UN General Assembly urged to investigate Yemen atrocities

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — More than 60 organizations urged the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday to establish an investigative body to gather and preserve evidence of serious human rights violations during Yemen’s seven-year conflict, including possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said the matter is urgent, particularly after the U.N. Human Rights Council voted in October to shut down its investigation into atrocities in Yemen. The Group of Eminent Experts had reported that potential war crimes have been committed by all sides. The Geneva-based council's vote was a stinging defeat for Western nations and a victory for Russia, China, Bahrain and other countries.

Yemen has been convulsed by civil war since 2014, when Iran-backed Houthi rebels took control of the capital, Sanaa, and much of the northern part of the country. That forced the internationally recognized government to flee to the south, then to Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015, backed by the United States, to try to restore President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power. Despite a relentless air campaign and ground fighting, the war has deteriorated largely into a stalemate and has spawned the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The 60 organizations said the Human Rights Council vote in October was the result of an aggressive lobbying campaign by Saudi Arabia, backed by the United Arab Emirates, a key coalition partner, 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.

In their joint statement to the General Assembly’s 193 member nations, the 60 organizations said the suffering inflicted on Yemeni civilians demands an investigative body “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.”

U.N. members should approve an investigative “mechanism” to demonstrate to the Yemeni people that the United Nations will not turn a blind eye to their suffering and that they support international accountability for crimes and abuses committed in Yemen, the statement said.

The General Assembly has previously taken similar action against widespread human rights abuses.

In 2016, it created an “International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism” to collect, preserve and analyze evidence and promote accountability for possible war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed by Islamic State extremists, both in Iraq and the Levant, which includes Syria.

In 2018, the Human Rights Council established a similar mechanism for Myanmar following a military crackdown against Rohingya Muslims and allegations that government security forces committed mass rapes and killings and burned houses amounting to possible crimes against humanity and genocide. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh.

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