September 22, 2016 / 4:36 PM / 3 years ago

Rights groups seek international probe into war crimes in Yemen

GENEVA (Reuters) - International campaign groups urged the U.N. Human Rights Council on Thursday to launch an international investigation into alleged war crimes in Yemen, including the killing of many civilians in air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition.

People gather at the site of a Saudi-led air strike in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

A year ago, the Council gave the Yemeni national independent commission of inquiry, which reports to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, time to document violations by all sides in the conflict, after the Netherlands dropped its push for an international probe.

But that commission has failed to conduct a credible probe, essentially laying blame only on Iranian-allied Houthi rebels and militias aligned with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, said a report by the U.N. human rights office issued last month.

Groups including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies issued a joint letter to the Council’s 47 member states voicing deep concern ahead of a vote next week on abuses perpetrated in the war.

“The resolution will be a litmus test of the Human Rights Council and its capacity to engage meaningfully and effectively to meet the real needs of civilians on the ground faced with potential war crimes and violations of international human rights law,” said John Fisher of Human Rights Watch.

Since the Council “dropped the ball a year ago”, the Saudi-led coalition, which is trying to end Houthi control of areas including the capital Sanaa and restore Hadi’s government, have carried out air strikes on hospitals, schools and homes, Fisher said.

The U.N. human rights office called last month for more light to be shed on the strikes and for violations including attacks on protected sites such as hospitals to be punished.

It said Arab coalition air strikes were responsible for some 60 percent of the 3,799 civilians killed since March 2015.

Medics and residents of a Houthi-held area of western Yemen said on Thursday that the death toll from a coalition air strike that hit a house had risen to 26 people. The alliance said it was looking into the report.

Diplomats from the European Union and United States are negotiating with Arab counterparts on the wording of the resolution to be voted on next week.

The Arab draft, submitted on Thursday, asks the United Nations to provide assistance “to ensure that the National Commission investigates allegations of violations and abuses committed by all parties to the conflict and in line with international standards”.

A U.N. official close to the issue, who declined to be named, said the proposal was inadequate.

“The National Commission is manifestly unable - and possibly unwilling - to do the type of impartial investigation that is required,” he told Reuters. “This would be very dangerous, establishing a precedent that could seriously weaken future investigations into very serious international crimes.”

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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