Human Rights Council: help bridge Yemen’s “acute accountability gap”

States should help pave the way towards credible accountability and redress for the people of Yemen by renewing and strengthening international investigations into war crimes, other serious violations of international humanitarian law, and grave human rights abuses during this 45th Session of the HRC, the ICJ and 23 other organizations said today.

Yemen is suffering from an “acute accountability gap,” according to the UN Group of Eminent Experts (GEE) on Yemen, which released its third report on September 9, 2020.

With COVID-19 threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions across Yemen, peace talks floundering, and airstrikes, shelling and attacks impacting civilians once again increasing, the reality for millions of Yemeni civilians is growing ever more bleak.

This session, the Human Rights Council has the opportunity to pave the way towards credible accountability and redress for victims and survivors in Yemen.

People in Yemen have experienced grave abuses since the conflict began in 2014, when Ansar Allah (the Houthi armed group) and military units loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh took control of the capital, Sana’a, and escalated in 2015 when the Saudi/UAE-led coalition militarily intervened on the side of the Yemeni government.

With the conflict in its sixth year, millions of Yemenis are without adequate food, water, shelter or healthcare. The parties to the conflict impede the flow of life-saving goods into and around the country, attack critical infrastructure, and misdirect goods and their revenues to their own coffers and loyalists.

Thousands of civilians have been killed, wounded and otherwise harmed by airstrikes that violate international humanitarian law, indiscriminate shelling and the use of banned anti-personnel landmines.

The societal fabric has torn, with expression, speech, peaceful protest and movement increasingly restricted, and political and other identity-based divisions weaponized by those in power.

The human rights and humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen is man-made, and was avoidable. The parties to the conflict continue to hold the vast majority of power in and over Yemen.

For Yemen’s trajectory to change, the behavior of the parties to the conflict and their backers needs to change. As of September 2020, perpetrators have gone unpunished, states responsible for violations have faced no real consequences, parties have rarely acknowledged fault or taken measures to protect civilians, suppliers keep the arms used for international humanitarian law violations, and victims have been denied justice and redress.

In 2017, the Council established the GEE to report on violations of international law in Yemen and, where possible, to identify those responsible. The Council renewed the GEE’s mandate in 2018 and 2019, despite opposition from the Saudi/UAE-led coalition.

In its third report, the UN experts found the international community “can and should” do more to “help bridge the acute accountability gap” in Yemen.

The experts provided a list of specific recommendations, including for the Security Council to refer the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court and to expand the list of persons subject to Security Council sanctions.

The GEE supported the establishment of an investigative body, similar to the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria, and specifically called on the Council to ensure the situation of human rights in Yemen remains on its agenda, including by ensuring adequate resources are provided to the GEE for the collection, preservation and analysis of information related to violations and crimes.

In the longer term, the Group encouraged “further dialogue about the creation of a special tribunal such as a ‘hybrid tribunal’ to prosecute cases of those most responsible,” reiterated the importance of victims’ right to a remedy, including reparations, and called for human rights to be “at the heart of any future peace negotiations,” including that “no steps are taken that would undermine respect for human rights and accountability, such as granting blanket amnesties.” 2

The GEE also reiterated concerns that states supplying arms to parties to the conflict, including to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, may be violating their obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty, and that this support may amount to aiding and assisting internationally wrongful acts.

Today, 24 Yemeni, regional, and international civil society organizations, including the ICJ, came together to call on the Council to endorse the GEE’s report, including its findings on accountability, and to take concrete steps this Council session to pave the way towards credible justice for Yemen.

The 24 organizations are calling on the Council to renew and strengthen the GEE’s mandate this September, including to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence related to, and clarify responsibility for, the most serious crimes under international law and violations of international law committed in Yemen since 2014.

The organizations are also calling on the Council to task the GEE with issuing a special report advising states on practical steps they can take to help ensure justice and redress for the tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians unlawfully harmed by the warring parties throughout this conflict.