Yemen crisis

UN panel on Yemen: Consider creating commission of inquiry

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations Security Council should consider creating an international commission of inquiry to investigate alleged human rights abuses by all sides in Yemen’s conflict, a panel of U.N. experts says.

The Associated Press on Tuesday obtained a copy of the panel’s annual report, which has not been released publicly. The panel monitors U.N. sanctions.

The report also says civilians in the Arab world’s poorest country are suffering under tactics in the conflict that “constitute the prohibited use of starvation as a method of warfare.”

A Saudi Arabia-led coalition last year launched airstrikes and then a ground operation against Shiite Houthi rebels allied with a former president who had captured large swaths of the country, including the capital, Sanaa. Observers have warned that the chaos is making room for militant groups like the Islamic State to expand.

Dutch diplomats last year abandoned a proposal in the U.N. Human Rights Council calling for an international fact-finding mission in Yemen, under reported pressure from Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s powerful neighbor.

More than 5,800 people have been killed and over 80 percent of Yemen’s population is in dire need of food, water and other aid, according to the United Nations. Attempts at U.N.-led peace talks have failed so far.

“Not a single humanitarian pause to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people has been fully observed by any Yemeni party or by the coalition,” the new report says. It notes that a blockade keeps commercial goods from entering the country.

The U.N. has been more outspoken in recent days about the conflict and its toll.

Earlier this month, Yemen’s government briefly expelled the U.N.’s human rights representative in the country after the U.N. human rights office said it received allegations that Saudi-led coalition forces had used cluster bombs in attacks.

At the time, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed deep concern at the “intensification” of airstrikes by the U.S.-supported coalition and warned that the reported use of cluster bombs in populated areas could amount to a war crime, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The new report says that in certain cases, it has found the coalition’s targeting of civilians with airstrikes “to have been conducted in a widespread and systematic manner.”

The panel says it has documented 119 coalition sorties “relating to violations of international humanitarian law,” with many involving multiple strikes on civilian objects.

“The panel also documented three alleged cases of civilians fleeing residential bombings and being chased and shot at by helicopters,’ the report says. Since the panel has not been allowed to visit Yemen, it has relied on satellite imagery and other sources.

In addition, the new report expresses concern about the “destabilizing accumulation of arms in Yemen.”

It says the panel is investigating the potential transfer of anti-tank guided missiles to the Houthis after the seizure of an arms shipment in September off the coast of Oman. The panel inspected the missiles, “currently in United States custody, and noted that they originated from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The report also says the coalition has “played a direct role in the proliferation of arms in Yemen by supplying weapons to armed groups without taking due measures to ensure accountability and secure storage.”