My latest on the Atlantic Council organization's #MENASource blog:
Despite the two previous unsuccessful attempts to pass a draft resolution to establish a UN independent international investigation commission into possible Yemen war crimes, sixty-seven Human Rights groups recently initiated another call demanding the establishment of the inquiry commission. The call for a commission is unlikely to be successful, but if it is formed it runs the risk of being hijacked by state interests and failing to hold accountable certain actors, particularly members of the Saudi-led coalition who wield influence at the United Nations.
Around 10,000 civilians have been killed in Yemen’s war—what the United Nations called the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. Oddly, different UN bodies report different numbers. Last year a UN OCHA official stated that 10,000 civilians have been killed in Yemen since March 2015 (OCHA confirmed to MENASource that the number referred to civilians since some sources simply stated “people”). However, a September 2017 UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report claimed that only 5,000 civilians have been killed since March 2015. Interpreting the changing number is difficult. OCHA gathers its data from health facilities, but OHCHR did not report its methodology. If, for example, they are conducting site visits, then being denied access to certain areas, a practice both sides in the war have used, would limit their ability to gather accurate data.
The United Nations’ track record on Yemen’s civil war shows that it has often dodged key issues, leading critics to say it is beholden to state interests. Several reports by international Human Rights groups show that all belligerent parties have committed atrocities that could amount to war crimes. Nonetheless, these reports have made remarkably little difference at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) or other top UN bodies. In 2015, the UNHCR adopted what Human Rights Watch called a “deeply flawed resolution,” abandoning a Dutch-led draft resolution to create an independent commission, due to pressure from Saudi and “insufficient support” from permanent Security Council members the United States and United Kingdom. The resolution that was passed created an inquiry body led by Saudi Arabia and Riyadh-based Yemeni government—allies in the war against rebels—that has not produced any significant reports. In 2016, the UK blocked another call to establish an independent international inquiry. This futile battle for a more rights-based approach reflects what powerful UN state members want influences the future of any accountability process in Yemen war.