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Yemen: Joint NGO Letter: Urgent Need for International Inquiry on Yemen

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We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations, write to urge you to support the High Commissioner’s call for an international, independent investigation into civilian deaths and injuries in Yemen, a call repeatedly made by national, regional and international civil society organizations.

Urgent Need for International Inquiry on Yemen

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council Excellencies, We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations, write to urge you to support the High Commissioner’s call for an international, independent investigation into civilian deaths and injuries in Yemen, a call repeatedly made by national, regional and international civil society organizations. Over the course of the conflict, the council has missed critical opportunities to address alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Yemen. On 2 October 2015, the council adopted HRC resolution 30/18, a deeply flawed resolution, drafted by Saudi Arabia, a party to the conflict, that ignored earlier calls for an international inquiry and instead endorsed a Yemeni national commission. A year later, the High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded that the national commission was “unable to implement its mandate in accordance with international standards.”

Serious violations and abuses of international law have continued throughout the fighting. Since the Saudi Arabia-led coalition entered the conflict in March 2015, 3,799 civilians have been killed and more than 6,700 wounded. These include at least 1,444 more civilian deaths since the Council failed to create an international inquiry a year ago.

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition continues to commit violations of international human rights and humanitarian law with impunity:

  • Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented more than 70 unlawful coalition airstrikes, some of which may amount to war crimes, that have killed at least 913 civilians and deliberately targeted civilian objects, caused disproportionate harm to civilians and civilian objects, or failed to distinguish between civilians and military objectives. Mwatana, one of Yemen’s leading human rights organizations, documented 59 airstrikes between March 2015 and April 2016 which they deemed unlawful.

  • Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also documented the coalition’s use of at least seven different types of internationally banned cluster munitions in at least 19 attacks, including in civilian areas.

  • Coalition airstrikes have repeatedly hit homes, hospitals, markets, civilian factories and schools. An August airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital, the fourth during the 18-month long war, prompted MSF to withdraw its staff from six hospitals in northern Yemen and declare their “loss of confidence in the Coalition’s ability to avoid such fatal attacks.”

  • Repeated coalition airstrikes on factories and other civilian economic structures have raised serious concerns that the coalition has deliberately sought to inflict widespread damage to Yemen’s production capacity and contributed to the shortages of food, medicine and other critical needs of Yemen’s civilians, of whom more than 20 million are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

The Houthi armed group and forces allied to it, including army forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, have also committed numerous violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law, including by:

  • Endangering civilians by deploying in densely populated neighborhoods, including launching attacks from or near populated homes, schools and hospitals.

  • Firing weapons indiscriminately into civilian populated areas in Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia, and using explosive weapons with wide-area effect such as ground-launched artillery shells and mortar projectiles in populated areas, killing and maiming scores of civilians.

  • Laying internationally banned antipersonnel landmines that have killed and maimed dozens of civilians.

  • Blocking the entry of crucial medical supplies and food into the city of Taizz, endangering the lives of thousands of civilians.

  • Arbitrarily detaining and forcibly disappearing scores of people in governorates under their control, including political opponents, human rights defenders and journalists, as well as members of the Bahá’í community, as documented by Amnesty International, Mwatana and Human Rights Watch.

  • Raiding and closing dozens of non-governmental organizations as part of a wider campaign against activists, human rights defenders and political opposition groups.

Multiple parties to the conflict are recruiting and deploying child soldiers. The United Nations Secretary-General attributed 72 percent of 762 verified cases of child recruitment to the Houthis.

Other armed groups, including local “popular committees” opposed to the Houthis and army units loyal to President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, have also violated the laws of war during ground fighting. Restrictions on the delivery of vital humanitarian aid to civilians by all parties continue to exacerbate the country’s humanitarian crisis.

Despite mounting violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Yemen, no state party has conducted credible investigations that meet international standards. State parties to an armed conflict have an obligation to investigate alleged war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. States have a further duty to investigate alleged human rights violations and abuses under their jurisdiction or effective control. Over the past year, the parties have demonstrated they are not committed to carrying out credible and impartial investigations that would lead to the prosecution of suspected perpetrators in fair trials and ensuring justice and reparations for victims.

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