The United States, Britain and France may be complicit in war crimes in Yemen by arming and providing intelligence and logistics support to a Saudi-led coalition that starves civilians as a war tactic, the United Nations said.
UN investigators recommend all states impose a ban on arms transfers to warring parties to prevent them being used to commit serious violations.
“It is clear the continued supply of weapons to parties to the conflict is perpetuating the conflict and prolonging the suffering of the Yemeni people,” Melissa Parke, an expert on the independent UN panel, told a news conference.
“That is why we urge member states to no longer supply weapons to parties to the conflict,” she said.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the main parties in the coalition fighting against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement controlling Yemen’s capital, are two of the biggest buyers of US, British and French weapons.
The experts compiled a secret list of suspected war criminals. Investigators found potential crimes on both sides, while highlighting the role Western countries play as backers of the Arab states and Iran plays in support of the Houthis.
Panel chair Kamel Jendoubi declined to reveal details of suspects, adding: “What is sure is we gathered sufficient facts and sufficient testimonies that would allow to bring individuals to justice at a later stage.”
“There are no clean hands in this combat, in this contest,” panelist Charles Garraway said.
The report accused the anti-Houthi coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE of killing civilians in air strikes and deliberately denying them food in a country facing famine. The Houthis shelled cities, deployed child soldiers and used “siege-like warfare”, it said.
Neither the Saudi government communications office nor UAE officials responded immediately to Reuters requests for comment.
The Houthis drove Yemen’s government out of Sanaa in 2014. The Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Muslim states intervened the following year to restore the ousted government, a conflict that killed tens of thousands.
The prospect of famine created what the United Nations describes as the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, with 24 million people relying on aid.
The UN independent panel sent a secret list to UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, identifying “individuals who may be responsible for international crimes”.
An appendix lists more than 160 “main actors” among Saudi, Emirati and Yemeni government and Houthi officials, separate from the suspects list.
Radhya Almutawakel, chair of independent Yemeni rights group Mwatana, welcomed the findings. “It sends a message to stop the war and that they will be held to account,” she told Reuters.
John Fisher of Human Rights Watch called on the UN Human Rights Council, which opens a three-week session on Monday, to strengthen the panel’s mandate and provide “increased resources to preserve evidence, identify perpetrators and analyse command structures”.
The report said: “The legality of arms transfers by France, the United Kingdom, the United States and other States remains questionable and is the subject of various domestic court proceedings.”
It found a Joint Incidents Assessment Team set up by Saudi Arabia to review alleged coalition violations failed to hold anyone accountable for any strike killing civilians, raising “concerns as to the impartiality of its investigations”.
“We are pretty sure things are going wrong in the coalition targeting process,” Garraway said.