Saudi lobbying jeopardises UN Yemen war crimes probe, activists say

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Members of the media record a speech during a session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, September 13, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

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GENEVA, Oct 6 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has lobbied heavily against a Western resolution that would extend the mandate of U.N. investigators who have documented possible war crimes in Yemen, including by the Riyadh-led coalition, activists said on Wednesday.

The Saudi mission to the United Nations in Geneva did not immediately respond to a Reuters query about the allegations. The motion, brought by countries including the Netherlands and Canada, is due to be debated on Thursday in a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Activists said the vote would be close and might depend on the number of abstentions at the 47-member state forum.

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The Group of Eminent Experts, set up by the council in 2017, has found repeatedly that coalition air strikes and shelling as well as killings by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement during the seven-year conflict may amount to war crimes.

Afrah Nasser, Yemen researcher at U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch, said in a statement: "Saudi Arabia, a leading party to the conflict in Yemen accused of serious violations including likely war crimes, together with its coalition allies, is engaging in a tireless lobbying campaign to deter states at the Human Rights Council from renewing the (inquiry) mandate."

If the Council bows to Saudi pressure and fails to extend the mandate by two years, she said, it would be "a stain on the credibility of the Council and a slap in the face to victims".

A joint statement by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and Yemeni rights group Mwatana said a Saudi lobbying campaign seemed to be intensifying globally in a bid to dissolve support for the resolution and scuttle the investigators' group.

The Saudi-led, Sunni Muslim coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the internationally recognised government from the capital Sanaa. The Houthis have also repeatedly fired drones and missiles at Saudi cities.

Kamel Jendoubi, head of the Group of Independent Experts, said in presenting its latest report last month that air strikes launched by the coalition "continue to exact a huge toll on the civilian population".

Since March 2015, Jendoubi said, it is estimated that over 23,000 air strikes had been carried out by the coalition and that over 18,000 civilians had been killed or wounded.

Its latest investigation covered four coalition air strikes in which bombs fell on civilian homes, remote farms and a major grain port, he said, voicing concern at a failure to abide by principles of proportionality and precautions in such attacks.

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Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay Editing by Mark Heinrich

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