US Airstrikes Are Wiping Out Entire Families in Yemen and Syria: UN Asks for War Crimes Investigation
August 31, 2017
Darius Shahtahmasebi / The AntiMedia & Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Bethan McKernan / The Independent & United Nations Human Rights Council
In June, UN war crimes investigators warned that US attacks in Raqqa killed 300 civilians in a seven-day period. The terror in Syria is not taking place in isolation. The US is delivering this disturbing criminality all over the world. In Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition -- which is armed, trained, and protected by the US and Britain -- is doing the exact same thing. Almost 60 rights groups recently have demanded the UN investigate human rights abuses and possible war crimes in war-torn country.
US Airstrikes Are Wiping Out
Entire Families in Yemen and Syria
Darius Shahtahmasebi / The AntiMedia
(August 29, 2017) -- The United States is killing entire families in Raqqa, Syria, and enabling Saudi Arabia to do the same in Yemen.
In June of this year, the US led a campaign to retake the city of Raqqa from ISIS fighters while the Russian and Syrian militaries were also attempting to do the same thing. In the first week of fighting, UN war crimes investigators warned that the US had already killed 300 civilians from air strikes alone in that seven-day period.
Rather than heed that warning, the US has continued the same strategy of pounding Raqqa into the ground despite the likelihood of civilian casualties. Pentagon chief James "Mad Dog" Mattis has dismissed this horror as a mere "fact of life" -- a very easy decision to make when the fighting doesn't concern one's own relatives. Not to mention that Donald Trump relaxed the rules surrounding air strikes earlier this year, meaning military generals on the ground (including Iraqi forces, for example) can call in airstrikes from the ground with zero oversight.
The result, the Intercept reports, is that entire families are being massacred by US-led air strikes.
"We have seen incidents in which entire families have been wiped out. The scale of things is increasing significantly," said Alex Hopkins, a researcher at AirWars.
According to Hopkins, there has been a "worrying increase in the rate of mass casualty incidents" in recent weeks, and disproportionate numbers of children are being reported killed in US-led air strikes.
As the Intercept noted, Raqqa is home to very few die-hard ISIS supporters who are fighting to the death to defend its de-facto capital, whereas an estimated 160,000 civilians remain trapped in the crossfire of the city's fighting.
The Intercept also spoke to witnesses and activists by phone who explained incidents of widespread civilian deaths at the hands of US air strikes. These activists oppose ISIS and are based in Raqqa, according to the Intercept, and their identities remain confidential.
"The planes hit the street where he [father] was walking to go home. There were no ISIS members or headquarters in that street, my father was only 50 meters from home. I wished that he had hurried home that night, but he was too old and it took him time," one activist said of his father's death in June.
Drawing on research from Amnesty International and Airwars, the Intercept describes many other instances in which entire families were wiped out:
"For instance, a coalition airstrike in Raqqa City on August 14 killed a mother, Nahla Hamoud Al-Aran al-Shehab, and her three children, Marwa, Ahmed, and Mariam. Three days later, another strike killed 30 members of the al-Sayer family, including several children.
On August 21, yet another attack killed eight members of the Al-Aliwi family, internally displaced refugees who had previously fled from fighting in their home city of Palmyra.
"Amnesty International researchers also visited a farmhouse in the Hukumya-Salhiya area northwest of Raqqa, where 14 people were reportedly killed in a coalition attack before the campaign to take the city officially began. Amnesty found fragments of GPS-guided American munitions, and judged that 'from the pattern of destruction there seems little doubt that the house was destroyed by air strikes.'" [emphasis added]
In its most recent report, Amnesty International also explains a scenario in which one Syrian lost her mother, sisters, nephews and nieces "for no reason at all."
"The planes were circling all night, and we could not even approach the house to get the two injured children out from under the rubble until the following day," said another member of the family who witnessed the attack. "The bodies were in shreds. We recovered body parts hundreds of meters away."
Up until the beginning of June, the US only had two personnel investigating casualties in Iraq and Syria full-time. As the Intercept notes, the US military rarely conducts interviews with survivors and regularly discounts the majority of reports on civilian deaths as "non-credible." This makes it incredibly difficult to verify the exact number of civilian deaths, but it also demonstrates America's shockingly non-existent commitment to international law. The US military may boast that it takes the utmost care to protect civilians, but are we just supposed to take their word for it?
One should also bear in mind that when Amnesty International releases evidence condemning a US arch rival, such as Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the US government jumps all over it. When the tables turn, suddenly these reports of civilian deaths are "non-credible."
And make no mistake -- as horrifying as the terror being inflicted on Raqqa is, what is occurring in Raqqa right now is not taking place in isolation. The US is delivering this disturbing criminality all over the world. In Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition, which is armed, trained, and protected by the United States and the United Kingdom, is doing the exact same thing.
A recent airstrike in Yemen saw an entire family murdered; only one four-year-old girl survived. The New York Times reported the story with the headline "Young Yemen Girl Is Sole Survivor After Airstrike Topples Her Home." The word "topple" suggests an NFL sports-like scenario. In comparison, when reporting on Russia's bombing of Aleppo in 2016, the New York Times regularly used terms like "scorch" and "brutal," words that were conveniently not employed this time around.
