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Saudi Arabia trying to quash Yemen war crimes probe: HRW

More than 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led coalition intervened [Getty]

Date of publication: 21 September, 2018

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Human Rights Watch accused Saudi Arabia of attempting to shut down a UN-backed war crimes investigation in Yemen, where it is leading a coalition battling Houthi rebels.

Saudi Arabia is trying shut down a UN-backed war crimes investigation in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said on Friday, calling it a "blatant attempt to avoid scrutiny" of its conduct in the country.

The group's allegations are backed by rival resolutions on Yemen proposed at the ongoing session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

A resolution led by a group of European countries and Canada calls for a one-year extension of the inquiry that last month reported evidence of possible war crimes by all sides in Yemen, including the Saudi-led coalition. 

A second text, led by Tunisia on behalf of the group of Arab states, makes no mention of extending the probe but calls for Yemen's often-criticised National Commission of Inquiry to continue studying the conflict. 

Saudi Arabia and its ally the United Arab Emirates, which are leading a coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen, are both members of the Arab group on the 47-member rights council. 

"The Saudi-led coalition's campaign to discredit and undermine a UN investigation into abuses by all Yemen’s warring parties is yet another blatant attempt to avoid scrutiny of the coalition's own actions in Yemen," John Fisher, HRW's Geneva director, said in a statement. 

"The Human Rights Council cannot afford to fail Yemeni civilians. States should renew the mandate of the (probe) or risk the Council's credibility," he added. 

Diplomatic haggling over the rival texts is likely to continue before the current rights council session closes next week. 

The resolution that first set up the inquiry followed a years-long diplomatic fight. At the 11th hour, Saudi diplomats threatened economic retaliation against states that voted for the project. 

The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 to support President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi's government against Houthi rebels. 

Yemen has since descended into what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than 10,000 people killed and millions at risk of starvation. 

The coalition has been accused of bombing multiple civilian targets, including buses and hospitals. 

Earlier this week, Save the Children warned more than five million children are at risk of famine in Yemen as the ongoing war causes food and fuel prices to soar across the country.

Disruption to supplies coming through the embattled Red Sea port of Hodeida could "cause starvation on an unprecedented scale," the UK-based NGO said in a new report.

Save the Children said an extra one million children now risk falling into famine as prices of food and transportation rise, bringing the total to 5.2 million.

Any type of closure at the port "would put the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in immediate danger while pushing millions more into famine," it added.

"Millions of children don't know when or if their next meal will come," said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International.

"In one hospital I visited in north Yemen, the babies were too weak to cry, their bodies exhausted by hunger. This war risks killing an entire generation of Yemen's children who face multiple threats, from bombs to hunger to preventable diseases like cholera," she added.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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