Amnesty International has called for a UN probe into the conflict in Yemen. The call comes as Saudi Arabia, which is leading a military campaign against Houthi rebels, is set to head the UN Human Rights Council.
Six months into a deadly conflict that has killed more than 2,100 civilians and created a humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, Amnesty International said on Friday that the UN Human Rights Council should establish an investigation into violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses by all sides of the conflict.
"The organization is urging the creation of a UN Commission of Inquiry into violations and abuses committed by all parties to the Yemen conflict, at the current Human Rights Council session in Geneva which concludes on 2 October," Amnesty said in a statement.
In March, Saudi Arabia alongside Sunni Arab states launched a military campaign to oust Houthi rebels, who took the capital Sanaa in September 2014. The Houthis later put the internationally recognized president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, under house arrest before he fled to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia claims the Shiite Houthis are backed by Iran. The rebels deny the claim, saying they are fighting corruption and want to reform the political system.
The multi-front conflict pits Houthi rebels and forces tied to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against forces loyal to Hadi, southern Yemeni secessionists, tribal forces and elements of al-Qaeda and the so-called "Islamic State." Coalition ground forces have also recently entered combat in a so-far unsuccessful bid to push the Houthis from the capital.
The US has provided intelligence, logistics and refueling support, and military assistance to the Saudi-led coalition air campaign, although the US has not played a direct role in airstrikes.
Amnesty International and other organizations has documented numerous violations by all parties to the conflict, some of which may amount to war crimes. However, Amnesty said the "vast majority of civilian deaths and injuries have been caused by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition which is backed by the USA and the UK."
Documented violations include indiscriminate airstrikes on civilians, the destruction of homes, schools and mosques, as well as the targeting of roads and bridges, which have compounded the difficulty of delivering humanitarian supplies. The Saudi-led coalition has also implemented a naval blockade, further hampering the delivery of humanitarian supplies.
"Coalition forces have also used banned cluster munitions, which are indiscriminate by nature, and have been found to be produced or designed in the USA," Amnesty said.
Amnesty also said Houthi forces fighting on the ground have committed "grave human rights abuses" and violated international humanitarian law. Houthi violations include the indiscriminate shelling of towns in southern Saudi Arabia and attacks in residential areas in Yemen.
"They have also carried out dozens of arbitrary arrests, detentions and abductions of activists, journalists and others perceived as critics," Amnesty said.
Saudi Arabia to head UN Human Rights Council
Amnesty International's call for an investigation into the war in Yemen comes as the Netherlands on Thursday submitted a resolution to the UN Human Rights Council to create a fact-finding mission in Yemen.
The Dutch proposal challenges another co-sponsored by Saudi Arabia, which alongside allies in the UN has sought to prevent an investigation into alleged abuses committed during the war. The Dutch resolution puts the US in a potentially difficult position as one of the key international backers of the Saudi-led military campaign.
This week, Saudi Arabia was selected to head the UN Human Rights Council, a position which gives it considerable sway over officials shaping human rights investigations and reports. Responding to the appointment, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner on Tuesday said the US "welcomes" the Saudi appointment as a US ally.