Political Analysis

Saudi Objections Halt U.N. Inquiry of Yemen War

Written by Fakhri Al-Arashi

GENEVA — In a U-turn at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Western governments dropped plans Wednesday for an international inquiry into human rights violations by all parties in the war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians in the last six months.

The change of direction came as the Netherlands withdrew the draft of a resolution it had prepared with support from a group of mainly Western countries that instructed the United Nations high commissioner for human rights to send experts to Yemen to investigate the conduct of the war.

That proposal was a follow-up to recommendations by the commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who detailed in a report this month the heavy civilian loss of life inflicted not only by the relentless airstrikes of the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia but also by the indiscriminate shelling carried out by Houthi rebels.

The Dutch resolution also called for the warring parties to allow access to humanitarian groups seeking to deliver aid and to the commercial import of goods like fuel that are needed to keep hospitals running. Deliveries of aid and other goods have been slowed by the coalition’s naval blockade of Yemeni ports.

But in the face of stiff resistance from Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, and to the dismay of human rights groups, Western governments have accepted a resolution based on a Saudi text that lacks any reference to an independent, international inquiry.

Instead, the new resolution supports a decree, issued by the exiled Yemeni government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, appointing a national commission of inquiry. It asks the United Nations human rights office only “to provide technical assistance and to work with the government of Yemen, as required, in the field of capacity building.”

Mr. Hadi’s government is supported by Saudi Arabia and is a party to the war, commanding loyal forces in Yemen that are fighting the Houthi rebels.

“The result is a lost opportunity for the council and a huge victory for Saudi Arabia, protecting it from scrutiny over laws of war violations which will probably continue to be committed in Yemen,” said Philippe Dam, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Geneva.

The United States had earlier signaled its support for the Dutch resolution and its call for an international inquiry, but human rights experts monitoring negotiations on the resolutions say it appears that the United States, Britain and France chose instead to back a consensus resolution that was scheduled for a vote in the council on Friday.

Such a resolution is much more “powerful,” said a diplomat close to the discussions, who requested anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter. Moreover, it also gives the United Nations human rights commissioner a mandate to monitor and report on developments in Yemen, the diplomat said.

To the consternation of human rights groups, the consensus approach coincides with evidence of sharply rising civilian casualties in Yemen. Mr. Hussein’s spokesman reported on Tuesday that the number of known civilian casualties since late March had risen to more than 7,217, including 2,355 people killed.

The civilian toll from airstrikes was “starkly underlined” by report s that more than 130 people had been killed at a wedding party in Taiz, the spokesman, Rupert Colville, said. The United Nations was trying to confirm what had happened, he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Colville said, the coalition was “indubitably responsible” for the blockade of Yemen’s ports, which was “greatly exacerbating the extremely dire humanitarian situation affecting almost all of Yemen.”

Mr. Dam of Human Rights Watch was disappointed.

“This was the time to put the parties to this conflict under scrutiny for human rights violations,” he said. “Human Rights Council members have failed to send a clear message to Saudi Arabia and to the Houthis that they have to change the conduct of hostilities.”

1 Comment

  • Yes, the West is all about human rights until the perpetrator is the country who sells them cheap oil!