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UN rights body renews experts’ probe of Yemen crimes

September 28, 2018

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N.’s top human rights body voted Friday to renew work by experts investigating alleged rights violations and crimes in war-torn Yemen, brushing aside the objections of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen’s internationally recognized government itself.

The vote capped a week-long diplomatic showdown led by the three Arab countries who had previously supported the experts but changed course after being stung by their August report that said the countries could be responsible for war crimes during 3½ years of war against rebels in Yemen.

The Human Rights Council, in a measure brought by Western countries, voted 21-8 with 18 abstentions. Burundi, China, Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan and Venezuela joined Saudi Arabia and the UAE in opposing the measure at the 47-member Geneva body.

The measure, among other things, extends the experts’ mandate by one year.

The move came despite days of arduous negotiations to try to find a consensus between the Western group, led by Canada and the Netherlands, and diplomats from the three Arab states. Many countries expressed disappointment that a unified message could not be reached.

Shortly before the vote, Ambassador Obaid Salem al-Zaabi of the UAE said passage of the resolution would “do more harm than good for Yemen,” claiming that it would “deepen divisions” among Yemenis and increase instability in the region.

Proponents, however, insisted the resolution was nearly identical to one adopted by consensus at the council last year, which created the group of three experts plus staffers. The supporters also said the experts’ team has had little time to do its work, and said Yemen’s crisis needs continued scrutiny.

“The United Kingdom believes that it is important to give the group of eminent experts more time,” said Ambassador Julian Braithwaite of Britain, whose government has face criticism from some human rights groups for its material support for the Saudi-led coalition battling Iran-aligned rebels.

A rival resolution brought by an “Arab Group” led by Tunisia called for “capacity building and technical assistance” for Yemen’s Saudi-backed government, but without an extended mandate for the experts. That resolution was passed by consensus Friday.

A Saudi-led coalition has waged a devastating air campaign in Yemen since 2015 to support the government in its war against Shiite Houthi rebels, who control the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen. More than 10,000 people have died in the fighting.

The United Nations says Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, faces the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster, with 75 percent of its 29 million people in need of assistance and millions on the brink of famine.

John Fisher, who heads the Geneva office of Human Rights Watch, said council members “stood firm today, in the face of shameful efforts by the Saudi-led coalition to quash a U.N. expert inquiry on Yemen.”

“By continuing the inquiry, the U.N.‘s top rights body sent a clear message that it stands with Yemeni civilians against the warring parties’ ongoing abuses,” he said.

The experts’ report last month said the Saudi, Emirati and Yemeni governments could be responsible for war crimes including rape, torture, disappearances and “deprivation of the right to life” since a Saudi-led coalition armed with punishing air power joined Yemen’s war in March 2015.

The U.N. panel also pointed to possible war crimes by the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.

The resolution on Yemen was perhaps the most hotly contested country-specific issue at the council’s three-week session, which also included resolutions to continue or improve scrutiny of alleged human rights abuses in places like Myanmar, Burundi and Syria.

This session was also marked by passage Thursday of the first council resolution to express concerns about alleged rights abuses in Venezuela under the government of President Nicolas Maduro. That measure was brought by a number of Latin American countries.

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