War Crimes Report Accuses Saudi Arabia and U.A.E. in Yemen

War Crimes Report Accuses Saudi Arabia and U.A.E. in Yemen

GENEVA — Torture, rape, and the use of child soldiers are among the litany of war crimes that have been committed in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates appear to be responsible for many abuses, United Nations experts said in a report issued on Tuesday.

The casualties and misery inflicted by the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes also received a damning appraisal in the report, which said that the rebel Houthi forces may also have committed war crimes, such as torturing detainees and recruiting young children to take part in fighting.

Sniping and shelling by Houthi forces and their allies have inflicted civilian casualties and blocked access by humanitarian agencies, the report went on to note.

“None have clean hands,” one of the experts, Charles Garraway, told reporters in Geneva. “Despite the severity of the situation, we continue to witness a total disregard of the suffering of the people of Yemen.”

A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition said that it would respond after its legal team had reviewed the report.

The Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said on Twitter that his government would need to study the report before responding, but he said the culpability of the Houthis for civilian suffering needed to be recognized.

Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni human rights activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, responded to Mr. Gargash by tweeting that the United Nations report would not be credible unless it named the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and of Saudi Arabia, as well as the head of the Houthi movement, as responsible for massacres of civilians.

Political factions and militias have been fighting for control of Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, since power-sharing talks collapsed in 2014 and the Houthis ousted the internationally backed government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Since then, fighting has devolved into proxy warfare, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates arming and fighting alongside a disparate group of Islamist, tribal and regional militias against the Houthis, who control Sana, the capital, as well as the major port of Al Hudaydah and their ancestral territories along the Saudi border.

The Saudis and their allies have accused Iran of aiding the Houthis. Iran denies it is arming the Houthis, despite evidence that the rebels are using Iranian weaponry, including missiles.

The conflict has resulted in at least 16,700 casualties, including 6,475 civilians killed, but the real figure is almost certainly significantly higher, according to the United Nations.

The main cause of civilian casualties in the war, the report says, has been airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition. It estimates there have been 18,000 such strikes in little more than three years, inflicting a level of damage on civilian infrastructure that “certainly contributed to Yemen’s dire economic and humanitarian situation.”

The report’s findings, to be delivered to the United Nations Human Rights Council next month, chime with mounting anger after a coalition strike this month that killed 40 children on a school bus.

The experts said that names of individuals suspected of abuses would be sent to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday. They declined to give details, but the report noted that offenses had been committed by individuals at all levels in the Saudi-led coalition’s member states and their governments, including civilian officials.

“There is little evidence of any attempt by parties to the conflict to minimize civilian casualties,” Kamel Jendoubi, the chairman of the United Nations panel, said in a statement.

Coalition bombings have hit events like weddings and funerals and have fallen on markets, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities. Sixty attacks on residential areas reviewed by the experts had killed more than 500 civilians, including 233 children, they said, adding that an attack on a funeral hall in Sana in October 2016 had killed at least 137 civilians.

The experts said that the coalition had kept up the intensity of the airstrikes even after it had become clear that civilians were suffering dire consequences.

Further harm resulted from the coalition’s arbitrary restrictions on shipping and air travel. Screening of ships coming into Al Hudaydah — ostensibly to prevent arms from entering the country — had had “a chilling effect on commercial shipping supplies of fuel and food needed to fend off starvation, even though United Nations searches of shipping had found no weapons,” the experts said.

“No possible military advantage could justify such sustained and extreme suffering of millions of people,” they added.

The experts detailed allegations of rape and abuse by the so-called Security Belt Forces, a proxy unit under the control of the United Arab Emirates, that targeted not just detainees, but also refugee and migrant women and children.

The experts particularly faulted the coalition’s Joint Incidents Assessment Team, which is supposed to investigate claims of military abuse but which rights groups say was set up to deflect pressure for an international inquiry into the war.

The assessment team’s work lacked transparency, its investigations lacked legal analysis, and its findings regularly ignored civilian casualties and were often substantially altered by the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the experts said.

A report released by Human Rights Watch last week warned Britain, France and the United States that they risked complicity in unlawful attacks in Yemen by continuing to supply arms to Saudi Arabia.

The United States secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, said on Tuesday that the administration was constantly reviewing its support for the Arab coalition. He said Washington had determined that the military action had been the right thing for the Saudis and their allies to do to defend their own countries and to restore the Yemeni govenment.

Mr. Mattis added that the American focus was on trying to keep the civilian death toll to a minimum and on getting all sides to the negotiating table.

Margaret Coker contributed reporting from Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Lara Jakes from Washington.


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