Saudi-led coalition absolves itself of Yemen 'warcrimes'

Saudi-led coalition absolves itself of Yemen 'warcrimes'
A panel set up by the Saudi-led coalition to investigate warcrimes in Yemen has largely justified its actions despite civilian casualties.
4 min read
13 September, 2017
More than 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led coalition intervention in Yemen [Getty]

The Saudi-led coalition said deadly airstrikes in Yemen were largely justified, after setting up a panel to investigate the civilian casualties.

The Joint Incidents Assessment Team, a panel set up by the coalition itself, said it only found three “mistakes” from a total of 15 incidents reviewed as part of the probe.

The coalition had made “an unintended mistake” in bombing a water well-drilling rig north of Yemen’s capital Sanaa last year after confusing it with a ballistic missile launcher, the panel’s legal advisor, Mansour Ahmed al-Mansour, told journalists in the Saudi capital on Tuesday.

At least 30 people were killed in that incident alone.

Airstrikes in Sanaa in June and September 2015 that hit civilian buildings were due to “a technical malfunction in aircraft systems,” the panel said.

It also claimed a January 2016 coalition airstrike near Saada which killed a Medicines Sans Frontieres ambulance driver and five others was not the fault of the coalition.

“The vehicle was used for military purposes due to the secondary explosion in the vehicle, which was obvious,” he said.

The investigators also absolved the coalition of responsibility for attacks on a Coca-Cola factory in December 2015 and a centre for the blind the following month.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia's ambassador in Geneva said the time is "not right" for an independent international inquiry into Saudi human rights violations in Yemen, in response to comments from the UN human rights chief.

Ambassador Abdulaziz Alwasil said a national Yemeni commission would be in a better position to investigate.

“We are working together to hopefully come to a compromise,” Alwasil told reporters.

“We have no objection to the inquiry itself, we just have a discussion about the timing, whether this is the right time to establish an international commission, with the difficulties on the ground,” Alwasil said.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein has long called for an independent international inquiry into the conflict and says Yemen’s National Commission is not up to the job of investigating the situation.

Zeid said on Monday there had been only “minimal” efforts at holding people to account in what the United Nations has branded the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The Netherlands and Canada are backing a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council mandating an international inquiry. For the past two years the 47-member Human Rights Council has rejected the Dutch demand for an international probe and backed the Saudi view that favours a Yemeni commission.

'Deliberately or recklessly'

The Saudi response came after Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen of war crimes, saying airstrikes on civilian targets were carried out deliberately or recklessly in violation of international law, calling for returning Riyadh to a 'list of shame'.

"The Saudi-led coalition's repeated promises to conduct its air strikes lawfully are not sparing Yemeni children from unlawful attacks," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

"This underscores the need for the United Nations to immediately return the coalition to its annual 'list of shame' for violations against children in armed conflict," she said.

The rights group said Saudi airstrikes had killed 39 civilians, including 26 children, in the past two months, with five targeted bombings hitting four family homes and grocery store.

The airstrikes were carried out deliberately or recklessly causing indiscriminate loss of civilian lives in violation of the laws of war, HRW said.

An airstrike on a home in Saada on 4 August killed nine members of a family, including six children aged three through 12.

A month earlier, on 3 July, an airstrike killed eight members of the same family in Taiz province, including the family's eight-year-old daughter.

The Saudi-led coalition launched its Yemen campaign in March 2015 to oust Houthi rebels and restore to power the internationally-recognised government of Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

More than 10,000 civilians have been killed and 47,800 wounded since the Saudi-led coalition joined the war, according to the World Health Organisation.

Saudi coalition airstrikes on Yemen have increased dramatically in 2017, the UN said last month, with more than 5,676 reported airstrikes so far this year.

In 2016, Yemen saw a total of 3,936 airstrikes - a monthly average of 328.

The Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly denied allegations of war crimes and says it is targeting Houthi rebels and not civilians.