UN Says Saudi-led, US-backed Bombing of Yemen Market May Be War Crime

March 19th, 2016 - by admin

Reuters & BBC World News – 2016-03-19 01:41:51


UN Says Saudi-led Bombing of
Yemen Market May Be International Crime

Stephanie Nebehay and Angus McDowall / Reuters

GENEVA/RIYADH (March 18, 2016) — The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen may be responsible for “international crimes,” a category that includes war crimes and crimes against humanity, the top UN human rights official said on Friday.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned an air strike in Yemen this week and added that the coalition was “responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together.”

More than 6,000 people have been killed since the coalition campaign began a year ago to fight Iranian-allied Houthis and forces loyal to ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh and to restore the president they ousted, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asseri said on Friday major combat operations were less extensive than earlier in the war and there were “good signs” the UN might soon restart peace talks between warring Yemeni factions.

Houthi officials traveled to Saudi Arabia this month for secret talks on the conflict that led to a pause in fighting on the border, a main battlefront of the war, and a prisoner exchange.

Asseri said that despite those “positive signs,” any formal peace talks would have to be carried out by Hadi’s internationally recognized government, not by Saudi Arabia, and under a UN umbrella.

Tuesday’s strike near Mustaba in northwest Yemen hit an outdoor market and killed more than 100, a provincial health director and a UN official in Sanaa said, making it one of the deadliest attacks in the war.

“These awful incidents continue to occur with unacceptable regularity. In addition, despite public promises to investigate such incidents, we have yet to see progress in any such investigations,” Zeid said in a statement.

“We are possibly looking at the commission of international crimes by members of the Coalition,” Zeid said. International crimes includes war crimes, crimes against humanity and grave violations of human rights.

Saudi Arabia enjoys diplomatic backing and military help from the United States and other Western powers for its campaign in Yemen.

The Obama administration is “deeply concerned by the devastating toll of the crisis in Yemen,” a senior official said. It is urging all sides to comply with international humanitarian law and to minimize harm to civilians by taking steps including not positioning armaments or military equipment in places where civilians are known to gather.

Asseri urged the UN not to collect its information from those, like the provincial health director, employed by the Houthi-controlled administration in Sanaa.

“We use the information coming from the (pro-Hadi) Yemeni army because they are on the ground. The attack was under the control of the Yemeni army. It gave the target,” Asseri said in a phone interview.

He forwarded a graphic prepared by Hadi’s government that said the target of the air strike was a military area where Houthi forces had gathered and that “they deceived people by saying it was a market.”

A statement issued on Friday by Hadi’s government said it had formed a committee to look into the bombing and whether it was the result of an air strike or of shelling by the Houthis, whom it accused of often blaming the coalition for attacks they carried out themselves.

But Zeid’s staff who visited the site of Tuesday’s deadly strike and interviewed witnesses at al-Khamees market “found no evidence of any armed confrontation or significant military objects in the area at the time of the attack,” Zeid said.

Coalition strikes “have hit markets, hospitals, clinics, schools, factories, wedding parties – and hundreds of private residences,” he added. There were 24 children among the 106 reported dead at Mustaba.

Zeid also condemned indiscriminate ground attacks carried out by the Houthis and their allies which have killed civilians, saying these may also amount to international crimes.

Asseri told Reuters: “Today, we have less of what in military science we call major combat, where we use a lot of forces. Today, most of the forces are in the phase of stabilizing,” he said, adding that military operations continued, particularly near Sanaa.

The pause in fighting on the border, and the breaking of a Houthi siege on the city of Taiz in the south, both mediated with the help of local tribes, was part of a wider effort to reinvigorate the political process, he said.

“When you increase the political process you decrease the military one to give the opportunity to talk. Today we want to give the ability to encourage and relaunch again the talks to come up with a political solution,” he said.

Yemen War: Saudi Coalition
‘Causing Most Civilian Casualties’

BBC World News

(March 18, 2016) — The UN human rights chief has accused the Saudi-led coalition of causing twice as many civilian casualties as all the other forces fighting in Yemen. Zeid Raad Al Hussein condemned “the repeated failure” of the coalition to prevent deadly incidents. He said air strikes had caused almost all the coalition’s civilian casualties.

More than 6,000 people, about half of them civilians, have been killed since Saudi Arabia launched a multi-national campaign against rebels in March 2015.

Saudi Arabia has denied causing large-scale civilian deaths, saying it is making every effort to avoid hitting civilian targets. Mr. Hussein’s comments come three days after some 106 civilians were killed in what medics and witnesses said was an air strike on a market in Mastaba, north-west Yemen, in one of the deadliest incidents of the war.

The UN said staff who had visited the scene of the attack said, apart from a check-point about 250 metres (820 ft) away, there was no evidence it was a military target.

“Looking at the figures, it would seem that the coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together, virtually all as a result of air strikes,” Mr. Hussein said.

“They have hit markets, hospitals, clinics, schools, factories, wedding parties – and hundreds of private residences in villages, towns and cities including the capital, Sanaa. Despite plenty of international demarches, these awful incidents continue to occur with unacceptable regularity.”

Saudi Arabia said it was investigating the attack on Mastaba, adding its forces had targeted a “gathering area” for Houthi rebel fighters about six miles (10km) away.

Zeid Raad Al Hussein however said coalition forces appeared not to have taken proper steps to distinguish between military and civilian targets, adding both they and the rebels might have committed “international crimes.”

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s chief military spokesman, Brig Gen Ahmad al-Assiri, said the military campaign was “in the end of the major combat phase.” The coalition launched its military campaign last March with the aim of repelling the rebels and restoring exiled President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to power.

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