A United Nations investigation into the civil war in Yemen found that multiple parties have repeatedly engaged in possible war crimes, including targeting civilians with airstrikes, artillery and snipers, arbitrary detentions and killings, torture, sexual violence, and impeding access to humanitarian aid.
“Five years into the conflict, violations against Yemeni civilians continue unabated, with total disregard for the plight of the people and a lack of international action to hold parties to the conflict accountable,” Mr. Kamel Jendoubi, chair of the Group of Independent Eminent International and Regional Experts, said in a statement released alongside the report on Tuesday, September 3.
Jendoubi called on the international community to end the “endemic impunity” enjoyed by Yemen’s government and its supporters, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the Houthi rebels against which they are fighting, and foreign governments supporting them – such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Iran – saying they “may be held responsible” for complicity in possible war crimes.
“Perpetrators may be held responsible for war crimes, as such acts amount to serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the report read.
“The international community must multiply its efforts to free the Yemeni people from the persistent injustice they have been enduring,” Jendoubi said.
“The international community must stop turning a blind eye to these violations and the intolerable humanitarian situation.”
The report, built on interviews with over 600 victims and witnesses, in addition to documentary and open-source material, identifies a number of “main actors” responsible for military forces in different areas of the conflict.
The investigators also submitted a list of “individuals who may be responsible for international crimes” to the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.
If brought before independent and competent courts, “many of these violations may result in individuals being held responsible for war crimes,” the statement read.
The report called on all sides to immediately cease all acts of violence against civilians, stop recruiting children and stop “any measures that exacerbate the humanitarian crisis,” such as blocking or impeding the delivery of international humanitarian aid.
It also demanded all parties “put an end to enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention,” including of journalists.
Tuesday’s report is the second released by the Group of Experts, formed in 2017 to investigate crimes in Yemen’s ongoing civil war, which the U.N. considers the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
The group’s first report, released in August 2018, alleged that a majority of civilian casualties in the conflict had been caused by the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign, which investigators alleged had been striking civilian areas where no apparent military targets were present.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE were among eight member nations that voted against extending the investigation’s mandate a month later, but the lost the vote.
The latest report alleges that “individuals in the Government of Yemen and the coalition, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates” have indiscriminately bombed civilian targets and “may have used starvation as a method of warfare.”
Tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions face starvation since Yemen’s civil war broke out in March 2015, when a Saudi-led coalition intervened to fight Houthi rebels closing in on the last bastion of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s government.
The investigation found that various parties’ use of landmines, indiscriminate bombing, recruitment of child soldiers, rape and use of educational facilities for military operations has severely worsened the plight of women and children in the poverty-stricken country.
“The Group of Experts has reasonable grounds to believe that all parties to the conflict committed gender-based violence,” the report states.
The report accuses members of Yemen’s Security Belt forces, supported by the UAE as part of the Saudi-led coalition, of kidnapping women and girls for ransom on accusations of traveling without a male guardian.
“Members of the Security Belt Forces backed by the United Arab Emirates and of Yemeni armed forces,” including the 35th Armored Brigade, “continued to commit sexual violence,” the report said.
“Law enforcement actors general posed a direct threat to women’s security, and the parties actively obstructed protection networks.”
The report also emphasizes previous findings that a majority of deaths of children in Yemen have been caused by the Saudi-led coalition, and that both Houthi and Yemeni pro-government forces, including Security Belt units, have continued to recruit thousands of child soldiers, in some cases as young as 12 years old.
The investigation found that various sides have used schools as military facilities, rendering them targets. In April 2019, a weapons cache near three schools in Sana’a exploded, killing 10 students.
According to the report, participating parties denied to investigators that their members were responsible for violating international humanitarian law, leading the investigators to “question whether the de facto authorities have examined and investigated alleged violations of international law … at all.”