UN Chief: Saudi Use of US-made Cluster Bombs in Yemen Could Be a War Crime

January 10th, 2016 - by admin

Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Human Rights Watch & Louis Charbonneau / Reuters & Ben Norton / Salon.com – 2016-01-10 01:46:19

UN Chief: Saudi Use of US-made Cluster Bombs in Yemen Could Be a War Crime

UN Chief: Saudi Use of US-made
Cluster Bombs in Yemen Could Be a War Crime

Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com

(January 8, 2016) — UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has issued a statement today warning that the Saudi Arabian coalition’s intense airstrikes against residential areas, and apparent indiscriminate use of cluster bombs against populated areas in the capital city of Sanaa could amount to a war crime.

Over the past few days, images have surfaced of US-made cluster bombs found in densely populated neighborhoods, and that several buildings, including a kindergarten, had the pock-marked signs of being targeted with bomblets which exploded on contact.

Neither Yemen nor Saudi Arabia is a party to the 2008 ban on cluster munitions, but the use of them against civilian populations would be a violation of the Geneva Conventions at any rate, and has led human rights groups to call for more serious investigations.

So far, the UN human rights bodies have allowed the Saudis to investigate themselves on assorted war crimes, and needless to say the Saudis have insisted everything they’ve done was perfectly fine.

The question about the cluster bombs is likely to suck in the US as well, however, for while the US has been cheerfully selling bombs to the Saudis to drop on Yemen, they had not confirmed any such sale of cluster bombs.

Markings on a remnant of a CBU-58 cluster bomb found near al-Zira’a Street in Sanaa on January 6, 2016 indicating that it was manufactured in 1978 at the Milan Army Ammunition Plant in the US state of Tennessee.
(c) 2016 Private

Yemen: Coalition Drops
Cluster Bombs in Capital

Indiscriminate Weapon Used in Residential Areas
Human Rights Watch

BEIRUT (January 7, 2016) — Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces airdropped cluster bombs on residential neighborhoods in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, early on January 6, 2016. It is not yet clear whether the attacks caused civilian casualties, but the inherently indiscriminate nature of cluster munitions makes such attacks serious violations of the laws of war. The deliberate or reckless use of cluster munitions in populated areas amounts to a war crime.

Markings on a remnant of a CBU-58 cluster bomb found near al-Zira’a Street in Sanaa on January 6, 2016 indicating that it was manufactured in 1978 at the Milan Army Ammunition Plant in the US state of Tennessee.

“The coalition’s repeated use of cluster bombs in the middle of a crowded city suggests an intent to harm civilians, which is a war crime,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. “These outrageous attacks show that the coalition seems less concerned than ever about sparing civilians from war’s horrors.”

Residents of two Sanaa neighborhoods described aerial attacks consistent with cluster bomb use. A resident of al-Zira’a Street told Human Rights Watch that his family was awakened at 5:30 a.m. on January 6 by dozens of small explosions. He said that he had been at work, but that his wife told him that when the family fled they saw many homes and a local kindergarten with newly pockmarked walls and broken windows.

BLU-63 submunitions that broke apart on impact after being dispersed by CBU-58 cluster bombs in the Hayal Sayeed neighborhood of Sanaa on January 6, 2016. (c) 2016 Private

A resident of Hayal Sayeed, another residential neighborhood, described hearing small explosions at around 6 a.m. He went out on the street, he said, and saw more than 20 vehicles covered in pockmarks, including his own, as well as dozens of pockmarks in the road. He said that at least three houses in the area had pockmarked walls and broken windows. He found a fragment in his car, he said.

The al-Zira’a Street resident said that neither neighborhood had been hit by airstrikes before January 6. The nearest military installations, a small office, and a garage used by military guards, were about 600 to 800 meters from the al-Zira’a Street neighborhood. Even if the attacks were directed at the military targets, the use of cluster munitions meant they were still unlawful, Human Rights Watch said.

The al-Zira’a Street resident said that at the time of the attack he had been at his office, about 2 or 3 kilometers from Hayal Sayeed and 5 kilometers from al-Zira’a Street. Every 10 to 15 minutes he heard small explosions, until about 1:30 p.m. “These did not sound like regular gunfire,” he said. “I asked my colleagues if they could hear them too — they said yes.”