Just days ago, the Saudi-led coalition struck a hotel near Yemen's capital, killing at least 60 people with two dead bodies hanging from the upper floor. These kinds of attacks seem to be occurring daily, and no target is off-limits for the coalition.
The US has already been warned that its support for the war in Yemen could attract serious legal consequences, and despite this, Yemen is clearly not the only location where the US is rolling out this criminal strategy.
One of Trump's campaign pledges was that he would not only bomb the shit out of ISIS via attacking their oil fields but that he would kill their families too. Even if every single family member documented above was related in some way, shape, or form to a member of ISIS, these acts are still legally and morally repugnant and should be condemned in the strongest terms. As such, the only evidence at hand shows these civilians were completely innocent, which makes their deaths wholly inexcusable -- particularly when they occur on such a large scale.
Unfortunately, one can't rely on the mass media or governmental institutions to do their job and hold their militaries to account, especially when the media is more concerned with what Trump tweets as opposed to how many hundreds of children he is killing in the Middle East.
In that regard, it is probably quite time for the media to review its priorities.
Latest Saudi Strike Kills Five Yemen Civilians
As Calls Grow for War Crimes Panel
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(August 30, 2017) -- Some 60 different human rights bodies have issued a joint call today for the UN to establish an investigatory panel to probe human rights abuses and war crimes by Saudi Arabia in its two and a half year long war against Yemen. Human Rights Watch appears to be spearheading the effort.
The call comes after the latest in a series of strikes killing civilians in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, where Saudi warplanes attacked a police checkpoint. The strike killed two police manning the checkpoint, and hit a taxi cab, killing five civilians.
That's just part of the overall toll, according to some accounts, as one of the strikes also hit a gas tanker, and set fire to a nearby gas station, causing an explosion which prevented any rescue workers from reaching the area and trying to save anyone.
Saudi Arabia had two different incidents of airstrikes killing civilians in Sanaa last week as well, leveling a hotel in one case and then destroying an apartment building on the second occasion, which they insisted was a "technical error."
Saudi Arabia May Finally Face Accountability in
Yemen as Another Air Strike Kills Five Civilians
Bethan McKernan / The Independent
BEIRUT (August 30, 2017) -- At least five civilians have died in a Saudi-led coalition air strike in Yemen, eyewitnesses have said, as calls at the UN grow for an independent body to investigate possible war crimes being committed in Yemen's civil war.
Fighter jets attacked a Houthi rebel-controlled checkpoint outside the capital of Sanaa on Wednesday morning, killing five civilians sitting in a taxi and two armed personnel at the site, witnesses said.
Rebel officials said that the strike hit an oil tanker waiting at the checkpoint, which exploded -- as did a nearby petrol station, which caught fire and complicated rescue efforts. They put the death toll at 13, adding that the victims had all been burnt alive.
There was no immediate comment from the coalition on the strike in Masajed, about 10 km (six miles) west of the city.
The civilian deaths come on top of last week's bombings of a hotel and civilian three-storey building which combined killed approximately 60 people.
Riyadh and its allies have extensively bombed Houthi rebels in charge of Yemen's capital and north since March 2015 at the request of the exiled, internationally recognised president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.
The campaign has been repeatedly criticised for causing an excessive loss of civilian life.
Saudi blockades on Yemen's ports and airspace have also been blamed for causing the current famine facing the country's 22-million-strong population as well as the worst cholera outbreak in modern history, which has infected 500,000 people.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and 56 other international non-governmental organisations urged the United Nations to establish an international body to investigate abuses they say may amount to war crimes committed by all the warring parties in Yemen.
Such a panel should "begin chipping away at the impunity that has been a central facet of Yemen's war," HRW'S Geneva director John Fisher said in an open letter to the UN's human rights council.
A report authored by several international aid agencies released earlier this month said Yemen suffered more air strikes in the first half of this year than in the whole of 2016, increasing the number of civilian deaths and forcing more people to flee their homes.
Western governments have also faced criticism for their role in the war: arms sold to Saudi Arabia are destined for use in the Yemeni war, rights groups say.
Officials within former US President Barack Obama's administration were worried the sales could amount to complicity in war crimes.
Urgent Need for Independent
International Inquiry on Yemen
Joint NGO letter to Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council
We, the undersigned nongovernmental organizations, urge you to support the creation of an independent international investigation into violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in Yemen since the start of the current conflict.
This is a call that has been made since 2015 by national, regional, and international civil society organizations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Security Council Panel of Experts on Yemen. The number of abuses, and the need for credible international investigations, has only increased since 2015.
Yemen is now enduring the world's largest humanitarian crisis, with at least seven million people on the brink of famine and hundreds of thousands suffering from cholera. This crisis is manmade, with the war deepening and exacerbating the humanitarian situation in the Middle East's poorest country, and both sides impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid.
As the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross said at the end of his visit to Yemen in July 2017, "Unless the warring parties improve their respect of the laws of war, I am afraid we must expect more epidemics in the future."
