Oct 7, 2021 - World

UN ends Yemen war crimes investigation to outcry from rights groups

Photo of a person walking on foot outside shuttered apartments

A Yemeni man walks past destoyed vehicles and shuttered shops in the Crater district of the southern city of Aden on Oct. 3, 2021 following clashes between armed groups. Photo: Saleh Al-Obeidi/AFP via Getty Images

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) narrowly voted 21-18 Thursday to end the body's war crimes investigation in Yemen despite Western states' push to continue the mission.

Why it matters: The political conflict between a Saudi-led military coalition and Iran-allied Houthi rebels has killed over 8,200 civilians, including 2,270 children, and injured 13,283 civilians since 2015, the UNHRC says.

  • Independent investigators have said both parties committed potential war crimes, including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and torture.
  • Roughly 80% of Yemen’s population requires humanitarian aid, including over 12 million children, according to UNICEF.

Details: Thursday's vote, however, marked the first time a resolution was defeated in the UNHRC's 15-year history, per Reuters.

  • Bahrain and Russia helped push the vote past Western opposition among the council's 47 members.
    • Bahraini ambassador Yusuf Abdulkarim Bucheeri argued during the debate that the international group of investigators had contributed to spreading misinformation about the situation.
    • Amnesty International later accused Saudi Arabia of pressuring the council to end its mission.
    • Saudi Arabia is not a voting member of the U.N. Human Rights Council, however, Bahrain is an ally.
  • Dutch ambassador Peter Bekker called the vote a major setback.
  • A spokesperson said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will continue to press for accountability in Yemen, according to Reuters.

What they're saying: "Words cannot describe our disappointment," said Mwatana for Human Rights, an independent Yemeni human rights organization. The group added that the vote gives "a green light to warring parties to continue their campaign of death and destruction."

  • Failure to renew the mandate is a "stain on the Human Rights Council's record," Akshaya Kumar, director of crisis advocacy at Human Rights Watch, tweeted in response.
  • "By voting against much-needed mandate, the Council turned its back on victims, bowed to pressure from the Saudi-led coalition, and put politics before principle."
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