Several Western nations, including the United States, are likely complicit actors in the civil war in Yemen that sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the United Nations said last week. The investigation also accused both sides in the conflict of atrocities in the targeting of civilians.
The report by a group of experts on Yemen within the UN Human Rights Council involved more than 600 interviews with victims and witnesses.
The United States, Britain, and France continue to provide logistical and weapons support to the Saudi-led coalition backing the Yemeni government, according to the report. Iran has thrown its support behind the Houthi rebels.
“The legality of arms transfers by France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and other states remains questionable, and is the subject of various domestic court proceedings,” it added.
The report found the Yemeni government continues to arbitrarily detain and torture political opponents, kill civilians in airstrikes, and deliberately deny food to those affected by famine. The Houthis have also fired indirect weapons like rockets and artillery and used landmines that killed civilians.
The warring sides have employed siege-like warfare and hindered humanitarian access during the unrest. “All parties to the conflict regularly used civilian objects for military activities, including those with special protection such as hospitals and religious and cultural sites,” according to the report.
The investigation uncovered that a Joint Incidents Assessment Team set up by Saudi Arabia to look into coalition violations did not take action against the strikes that hit civilians, raising “concerns as to the impartiality of its investigations.”
The UN report said its independent panel sent a secret list of more than 160 actors identified as “individuals who may be responsible for international crimes” to UN human rights chief Michele Bachelet. The list includes nationals from the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the Houthis.
Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when the Houthi rebels overran the capital, Sanaa, and part of the country’s north. The Saudi-led coalition of mostly Arab states, which is backed by the United States, intervened a year later to try and restore the internationally recognized government of President Mansour Abed Rabbo Hadi.
In the south, separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates continue to clash with the Saudi-backed forces. The violence has killed at least 7,290 civilians and left 80 percent of the population—24 million people—in need of humanitarian assistance. In one of the deadliest attacks yet, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes hit a Houthi-run detention center in Sanaa last week. More than 100 people died and dozens more sustained injuries.
The investigators have called for a prompt and transparent investigation into the violence against civilians. It also recommended all countries impose a ban on arms transfers to the combatants to prevent them from being used to commit serious violations.
The Saudi-led coalition rejected the allegations in a statement, saying, “The report was based on a number of inaccurate assumptions by the UN experts … which stripped it of objectivity and impartiality.”
Days before the report’s release, a group of bipartisan U.S. lawmakers renewed their push to amend the annual defense policy bill to ban the country from sending spare airplane parts to Saudi Arabia, as well as some forms of intelligence sharing.
Muhsin Siddiquey, the country director of Oxfam in Yemen, added the “shocking report” should serve as a wake-up call: “It offers all the proof needed of the misery and suffering being inflicted on the people of Yemen by a war partly fueled by U.K. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other coalition members.”