Since March 2015, at least 5,110 civilians have been killed and at least 8,719 wounded in the armed conflict, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Serious violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of international human rights law by parties to the conflict have continued to be committed with impunity.
The Saudi Arabia-led coalition has conducted scores of unlawful airstrikes, some of which may amount to war crimes, that have killed thousands of civilians and hit schools, hospitals, markets, and homes.
The Houthi armed group and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh have fired weapons indiscriminately into populated areas in Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia and used explosive weapons with wide-scale effects in cities such as Taizz and Aden, killing and maiming scores in attacks that may amount to war crimes.
Both sides have harassed, arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared Yemeni activists, human rights defenders and journalists, shrinking the space for civil society groups and the media to operate throughout the country.
The number of the "missing" is also growing: Houthi-Saleh forces, forces affiliated with the Yemeni government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, and the United Arab Emirates and UAE-backed Yemeni forces have arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared hundreds, denying family members access to their loved ones or even information on the fate of those detained.
Parties to the conflict are recruiting and deploying child soldiers. Both sides have used widely banned weapons that can endanger civilians long after a conflict ends. The Saudi-led coalition has used at least seven types of cluster munitions, and the Houthi-Saleh side has laid antipersonnel landmines in a number of Yemeni governorates.
In September 2015, the Human Rights Council called on the Yemeni government, with support from the OHCHR, "to ensure the effective investigation, with a view to ending impunity, into all cases of violations and abuse of human rights and of violations of international humanitarian law."
In September 2016, the Council strengthened the mandate of the OHCHR, requesting the High Commissioner "to allocate additional international human rights experts to the Office of the High Commissioner in Yemen to complement the investigatory work of the national commission, while collecting and preserving information to establish the facts and circumstances of alleged violations and abuses."
While the 2016 resolution sought to strengthen the OHCHR presence in Yemen, this has been difficult in practice. The Houthi-Saleh side has publicly refused to cooperate with the Yemeni national commission or OHCHR in its capacity implementing the resolution.
In March 2017, the Deputy High Commissioner expressed concerns about the National Commission, noting it has failed "to comply with internationally recognized standards of methodology and impartiality," and has "yet to clarify how its work could facilitate viable mechanisms of accountability."
The Saudi-led coalition's investigative mechanism (JIAT) has also failed to conduct credible investigations into alleged violations and abuses. The coalition has called into question its purported commitment to accountability with continued blanket denials of violations and abuses documented by a number of credible sources.
Last year, Saudi Arabia threatened to withdraw funding from critical UN programs if the Secretary-General did not remove the coalition from his annual "list of shame" for violations against children.
For two years, the High Commissioner has called for and continues to call for an independent international investigation.
The victims of abuses in Yemen cannot afford to wait longer for credible investigations into ongoing grave violations and abuses to be undertaken. We therefore call on the Human Rights Council to establish, during its thirty-sixth session, an independent international inquiry to investigate alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen.
The inquiry should be given the mandate to establish the facts and circumstances, and to collect and preserve evidence of, and clarify responsibility for, alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law, with a view to ending impunity and providing accountability.
We urge you to support the creation of such an inquiry by the Council during upcoming session.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of our highest consideration,
1. Advocating for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia
2. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
3. Amnesty International
4. Arab Program for Human Rights Activists
5. Arabic Federation for Democracy, Palestine
6. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
7. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
9. Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
10. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
13. Conectas, Brazil
14. Control Arms
15. Corporación Humanas
16. Defend Defenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
17. Dove Tales
18. English PEN
19. European-Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR)
20. Friends Committee on National Legislation, US
21. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
22. Gulf Centre for Human Rights
23. Human Rights and Democracy Media Centers (SHAMS)
24. Human Rights Defenders Network, Sierra Leone
25. Human Rights Law Centre, Australia
26. Human Rights Watch
27. InterAfrica Group
28. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
29. International Platform against Impunity
30. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
32. Marib Dam Foundation for Social Development, Yemen
33. Medecins du Monde
34. Migrant Forum in Asia
35. Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights, Yemen
36. NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security
37. Oyu Tolgoi Watch, Mongolia
38. Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network
39. Partnership for Justice, Nigeria
41. PEN International
42. Physicians for Human Rights
44. Rivers Without Boundaries, Mongolia
46. Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF)
47. Society for Threatened Peoples, Germany
48. Win Without War, US
49. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
50. Yemen Humanitarian Forum
51. Yemen Peace Project, US
52. [Name withheld], Yemen*
53. [Name withheld], Yemen*
54. [Name withheld], Yemen*
55. [Name withheld], Yemen*
56. [Name withheld], Yemen*
57. [Name withheld], Yemen*
58. [Name withheld], Yemen*
59. [Name withheld], Yemen*
60. [Name withheld], Yemen*
61. [Name withheld], Yemen*
62. [Name withheld], Yemen*
* Eleven other Yemeni organizations endorsed the letter, but asked for the names of their organizations to be withheld from the public list due to fears of retaliation. Their names are on file with Human Rights Watch.
UPDATE: The original letter had listed 57 organizations and has since been updated to reflect an additional five signatories, now totaling 62.
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