A third cluster bomb attack on January 6 was reported on social media by residents of Sanaa’s al-Thiaba neighborhood, although Human Rights Watch could not confirm this.

Human Rights Watch viewed photographs taken on January 6 in Sanaa that showed unmistakable remnants of cluster munitions, including unexploded submunitions, spherical fragmentation liners from submunitions that broke apart on impact, and parts of the bomb that carried the payload.

Human Rights Watch identified the munitions as from US-made BLU-63 antipersonnel/anti-materiel submunitions and components of a CBU-58 cluster bomb. Markings on the bomb remnants indicate that it was manufactured in 1978 at the Milan Army Ammunition Plant in the state of Tennessee in the United States.

Each air-dropped CBU-58 cluster bomb contains 650 submunitions. The United States transferred 1,000 CBU-58 bombs to Saudi Arabia sometime between 1970 and 1995, according to US export records obtained by Human Rights Watch. The US is a party to the armed conflict in Yemen, playing a direct role in coordinating military operations, and as such, is obligated to investigate alleged violations of the laws of war in which its forces took part.

The CBU-58 cluster bomb and BLU-63 submunition were developed by the US during the Vietnam War and are designed to attack personnel and lightly protected materiel. The submunitions also contain 5-gram titanium pellets that produce an incendiary effect on flammable targets.

In 2015, Human Rights Watch documented the use by coalition forces of three types of cluster munitions in Yemen. Amnesty International documented the coalition’s use of a fourth type. A fifth type of cluster munition has been used, but the user’s identity is unclear. A US Defense Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told US News and World Report in August that “the US is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions in Yemen.”

Neither Yemen, Saudi Arabia, nor any of the other coalition countries are party to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, the international treaty banning cluster munitions. A total of 118 countries have signed and 98 have ratified the treaty. Human Rights Watch is a co-founder of the Cluster Munition Coalition and serves as its chair.

On November 17, the US Defense Department announced that the State Department had approved a sale of US$1.29 billion worth of air-to-ground munitions, such as laser-guided bombs and “general purpose” bombs with guidance systems — none of which are cluster munitions. The US should not sell aerial bombs to Saudi Arabia in the absence of serious investigations into alleged laws-of-war violations in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said.

The UN Human Rights Council should create an independent, international inquiry into alleged violations of the laws of war by all sides.

“It may have been 20 years since the US last provided these cluster munitions to the Saudis, but they are being used to kill civilians now,” Goose said. “The US, as a party to the conflict, should be demanding that the coalition immediately stop using these weapons or risk becoming complicit in their use.”

Use of Cluster Bombs in Yemen
May Be War Crime: UN Chief

Louis Charbonneau / Reuters

UNITED NATIONS (January 8, 2016) — The United Nations has received “troubling reports” that cluster bombs have been used on civilian areas in the capital of Yemen this week and warned that the use of such indiscriminate weapons could be a war crime, a UN spokesman said on Friday.

“The Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) is particularly concerned about reports of intense airstrikes in residential areas and on civilian buildings in Sanaa, including the Chamber of Commerce, a wedding hall and a center for the blind,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

“He also has received troubling reports of the use of cluster munitions in attacks on Sanaa on (Wednesday) in several locations,” Dujarric added. “The use of cluster munitions in populated areas may amount to a war crime due to their indiscriminate nature.”

Human rights groups have accused the Saudi-led coalition of using cluster munitions in Yemen. While Dujarric did not identify precisely who might have deployed the cluster bombs, he noted that it is the Saudi-led coalition that has been using warplanes in the conflict.

The coalition officially ended a truce for Yemen on Saturday due to what the Saudis said were violations of the ceasefire by Iran-allied Houthi rebels. Yemeni troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh are fighting alongside the Houthis.

The recently ended ceasefire began on Dec. 15 in tandem with a new round of UN-brokered peace talks. Nearly 6,000 people have been killed since the coalition entered the conflict last March, almost half of them civilians.

Dujarric said that Ban was “deeply concerned about the intensification of coalition airstrikes and ground fighting and shelling in Yemen, despite repeated calls for a renewed cessation of hostilities.”

