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Civil Society Groups Seek Urgent UN Action on Yemen [EN/AR]

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More Than 60 Groups Urge General Assembly to Establish New Investigative Mechanism

(New York, December 2, 2021) – The United Nations General Assembly should act swiftly to establish an investigative mechanism to gather and preserve evidence of serious human rights abuses and violations of the laws of war in Yemen, a coalition of more than 60 organizations said today. Failure to act would not only be a vote for impunity in Yemen, it would be tantamount to a green light to commit further abuses and war crimes.

This step is urgently needed in light of the failure of the UN Human Rights Council in October to renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts (GEE), which for more than four years had investigated and reported on rights abuses and other violations of international law by all parties to the Yemen conflict.

“The suffering already inflicted on civilians in Yemen demands this step to address impunity in the ongoing conflict and send a clear warning to perpetrators on all sides that they will be held accountable for war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law,” the groups said in a joint statement addressed to the General Assembly’s 193 member countries.

Member states should create a new standing investigative mechanism to demonstrate to the people of Yemen that the United Nations will not turn a blind eye to their suffering and that they support international accountability for crimes and abuses committed there. The Human Rights Council vote was the result of an aggressive lobbying campaign against the experts’ reporting by Saudi Arabia, backed by the United Arab Emirates, leaders of the military coalition in the Yemen conflict, and other allies. “The international community cannot stand by and allow that vote to be the last word on accountability efforts for abuses and war crimes in Yemen,” the organizations said.

The groups urged the UN General Assembly to establish an independent and impartial body that would investigate and publicly report on the most serious violations and abuses of international law committed in Yemen, while also collecting and preserving evidence and preparing files for possible future criminal prosecution.

“Such a strong mandate is required to ensure not only that the serious violations committed in Yemen be exposed to the world, but also that potential avenues of accountability for crimes under international law may be effectively exploited in the future to address impunity and provide effective redress to victims,” the groups said.

All parties to the conflict in Yemen have carried out widespread and systematic abuses, including killing and injuring tens of thousands of civilians, the organizations said. Since 2015, the Saudi and UAE-led coalition has conducted scores of unlawful airstrikes that have killed and injured civilians and destroyed or damaged homes, hospitals, schools, markets, and other civilian infrastructure, and has armed and supported local armed groups and militias that have committed serious abuses.

Houthi forces have fired mortars, rockets, and other missiles indiscriminately into heavily populated areas, including cities, in Yemen, and launched ballistic missiles indiscriminately at populated areas in Saudi Arabia. The warring parties have prevented life-saving humanitarian aid from reaching those who need it. The organizations said that the criminal conduct of all parties to the conflict has claimed many thousands of civilian lives and caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

This would not be the first time the General Assembly has taken bold action against widespread and persistent human rights abuses. In 2016 it created the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to collect, preserve, and analyze evidence of the most serious crimes under international law committed in Syria. In 2018, the Human Rights Council created a similar mechanism for Myanmar in the wake of the 2017 crimes against humanity and possible genocide committed against Rohingya Muslims.

Recognizing the urgent need for accountability in Yemen, dozens of UN member states have already said that the international community should “actively explore further alternative mechanisms” for accountability in Yemen.

“The people of Yemen need justice,” the organizations said. “And justice begins with investigations and accountability. The time to act is now.”

Comments from leading human rights organizations that endorsed the joint statement

Agnès Callamard, Secretary-General, Amnesty International: “What we need to get this done is not a miracle – it’s political will. We need the General Assembly to step up and take action right now. If states continue to turn a blind eye, there will be no end in sight to this horrendous conflict that has seen immeasurable suffering inflicted upon the men, women, and children of Yemen. Yemenis have been knocking on all doors demanding accountability and justice. Member states owe it to them to take this forward at pace – the welfare of millions is in their hands.”

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch: “That the Saudi government succeeded in arm-twisting the UN Human Rights Council to end its scrutiny of Saudi, Houthi, and others’ conduct in Yemen should not be the last word. For years, all warring parties in Yemen have callously disregarded human rights and human life. Impunity only makes things worse. It is urgent for the UN General Assembly to rectify this dangerous backward step. It should establish an investigative team to gather and report the facts and to collect and preserve evidence for future prosecution.”

Radhya Almutawakel, chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights: “The UN General Assembly must act now and establish a mechanism for Yemen. If the international community is serious about supporting Yemen, ending impunity and supporting accountability must be the first priority. All warring parties including the Saudi/UAE-led coalition and Houthis must be held accountable for the suffering that civilians have gone through.”

Bahey Eldin Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies: “UN member states have a choice to make: Either bow to Saudi pressure and allow all parties to the conflict, including Houthi armed groups, to continue to carry out atrocity after atrocity with total impunity, or take action to protect the people of Yemen and ensure accountability.”

Savita Pawnday, executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect: “For over six years, there has been a ‘pandemic of impunity’ for countless atrocities perpetrated in Yemen. The termination of the GEE has further exacerbated this accountability gap. The UNGA has a responsibility to protect the people of Yemen and to act now by taking urgent action to establish a new standing accountability mechanism. Peace in Yemen will only be possible if justice and accountability prevail.”

To schedule interviews or request additional information, please contact:
For Human Rights Watch, in New York, Louis Charbonneau: +1-646-591-5178 (mobile); or charbol@hrw.org.
For Human Rights Watch, in New York, Widad Franco: +1-929-301-9700 (mobile); or francow@hrw.org.
For Mwatana for Human Rights, in Sanaa, Osamah Alfakih: +967-775-546-904 (mobile/ Signal); +967-711-404-790 (WhatsApp); or oalfakih@mwatana.org.
For Amnesty International, in New York, Sherine Tadros: +1-929-339-9523 (mobile); or sherine.tadros@amnesty.org; Jess Owen: Jess.owen@amnesty.org; or press@amnesty.org.
For Cairo Institute for Human Rights, in Geneva, Jeremie Smith: +41-(0)-76-340-2456 (mobile); or jsmith@cihrs.org.
For Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Jahaan Pittalwala: +1-718-207-8440 (mobile); or jpittalwala@globalr2p.org.

