UN High Commissioner says Saudi strikes in Yemen could amount to war crimes

Published March 20th, 2016 - 11:34 GMT
The Saudi-led coalition is battling Shia Houthis, led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi (right) and is said to be backed by Iranian forces under the command of General Qassem Suleimani (left). (AFP/Ali Al-Saadi)
The Saudi-led coalition is battling Shia Houthis, led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi (right) and is said to be backed by Iranian forces under the command of General Qassem Suleimani (left). (AFP/Ali Al-Saadi)

The airstrikes on Yemen conducted by the Saudi-led coalition may amount to "international crimes", a term which encompasses both war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to a statement made by the top UN human rights official on Friday.

Over 6,000 people have been killed since the coalition campaign began to fight Iranian-allied Houthis one year prior in an attempt to restore the embattled president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed al-Asseri announced on Friday that combat is winding down and there were "good signs" the UN might soon reinitiate peace negotiations between warring Yemeni factions.

Houthi officials traveled to Saudi Arabia this month for secret negotiations while a ceasefire was held on the border and a prisoner exchange conducted.

However Asseri said in spite of said "positive signs", formal peace talks must be carried out by Hadi's internationally recognized government under a UN umbrella, and not Saudi Arabia.

The airstrike on an outdoor market near Mustaba in northwest Yemen killed more than 100, according to reports by a provincial health director and a UN official in Sanaa, making it one of the deadliest attacks in the war.

"These awful incidents continue to occur with unacceptable regularity. In addition, despite public promises to investigate such incidents, we have yet to see progress in any such investigations," Zeid said in a statement. 

"We are possibly looking at the commission of international crimes by members of the Coalition," Zeid said. 

Asseri urged the UN not to gather information from individuals with links to the Houthi movement such as the provincial health director who is employed by the Houthi-controlled administration in Sanaa.

He added the claim that the air strike target was in fact a military meeting area for Houthi forces who had "deceived people by saying it was a market".

A statement issued on Friday by Hadi's government said it had formed a committee to look into the bombing and whether it was the result of an air strike or of shelling by the Houthis, whom it accused of often blaming the coalition for attacks they carried out themselves.

But Zeid's staff who visited the site of Tuesday's deadly strike and interviewed witnesses at al-Khamees market "found no evidence of any armed confrontation or significant military objects in the area at the time of the attack", Zeid said.

Coalition strikes have targeted "markets, hospitals, clinics, schools, factories, wedding parties — and hundreds of private residences," he added. Among the 106 reported dead at Mustaba, 24 were children.

Zeid condemned indiscriminate attacks carried out by Houthis and their allies which have left civilians dead.


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