War crimes not addressed in Yemen: Rights group
May 4, Beirut: Participants to the Yemen peace talks should support international investigations, transitional justice, and victim compensation as key elements of any agreement. The United Nations-backed talks began in Kuwait on April 21, 2016.
The armed conflict in Yemen has been characterized by numerous violations of the laws of war by all sides, which have not been investigated nor have resulted in any redress for victims of unlawful attacks. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition of nine Arab countries has carried out indiscriminate airstrikes against residential neighborhoods, markets, and other civilian structures causing several hundred civilian casualties. Ansar Allah, the northern group, also known as the Houthis, and other armed groups on both sides have committed various abuses in ground operations. Although a ceasefire was announced on April 10, fighting has continued across Yemen.
“It’s crucial for the Yemen peace talks to address past atrocities as well as future political arrangements,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “A mechanism should be put in place to investigate abuses, prosecute those responsible, and assist the victims.”
Human Rights Watch has documented new coalition airstrikes that appear to be unlawful. Six attacks in and around the capital, Sanaa, in January and February, killed 28 civilians, including 12 children, and wounded at least 13 others. In the past year, Human Rights Watch has documented 43 airstrikes, some of which may amount to war crimes, which have killed more than 670 civilians, as well as 15 attacks involving internationally banned cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch has also documented serious laws of war violations by Houthi and other armed groups, including indiscriminate shelling of cities, enforced disappearances, and the use of internationally banned antipersonnel landmines.
Participants at the peace talks include representatives from the Yemeni government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the Houthis, and the pro-Houthi party of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Human Rights Watch is unaware of any investigations by Saudi Arabia or other members of the coalition into allegedly unlawful attacks or abuses, or of any compensation for victims. In their public statements, none of the participants in the talks has indicated a need to include accountability or redress in the peace process.
Any peace agreement should include a mechanism that would allow an independent international investigation into abuses by all sides since the beginning of military operations in the country in late 2014, and provide a path toward prosecuting those responsible. In addition, governments are obligated to provide appropriate compensation to victims of violations of the laws of war.
On August 19, 2015, Human Rights Watch and 22 other human rights and humanitarian organizations called on the UN Human Rights Council to create an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate alleged laws-of-war violations in Yemen. The UN high commissioner for human rights similarly called on UN member countries to encourage the establishment of an “international independent and impartial” investigative mechanism.
Instead, on September 7, President Hadi established a national commission to investigate violations of human rights and the laws of war. During the ensuing UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries effectively blocked an effort led by the Netherlands to create an international investigative mechanism. The national commission has taken no tangible steps to conduct investigations.
The Oslo Times/HRW