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Six coalition bombs hit the al-Shihab Industrial Compound in Sanaa, killing one and wounding three civilians, on January 29 and 30, 2016. The facility stored food and pharmaceutical products. (Photo: Belkis Wille/ Human Rights Watch)

Six coalition bombs hit the al-Shihab Industrial Compound in Sanaa, killing one and wounding three civilians, on January 29 and 30, 2016. The facility stored food and pharmaceutical products. (Photo: Belkis Wille/ Human Rights Watch)

Capitulating to Saudis, UN 'Shamefully' Backs Compromise Probe Into Yemen Crimes

Despite thousands of civilian deaths and documented war crimes, Human Rights Council drops bid for independent inquiry

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

The United Nations' capitulation to the Saudi Arabia government is being decried as "shameful" by international human rights and aid organizations, after the Gulf monarchy successfully lobbied the UN's Human Rights Council (HRC) to drop its bid for an independent, international investigation into potential war crimes being committed in Yemen.

After days of backroom negotiations, the HRC announced a compromise agreement on Thursday, under which UN investigators will be deployed in Yemen to work alongside an existing probe. The Yemeni National Commission of Inquiry will report to the Saudi-backed Yemen President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is currently in exile.

The resolution, brought by Arab states, was adopted over a more forceful text put forward by the Dutch delegation. Reuters reports:

The European Union withdrew a stronger Dutch-led text hours before the Arab resolution was adopted by consensus. Britain, an ally of Saudi Arabia, had blocked the Dutch-sponsored draft within the EU, a U.N. official said on condition of anonymity. 

The Dutch resolution would have sent a U.N. fact-finding mission to Yemen to report back on violations in March 2017.

The Arab resolution was adopted despite documented war crimes and targeting of civilians in Yemen by the U.S.-backed military coalition, as well as a recommendation by the United Nations high commissioner for human rights that an international, impartial body investigate those abuses.

"With more than 3,900 civilians killed and 6,900 injured by airstrikes and indiscriminate shelling, a national inquiry is clearly insufficient," said Sajjad Mohammed Sajid, Oxfam International's country director in Yemen. "It is unacceptable that, after 18 months of conflict in Yemen, the Human Rights Council is still failing to protect Yemeni civilians and is instead turning a blind eye to the human rights violations perpetrated by all parties to the conflict."      

Many noted that the fact that Saudi Arabia had a hand in the negotiations, even as it continued its assault on Yemen, undermined the credibility of the international body.

In a post on Thursday, the international watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) pointed out that "[j]ust last week, an airstrike on a residential area in Hudaydah killed 26 civilians, including 7 children, injuring 24 others."

"Let's be clear about what that means," HRC continued, "the Saudi-led coalition was bombing civilians in Yemen while they were negotiating the text of the resolution. Parties to a conflict cannot be allowed to dictate the terms of a resolution in order to block meaningful international scrutiny of their own actions. It undermines this Council and its commitment to accountability."

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, accused HRC members that are also party in this conflict of "abus[ing] the UN rules to deflect accountability."

"This is another failure by the top human rights body which shamefully accepts the membership of Saudi Arabia, one of the most brutal and cruel repressive states in the world, and allows it to dictate resolutions," the Guardian quoted Alwadaei as saying.

Similarly, HRW's advocacy director John Fisher told Reuters, "Saudi Arabia's aggressive lobbying against a full international investigation shows why the country should be suspended from the Council and should not be re-elected."

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