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UN Human Rights Council ends Yemen war crimes probe

More than 100,000 people have been killed and 4 million have been displaced in Yemen conflict. Source: UN.org

GENEVA: The UN Human Rights Council voted to end to shut down the body’s investigation of war crimes in Yemen in a blow to Western nations who wanted the probe to continue.

The 47-member council voted against renewing the mandate of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen (GEE), which in August 2018 reported evidence of possible war crimes committed by all sides, including a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia.

Bahrain, Russia and other members of the UNHRC pushed through the vote. Members narrowly voted to reject a resolution led by the Netherlands to give the independent investigators another two years to monitor atrocities in Yemen’s conflict. It marked the first time in the council’s 15-year history that a resolution was defeated.

The independent investigators have said in the past that potential war crimes have been committed by all sides in the seven-year conflict between the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi rebels. More than 100,000 people have been killed and 4 million have been displaced in the conflict.

In 2017, the Human Rights Council agreed to send a group of “eminent experts” to Yemen to investigate abuse nearly two years after the Saudi-led coalition launched a devastating military offensive in support of internationally recognised President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of bombing schools, hospitals, and other civilian targets while the Houthi rebels, who control much of northern Yemen, were also accused of major violations.

Dutch ambassador Peter Bekker said the vote was a major setback. “I cannot help but feel that this Council has failed the people of Yemen,” he told delegates. “With this vote, the Council has effectively ended its reporting mandate, it has cut this lifeline of the Yemeni people to the international community.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres still believes there is a need for accountability in Yemen, spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York. “We will continue to press for accountability in Yemen, a place … in which civilians have seen repeated crimes committed against them,” Dujarric said.

Rights activists said this week that Saudi Arabia lobbied heavily against the Western resolution. The kingdom is not a voting member of the UN Human Rights Council. The United States only has observer status.

During the debate, Bahraini ambassador Yusuf Abdulkarim Bucheeri said that the international group of investigators had “contributed to spreading misinformation about the situation on the ground” in Yemen.

In the vote called by Saudi-ally Bahrain, 21 countries voted against the Dutch resolution including China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Venezuela and Uzbekistan. Eighteen including Britain, France and Germany voted to support it. There were seven abstentions and Ukraine’s delegation was absent. 

John Fisher of Human Rights Watch said that the failure to renew the mandate was “a stain on the record of the Human Rights Council”. “By voting against this much-needed mandate, many states have turned their back on victims, bowed to pressure from the Saudi-led coalition, and put politics before principle,” he said.