The U.S. Should Back an Investigation of War Crimes in Yemen
As Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies pressed their military offensive against Houthi rebels in Yemen, Saudi diplomats were waging their own battle to fend off calls in the United Nations Human Rights Council for an international inquiry into abuses by all parties to the Yemeni conflict [bold mine-DL].
It isn’t surprising that the Saudis don’t want the inquiry to go forward. The official line from Riyadh and from the Saudis’ allies is that they have done nothing wrong, and they maintain that they aren’t culpable for the deaths of the civilians that they’ve killed. An independent inquiry would confirm that these are the self-serving lies that observers in Yemen already know them to be. If the Saudis and their allies were telling the truth about their conduct, they should welcome an inquiry into abuses by all sides of the conflict. After all, an inquiry into crimes by all sides would find that the Houthis have also used indiscriminate attacks and committed war crimes in the course of the fighting. However, because the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for most of the civilian deaths in the war and has inflicted the greatest harm on Yemeni civilians through its air campaign and blockade, they are eager to prevent an inquiry that would substantiate the many horrible things that these governments have done to the people of Yemen.
The Netherlands has presented a resolution calling for a mission to investigate abuses and crimes in the war:
The Dutch resolution draws on deepening international alarm over the civilian toll inflicted by both sides in the conflict and the effect of a blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition that has delayed delivery of humanitarian aid, including medicine and the fuel needed to keep the dwindling number of hospitals operating.
Meanwhile, a group of states aligned with the Saudis is backing a resolution of their own that would entrust the investigation to the exiled Yemeni government backed by the Saudis. Obviously, any inquiry conducted by the deposed president’s government would end up exonerating the coalition and ignoring their crimes. According to the report, this competing resolution isn’t being taken seriously by the Human Rights Council, and it is perceived as a bargaining chip “to gain concessions on any international role in abuse investigations.” The very least that the U.S. could do in this situation is to back the Dutch resolution and demand a thorough investigation into the crimes committed by all parties. Given that the U.S. has uncritically backed the Saudis and their allies for the last six months, that seems unlikely to happen. If an investigation confirms that the Saudi-led coalition has committed war crimes in Yemen, the U.S. would share some responsibility because of its backing of the campaign.