He said the UN chief was urging all parties to the Yemen conflict to cooperate with his special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed in order to resume peace talks as soon as possible.

While Riyadh sees the Houthis as a proxy for bitter regional rival Iran to expand its influence, the Houthis deny this and say they are fighting a revolution against a corrupt government and Gulf Arab powers beholden to the West.

Media Quiet as Saudi-led Coalition Bombs Center for the Blind in Yemen — Along With Wedding Halls and Hospitals
You’d hardly know it from the media, but a U.S.-backed coalition is pummeling the poorest Middle Eastern country

Ben Norton / Salon.com

(January 6, 2016) — Centers for the blind can now be added to the list of civilian areas bombed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen — along with wedding halls, hospitals, residential neighborhoods and humanitarian aid warehouses.

The U.S.-backed coalition bombed the al-Noor Center for Care and Rehabilitation of the Blind in Yemen’s capital city Sanaa on Tuesday morning, U.N. officials confirmed to VICE News. The Saudi-led coalition also hit Yemen’s chamber of commerce and a wedding hall.

Fighting broke out in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, in March. A coalition of Middle Eastern nations and militants loyal to President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, led by Saudi Arabia and armed by the U.S., is combating Houthi rebels and militants loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Human rights organizations have accused the coalition of war crimes for targeting civilian areas.

In March, the Western-supported coalition attacked a Yemeni refugee camp, killing roughly 40 people and injuring 200 more.

The coalition then bombed an Oxfam warehouse full of life-saving humanitarian aid in April.

In September, Saudi Arabia bombed a wedding in Yemen, killing 131 civilians, including 80 women.
The next month, the coalition attacked another Yemeni wedding, killing at least 47 civilians and injuring 35 more.

The coalition subsequently bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Yemen in October, just weeks after the U.S. destroyed a hospital in Kunduz, Yemen.

In December, the coalition bombed a second Doctors Without Borders medical facility in Yemen.

Around 2,800 civilians have been killed in Yemen since the start of the war in March, according to the U.N. Another 5,300 have been wounded. At least 81 civilians were killed and 109 injured in Yemen in the month of December alone.

The Saudi-led coalition is responsible for approximately two-thirds of civilian deaths, the U.N. says. Coalition airstrikes killed at least 62 civilians in December, whereas Houthi rebels reportedly killed 11.

The U.N. has condemned the coalition for using widely banned cluster munitions in Yemen. These internationally banned weapons were provided to Saudi Arabia by the U.S. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, blasted the coalition for using the indiscriminate weapons, saying Saudi Arabia is “repeatedly using indiscriminate forms of warfare.”

A Quiet, and Misleading Media
Despite statements by rights groups, much of the US media has been actively ignoring the ongoing war. And, even when outlets do report on it, coverage is often overtly biased.

Reuters published a piece about the bombing of the center for the blind, euphemistically titled “Yemen war intensifies amid mounting regional tension.”

The first line of the piece calls the Yemeni rebels “Iran-allied Houthi forces,” yet the extent to which they are backed by Iran is contested, and likely greatly exaggerated.

Award-winning investigative reporter Gareth Porter has challenged media reports of Iran ties, arguing they are not based on evidence. Porter says “false stories of Iran armed the Houthis were used to justify war in Yemen.”

Only in the third line of its article does Reuters report that “the air raids hit a care center for the blind and Yemen’s chamber of commerce headquarters.”

Newsweek reprinted the Reuters article with the equally euphemistic headline “Yemen War Heats Back Up After Relative Lull.”

The European press has devoted a little more attention to the UK-backed war, but even then its coverage also leaves a lot to be desired.

Britain’s The Independent ran an article on Jan. 4 that calls the brutal Saudi-led, Western-backed war “Yemen’s sectarian civil war,” implying it is about sectarianism and religion, not empire.

The piece claimed the war “has largely escaped Western media attention,” by which it actually meant the war has largely been ignored by Western media outlets.

Most glaring of all, The Independent did not mention once in the piece that this is a Western-backed war, in which the Saudi-led coalition is being actively armed by the US.

The article gave a heartwarming platform to a Yemeni artist, but, in the process, tried to humanize the war by depoliticizing it.

Ben Norton is a politics staff writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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