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UN to end Yemen war crimes inquiry

October 7, 2021

In a tight 21-18 vote, diplomats put an end to Dutch plans for a two year extension to an independent investigation despite Western support. The war in Yemen started in 2014 and continues to this day.

A man walks in a mass graveyard where hundreds of Yemeni fighters are buried in Marib, Yemen
Hundreds of Yemeni fighters are buried at this Marib cemetery Image: Nariman El-Mofty/AP Photo/picture alliance

Members of the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday narrowly blocked a mandate to continue independent investigations into alleged war crimes during the ongoing Yemen conflict.

Bahrain, Russia and Pakistan led 21 countries who voted against a Dutch resolution for a two-year extension of the investigation, with Germany, the UK and France heading 18 countries that voted in favor.

Independent investigators said both theSaudi-led coalition and Iran-backed Houthi rebelscommitted war crimes and broke international human rights law.

What is the impact of this vote?

Western diplomats and human rights activists have been angered by the vote, which some said was instigated by a strong Saudi Arabian lobby against the UN resolution.

"I cannot help but feel that this Council has failed the people of Yemen," said Dutch ambassador Peter Bekker after the vote.

"States who voted against the renewal or abstained have chosen to appease Saudi Arabia instead of protecting the lives of millions," added Jeremie Smith, director of the CIHRS Geneva office.

Houthi 'government': War won't stop until Saudis quit Yemen

The chair of the independent Yemeni activist group Mwatana for Human Rights, Radhya Almutawakel could not hide her disappointment.

"UN member states have given a green light to warring parties to continue their campaign of death and destruction in Yemen," said Almutawakel.

Bahraini ambassador Yusuf Abdulkarim Bucheeri said during the debate before the vote that investigators had "contributed to misinformation" about the civil war inside Yemen.

There were seven abstentions and Ukraine was absent for the meeting.

How serious is the conflict?

Yemen's decades of tensions and violence escalated into full scale civil war in late 2014, when Houthi insurgents — Shiite rebels with links to Iran and a complex history with Yemen's Sunni Muslims — took control of the northern city of Sanaa.

Shortly after, the rebels also seized the presidential palace, leading to the government's resignation.

A coalition of Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia then intervened in the conflict at the ousted government's request in May of 2015, even as UN-led efforts to establish a peaceful political transition were ongoing. The campaign mainly consisted of bombing raids against Houthi targets, and later a naval blockade and ground invasion. The blockade, in particular, has hampered food and humanitarian aid deliveries to the conflict zone.

A fighter loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government manning a machine gun at a position near the frontlines against the Huthi rebel forces in the region of al-Kassara, northwest of Marib
Around two thirds of residents have been affected by the Yemen civil war that has raged since 2014, according to the UNImage: AFPTV/AFP/Getty Images

The Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations called it the "the world's worst humanitarian crisis" in a statement on September 22.

"Parties to the conflict continue to commit extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, torture, child recruitment and forced displacement, among other violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law," said UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

jc/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa)