Since the UN panel released its critical report in August, its leader Kamel Jendoubi asserts that the Saudi coalition has been directly interfering with the panel’s activities in regards to documenting alleged war crimes in Yemen.
SANA’A, YEMEN — The Saudi Arabia/UAE coalition is allegedly interfering with UN efforts to document war crimes in the conflict in Yemen, according to a recent statement from the head of the UN-mandated team of investigators sent to monitor human-rights abuses in the conflict.
The panel of investigators, led by Kamel Jendoubi, recently presented a list of human rights abuses to the United Nations. Many of the incidents detailed in that list were based on a report the same panel had published in August, which had accused all sides in the conflict of human-rights abuses.
However, the report was highly critical of the Saudi-led coalition and claimed that the coalition’s use of indiscriminate airstrikes was to blame for the majority of civilian casualties since the war began in early 2015. Over the course of the war, the coalition has bombed weddings, funerals, water tanks, health clinics, civilian buses, and schools. An estimated 10,000 civilians have been killed in the fighting, though the actual figure is likely much higher given that this figure has not been updated in over two years.
Notably, the panel’s August report had also mentioned the coalition’s land, air and sea blockade of Yemen – often glossed over by mainstream Western news services when reporting on Yemen – calling the blockade of all aid shipments, food, medical supplies, and basic humanitarian needs a potential violation of international humanitarian law for its key role in bringing Yemeni civilians to the brink of mass famine. The blockade has resulted in allowing history’s largest cholera epidemic to take hold in Yemen.
Since that report was released in August, Jendoubi asserted that the coalition has been directly interfering with the panel’s activities in regards to documenting alleged war crimes in the troubled country.
Speaking to Al Jazeera on Thursday, Jendoubi stated that he “did not expect such a harsh reaction [from Saudi Arabia and the UAE], [as] we’ve done a professional, neutral and objective job.” “All we did was report based on allegations and actions we collected during our visits, from testimonies and reports … It’s a normal process for any experts,” he added.
Repeated denials by Saudis aimed at U.S./U.K. government ears
The coalition has repeatedly denied accusations of its complicity in human-rights abuses and war crimes in the conflict in Yemen. Following the UN panel’s report in August, the coalition asserted in a statement that the report compiled by the UN-backed experts “contained many inaccuracies” including “false allegations” based on “misleading reports [made] by some non-governmental organizations.” The coalition also claimed that it had worked with the UN panel in an “open and transparent manner,” a statement now frankly refuted by the head of the panel.
A likely reason for the coalition’s sharp response to any criticism regarding Yemen owes to the role of the U.S. and U.K. governments’ support for the Saudi-led war, as official UN condemnation of coalition war crimes in Yemen could weaken the U.S. and U.K.’s willingness to publicly justify that support. Indeed, following the coalition’s bombing of a school bus full of children in August, the U.S. government stated that its support for the coalition was constantly under review and was not unconditional. Further negative publicity could potentially lead to a reduction in U.S. or U.K. support for the coalition.
The U.S. and U.K. have provided weapons and logistical assistance to the coalition. the U.S. has sold billions of dollars worth of bombs to the Saudis since the war in Yemen began in 2015, most recently approving over $110 billion in weapon sales to Saudi Arabia in May of last year. The U.K. government has sold an estimated $6.2 billion to the Saudi coalition since the war began.
In addition, the U.S. has an unknown number of troops on the ground in Yemen, some of whom collaborate with the UAE in “black site” torture prisons. Since June, the U.S. has been intimately involved in “fine-tuning” the coalition’s strike list — which has included residential homes, school buses and other civilian targets.