UN: ‘Both sides responsible’ for war crimes in Yemen
Bodies covered in plastic lie on the ground amid the rubble of a Houthi detention center destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes, that killed at least 60 people and wounding several dozen according to officials and the rebels' health ministry, in Dhamar province, southwestern Yemen, Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019. | Hani Mohammed / AP

UNITED NATIONS—Both the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels and the rebels themselves, who are allied with Iran, are responsible for war crimes in Yemen, a special United Nations panel of experts says. And their arms suppliers—including the U.S.—are “complicit” for the carnage, the panel adds.

In the second report to the world body’s Human Rights Council, which will tackle the issue later in September, panel Chair Kamel Jenoubi adds responsibility rests not just with the main combatants, but with their allies, arms suppliers, and backers as well.

For the Saudis, that includes the United States, Britain, and France, the expert panel reported. For the Houthis, that means Iran. The panel demands the outsiders cease their arms sales to both sides, among other measures the UN could take.

“The parties to the conflict in Yemen—all the parties—are responsible for numerous violations of human rights, of international law, and humanitarian law,” Jenoubi said in releasing a redacted version of the report on Sept. 3. “Some of these violations may constitute war crimes.”

“There is nowhere safe to hide” in Yemen and that lack of safety is “a deliberate tactic by the warring sides,” Jenoubi said.

“The missiles, the airstrikes, the snipers, (that) hit people going about their daily business, often without warning and in places where there’s no active conflict,” he said. “It gives the impression that there’s nowhere in Yemen that you can call safe, or where you can hide.”

A majority of the U.S. people and a majority of Congress oppose U.S. participation in the war, through arms sales to the Saudis and surveillance and intelligence-gathering for them.

Several times, including once when the GOP ran the show, the House invoked the 35-year-old War Powers Act to try to force Republican President Donald Trump to end U.S. participation in the war and support for MBS and Saudi-led atrocities in Yemen.

The last time, earlier this year, 50 senators, including two Republicans, opposed the war, but war foes needed 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to pass the ban. War backers got 41, and nine were absent.

Popular opposition is widespread, too.

“Trump is building a global alt-right alliance including with dictators and theocratic monarchies,” John Bachtell, then chair of the CPUSA, wrote earlier this year. “Trump is supporting the bloody Saudi war in Yemen resulting in a massive humanitarian crisis.”

“Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have led a military intervention in Yemen aimed at restoring the former Saudi-backed president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi,” U.S. Labor Against War said on Facebook. “Hadi was deposed after an Iran-linked rebel group commonly known as the Houthis overran the capital in 2014.”

“Rights groups have documented violations by all sides, but critics have singled out the Saudi blockade as the largest driving force behind the humanitarian crisis. The coalition’s blockade has left 18 million people—roughly two-thirds of the country’s population—in need of humanitarian assistance. The crisis has been exacerbated by coalition airstrikes, which have targeted food sources, water infrastructure, markets, and even schools and hospitals.”

The UN report concentrates on two details of that humanitarian crisis: Lack of food, medicine, and care, and recruitment of children into the armed forces.

The report estimates there have 460,000 cases of cholera in the first six months of 2019 alone, in a total population of 30 million. The health crises in Yemen are worsened by deliberate bombing of hospitals and other facilities by the Saudi-led coalition, said panel member Melissa Parke.

“We’ve had incidents this year where the coalition has struck an MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) cholera treatment center just prior to it opening for business, so taking that out of action for the year,” she said. “And we’ve had both sides of the parties to the conflict actively impeding the delivery of cholera vaccines to the population of Yemen.”

Jenoubi also cited the “siege” of Yemeni ports, notably Hudayah, which prevent needed humanitarian aid, including food and medicine, from getting to the Yemenis. The fighting is so extensive that 80% of Yemenis now depend on the aid to survive—when it gets there.

And both armies on the ground in Yemen force kids to fight, he added.

“The parties—all the parties—actively recruit children, including by force. The parties to the conflict harass and threaten rights activists, journalists, human rights defenders, humanitarian workers, they impose restrictions on their work, that often cut off services provided to people in need.”

There’s also been sexual abuse of detainees, the report says.

The three-person panel of experts had several recommendations for stopping the carnage and the humanitarian crisis. The big one is stopping the flow of arms.

“The group of experts has recommended that third states”—the foreign supporters—“prohibit the authorization of arms transfers and refrain from providing arms to parties to the conflict,” Parke told journalists. “This is because of the prevailing risk that such arms will be used by parties to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.”

Fellow expert Charles Garraway added “certain states” were “well known to be supplying weapons, making them complicit in the struggle. That includes the United States, that includes the United Kingdom and it includes France, to name but three” on the Saudis’ side, he said. “On the other side, it is reported that Iran may be supplying weapons to the Houthis.”

That recommendation won’t sit well with Trump, who vetoed the congressional invocation of the War Powers Act, which would have forced him to stop U.S. aid to the Saudis, earlier this year. Trump has strongly supported the Saudi-led coalition despite widespread domestic and international criticism.

The UN Human Rights Council will take up the unredacted report later in September. The redactions omit individual names of violators. But it names top leaders of both actual fighting sides in the long-running war, including Saudi Arabia’s now-notorious de facto ruler, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.