UN report: Yemen war abuses require investigation

Experts detail human rights law breaches against Yemeni civilians, including use of starvation as a method of warfare.

A Houthi militant mans a weapon mounted on a patrol truck while securing a street where women are demonstrating against Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen''s capital Sanaa
More than 5,800 people have been killed in the conflict and 22 million face severe food shortages [Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

A United Nations panel of experts says that the UN Security Council should consider establishing an international commission of inquiry to investigate a range of alleged human rights abuses that have occurred during the war in Yemen.

In a report to the Security Council, obtained by Al Jazeera on Wednesday, the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen says civilians are the major victims of the war.

The report cites tactics used by both Houthi rebels and their opponents, the Saudi-led Arab coalition and its allied forces on the ground in Yemen.

“Beyond the widespread and systematic use of indiscriminate air strikes and shelling, and an increase in child recruitment, the blockade of commercial goods entering the country and the siege of Taiz have limited not only the ability of hospitals and humanitarian actors to operate and respond to the situation, but also the ability of people to be able to sustain themselves,” the report says.

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The panel says that while the Houthis and their allied forces are responsible for the vast majority of cases of recruiting minors for combat, “resistance fighters” also recruit child soldiers

Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, the coalition spokesman, told Al Jazeera from Riyadh that he would not comment on specific allegations made in the report as it has not been officially published by the UN.

The Houthi rebels took over the capital, Sanaa, in September 2014, a move which was followed by military intervention in March 2015 by a Saudi-led Arab coalition.

The fighting has destroyed Yemen, displacing more than two million from their homes. It has created a devastating humanitarian crisis, with more than 22 million people, about 80 percent of the country’s population, facing severe food shortages.

More than 5,800 people have been killed so far in the conflict.

The panel’s report condemns delegations of all warring sides who participated in the UN-brokered peace talks in December, saying that they bore responsibility “for obstructing the cessation of hostilities and the resumption of the political process”.

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The authors of the document also say that they documented 119 coalition sorties “relating to violations of international humanitarian law” with many involving multiple air strikes on civilian objects.

“The panel also documented three alleged cases of civilians fleeing residential bombings and being chased and shot at by helicopters,” the report says. 

The coalition spokesman said that to avoid civilian casualties, the allied forces were not conducting operations in densely populated areas.

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“That’s why the operation took this long, 10 months, because we avoid conducting operations inside the cities. We use very precise weapons, which costs a lot of money, to avoid any collateral damage,” Asseri said.

Commenting further on the suffering of civilians, the report says that the security situation in the impoverished nation has created “significant obstacles to the delivery and distribution of humanitarian assistance, attributable to widespread violations of international humanitarian law”.

Among the tactics highlighted by the panel is the use of starvation as a form of warfare.

“The panel has noted that civilians are disproportionately affected by the conduct of hostilities owing to the widespread and systematic use of tactics that practicably, and in certain cases directly, constitute the prohibited use of starvation as a method of warfare,” the report says.

An air and naval blockade has been imposed by the coalition to prevent supplies from reaching the Houthis.

But Asseri said the coalition was not preventing ships from delivering food and humanitarian aid to Yemen, as “on average 25 ships are going to al-Hudeida port, which is under Houthi control, a day.

“Today we do not have a problem with arrival of food and medicine in Yemen. We have the problem of distribution because NGOs, United Nations are not on the ground. They just ship the shipment but they don’t distribute inside Yemen,” he said.

The panel experts say they are also concerned about the “destabilising accumulation of arms” in Yemen.

They are investigating the potential transfer of anti-tank guided missiles to the Houthis after the seizure of an arms shipment in September off the coast of Oman.

The Panel inspected the missiles, “currently in United States custody, and noted that they originated from the Islamic Republic of Iran”.

Source: Al Jazeera