Saudi attack on Yemen refugee boat 'likely war crime'

Saudi attack on Yemen refugee boat 'likely war crime'
Rights watchdog accuses Saudi Arabia of being 'unable' to credibly investigate its own 'abuses' following the unresolved attack on a refugee boat earlier this month.
2 min read
26 March, 2017
Dozens of people died in the attack on the refugee boat earlier in March [AFP]
An attack attributed to the Saudi-led military coalition on a boat carrying Somalian civilians off the coast of Yemen was likely a war crime, Human Rights Watch said on Sunday.

The attack, which took place on March 16, resulted in the deaths of at least 32 of the 145 Somalian refugees on board, and one Yemeni civilian. Another 29 were wounded, as well as 10 who remain unaccounted for.

Photos captured of the boat the next day indicate that it was hit by gunfire from an aerial attack.

"The coalition's apparent firing on a boat filled with fleeing refugees is only the latest likely war crime in Yemen’s two-year-long war," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"Reckless disregard for the lives of civilians has reached a new level of depravity."

Despite all parties in Yemen's conflict denying responsibility for the attack, observers have attributed blame to the Saudi coalition as it is the only group that has military aircraft.

Somalia, an ally of the coalition, called for the Arab military force to investigate the attack. HRW accuses the coalition of having "repeatedly shown itself unable or unwilling to credibly investigate its own abuses".

The Saudi-led coalition's war against Houthi rebels in Yemen has cost more than 10,000 lives since March 2015 and brought the country to the brink of famine.

According to the UN, the fighting has displaced more than three million people, and more than two thirds of Yemen's population of around 18.8 million people need aid.

Some 7.3 million people are estimated to be close to starvation and 462,000 children suffer from serious malnutrition. Without $2.1 billion in international aid, the UN warns that Yemen will suffer a famine in 2017.