Civil Society Groups Demand Urgent UN Action Against Impunity for Yemen Crimes

For nearly seven years the people of Yemen have been victims of innumerable war crimes and human rights abuses.

Until last month the fact that the UN Human Rights Council’s Group of Eminent Experts (GEE) was documenting crimes by all parties to the conflict and reporting them to the world attested to a commitment to address widespread impunity for such crimes. It signaled to civilians in Yemen that Member States of the United Nations were not turning a blind eye to their suffering.

But not anymore. Saudi Arabia, backed by the United Arab Emirates, the leaders of a military coalition in the Yemen conflict, lobbied Human Rights Council members to end the GEE’s impartial monitoring and reporting. As a result, Council members narrowly rejected a resolution whose adoption would have renewed the GEE’s mandate, dealing a serious blow to accountability efforts.

As the Netherlands’ ambassador to the UN in Geneva rightly summed it up, by ending the GEE, the Council has “failed the people of Yemen.”

The international community cannot stand by and allow that vote to be the last word on accountability efforts for abuses and war crimes in Yemen.

The undersigned organizations call upon the UN General Assembly to move quickly and establish a new international accountability mechanism for Yemen. The suffering already inflicted on civilians in the country demands this step to address impunity in the ongoing conflict and send a clear warning to perpetrators on all sides that they will be held accountable for war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

All parties to the conflict in Yemen have perpetrated widespread and systematic abuses, including the killing and injuring of tens of thousands of civilians. Since 2015, the Saudi and UAE-led coalition has conducted scores of unlawful airstrikes that have killed and injured civilians and destroyed or damaged homes, hospitals, schools, markets, and other civilian infrastructure, and has allegedly armed and supported local armed groups and militias. Houthi forces have fired mortars, rockets, and other missiles indiscriminately into heavily populated areas, including cities, in Yemen, as well as launching ballistic missiles indiscriminately at populated areas in Saudi Arabia. Warring parties have prevented life-saving humanitarian aid from reaching those who need it. The criminal conduct of all parties to the conflict has claimed many thousands of civilian lives and caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

The undersigned organizations call upon the UN General Assembly to establish an independent and impartial body that would investigate and publicly report on the most serious violations and abuses of international law committed in Yemen, while also collecting and preserving evidence and preparing files for possible future criminal prosecution. Such a strong mandate is required to ensure not only that the serious crimes under international law committed in Yemen be exposed to the world, but also that potential avenues of criminal accountability may be effectively exploited in the future to address impunity and provide effective redress to victims.

This is an ambitious goal, but the General Assembly has risen to the challenge before, when grave, widespread, and persistent abuses demanded it. For example, in 2016, the General Assembly created the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to collect, preserve, and analyze evidence of the most serious crimes under international law committed in Syria. In 2018, the Human Rights Council created a similar mechanism for Myanmar in the wake of the 2017 crimes against humanity and possible genocide committed against Rohingya Muslims. Recognizing the urgent need for accountability in Yemen, dozens of UN Member States have already urged the international community to “actively explore further alternative mechanisms” for monitoring the human rights situation.

UN General Assembly Member States can and should create such an accountability mechanism for Yemen and ensure it is provided with adequate resources to conduct its task. It is the least they can do for those who have endured immeasurable suffering for nearly seven years.

The people of Yemen need justice. And justice begins with investigations and accountability. The time to act is now.

The full list of signatories follows (64 as of December 2, 2021):

  1. Action on Armed Violence (AOAV)
  2. ACAT-France
  3. Africa Center for Security,Governance & Research
  4. Alkarama for Human Rights
  5. ALQST for Human Rights
  6. Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, Yale Law School
  7. Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
  8. Amnesty International
  9. Avaaz
  10. Bridges for Yemen
  11. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  12. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)
  13. Centre for Social Impact Studies
  14. Changemaker Norway
  15. CIVICUS
  16. Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic
  17. Conflict and Environment Observatory
  18. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  19. Defense Foundation for Rights and Freedoms
  20. Democracy School
  21. Development House
  22. European Center for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
  23. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
  24. Femmes des medias pour la justice au Congo
  25. FOMICRES
  26. Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict
  27. FundiPau (Fundacio per la Pau)
  28. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  29. Global Legal Action Network
  30. Gulf Centre for Human Rights
  31. Human Life Foundation for Development and Relief
  32. Human Rights Information & Training Centre- HRITC
  33. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  34. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)
  35. Human Rights Monitor Organization
  36. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  37. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  38. Le Réseau d’action sur les armes légères en Afrique de l’Ouest, section Côte d’Ivoire (Le RASALAO-CI)
  39. MENA Rights Group
  40. Mwatana for Human Rights
  41. Partners Foundation
  42. PAX
  43. Peace Track Initiative
  44. People’s Federation for National Peace and Development (PEFENAP)
  45. Rete Italiana Pace e Disarmo
  46. Project Ploughshares
  47. Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
  48. Salam For Yemen
  49. SAM Organization Rights and liberty
  50. Sisters’ Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF)
  51. Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society
  52. The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
  53. Truth Justice Memory Center
  54. Vision GRAM-International
  55. Vredesactie
  56. Watch for Human Rights
  57. WITNESS
  58. Win Without War
  59. Women for Peace and Democracy Nepal
  60. World Organisation Against Torture
  61. Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
  62. Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation
  63. Yemeni Archive
  64. Yemen Policy Center- Germany
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