to the Saudi-led coalition, while Iran has provided support for the Houthi rebels.

Within the report, the Group of Experts has called for the immediate cessation of all acts of violence that violate human rights and international law committed against civilians. In addition, the group has asked, “States to refrain from providing arms that could be used in the conflict”. The BBC reported that there has been no response to the report from the coalition, the Yemeni government or the Houthis, who have all previously denied participating in war crimes. The U.K. has additionally avoided the report, the BBC stating that a U.K. government spokesperson emphasised the U.K.’s efforts to bring a diplomatic solution to the conflict. This statement follows the U.K.’s insistence that “they cannot determine whether any civilian deaths have been the result of British bombs or planes as the coalition does not track their use”. The United States has previously argued against the halting of arms sales and support to the coalition saying that “continued U.S. assistance is more likely to achieve the objectives of limiting civilian casualties and maintaining strategic ties to Gulf partners than a punitive approach”.

The recommendations outlined within the report must be adhered to by the International community. All acts of violence against civilians must be ceased immediately, with an emphasis on the states involved to prioritize a ceasefire so peaceful diplomatic solutions can be discussed and the millions of people in need of assistance can be more adequately prioritised. Additionally, states who have been a party to supplying support, weapons and information such as the U.S., U.K., France, and Iran should refrain from these activities in support of their obligations to ensure respect for humanitarian law. Activists and lawmakers within U.S. and U.K. and Europe must continue to push for securing legal recognition of their countries involvement with possible war crimes, as well as push for independent investigations as to the degree of involvement of all parties. The report by the UN states, “where possible individuals and groups who may be responsible for international crimes has been submitted to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights”. It is imperative for these individuals to be investigated thoroughly and brought to justice if violations of international law come to light.

War in Yemen began in early 2015 and quickly escalated into a multiple state affair. Saudi-Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states have formed a coalition to support Yemeni government forces against Houthi forces who are backed by regional Shia power Iran. The situation in Yemen has been called the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe, with the UN human rights office stating the total number of civilian casualties since March 2015 reaching above 18,000 with an estimated 7,000 of those killed, 65 per cent of those deaths attributed to the Saudi-led coalition. The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) reports over 91,600 total reported fatalities since the start of 2015 to the present. In addition, the UN reports that 80 per cent of the population: some 24 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, 20 million need assistance in securing food, with 10 million of those individuals who are noted as being “a step away from famine”. 3.3 million people have become displaced due to the conflict. Due to the dire conditions millions of people live in and their inability to access adequate healthcare, Yemen has also seen the largest ever recorded cholera outbreak, with 1.49 million suspected cases and 2,960 related deaths since April 2017, according to the World Health Organization. Due to the severity of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the extremely large amount of people terribly affected by this conflict, it is imperative that an attempt to acquire a ceasefire is done as soon as possible, with the hope of this leading to a peaceful political dialogue amongst the warring groups.

Caleb Harris

Political Science, Sociology, Philosophy and Social Policy student at Victoria University of Wellington.

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