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UN cites Saudi airstrikes for Yemen deaths

March 18, 2016

A UN human rights official has condemned Saudi-led coalition air strikes as being responsible for the majority of civilian deaths in Yemen. Saudi Arabia says it is winding down its intervention.

Jemen Luftangriffe Zerstörung
Image: Reuters/A.Mahyoub

UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein said Friday that the Saudi-led coalition fighting for nearly a year in Yemen was responsible for the majority of civilian deaths and suffering.

Al-Hussein said in a statement that the regime in Riyadh could be held responsible: "We are possibly looking at the commission of international crimes by members of the coalition," Hussein said in a statement. "Looking at the figures, it would seem that the coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together."

UN investigators who had visited the site of a deadly strike on Tuesday and interviewed witnesses "found no evidence of any armed confrontation or significant military objects in the area at the time of the attack," al-Hussein added.

"These awful incidents continue to occur with unacceptable regularity. In addition, despite public promises to investigate such incidents, we have yet to see progress in any such investigations," he wrote.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also demanded an investigation into the bombing.

Saudi Arabia disengaging?

The UN human rights official's anger comes as tribal mediation has brought calm to the Saudi-Yemen border following a nearly year-long intervention led by Saudi forces.

Saudi TV channel al-Arabiya quoted the spokesman, Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asseri, as saying Thursday that "the major fighting in Yemen is nearing an end ... the next phase is a stage of restoring stability and reconstructing the country."

The United States - a major supplier of armaments to Saudi Arabia - welcomed talk of winding down the coalition's interventions.

"We have expressed our concerns about the loss of innocent life in Yemen," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday in Washington. "The violence there that is plaguing that country has caught too many innocent civilians in the crossfire."

Saudi Arabia and its regional allies began its intervention March 26, 2015 to support President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi after Iran-backed rebels seized large parts of Yemen including the capital Sanaa.

Coalition air strikes and some troops and anti-rebel militias have retaken territory, including much of the south of the country. But the Saudi-led coalition has failed to dislodge the Shiite Houthi rebels from Sanaa or the country's third city Taez where intense battles continue.

UN Kommissar für Menschenrechte Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein
UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein decried airstrike "carnage."Image: Reuters/D. Balibouse

Civilian casualties

Rights groups have raised concerns about civilian casualties caused by the coalition as well as by the Houthis, who are allied with elite troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The UN estimates more than 6,000 Yemenis - about half of them civilians - have been killed in the fighting and airstrikes over the past year. Millions more have been displaced.

jar/ (AFP, Reuters)