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UN probe says repeated bombing of Yemen civilians by US-backed Saudi coalition likely amounts to war crimes

"Despite the severity of the situation we continue to see a complete disregard for the people in Yemen," says co-author of UN's investigative report

by Jon Queally

Evidence presented as part of a wide-ranging investigation sponsored by the United Nations and released Tuesday shows that the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates waging a war in Yemen—armed and with backing from the United States and the United Kingdom—have likely "perpetrated, and continue to perpetrate, violations and crimes under international law."

Conducted by the Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen, a body of Yemen and regional experts created by the UN Human Rights Council, the report documents how indiscriminate bombing by the Saudi-led coalition has devastated the Yemeni population and details how civilian targets have repeatedly been struck.

"Despite the severity of the situation we continue to see a complete disregard for the people in Yemen," said Charles Garraway, one of the authors of the report. "This conflict has reached its peak, with no apparent sight of light at the end of the tunnel. It is indeed, a forgotten crisis."

According to the report, which documented the situation in Yemen from when the current conflict began in March of 2015 up until June of this year: “Coalition air strikes have caused most of the documented civilian casualties. In the past three years, such air strikes have hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities. The Group of Experts has investigated 13 such incidents by interviewing victims, witnesses and other credible sources; analysing satellite imagery, photographs and videos; and visiting sites in the Hudaydah, Sa’dah and Sana’a governorates.

"There is little evidence of any attempt by parties to the conflict to minimize civilian casualties. I call on them to prioritise human dignity in this forgotten conflict," said Kamel Jendoubi, chairperson of the group of experts.

In addition to the troubling pattern of targeting and bombing civilian infrastructure, the report condemns the ongoing blockade by the coalition, both by sea and by air, of critical supplies into the war-torn and impoverished country: “The coalition has imposed severe naval and air restrictions in Yemen, to varying degrees, since March 2015. There are reasonable grounds to believe that these restrictions imposed by the coalition constitute a violation of the proportionality rule of international humanitarian law. Moreover, the effective closure of Sana’a airport is a violation of international humanitarian law protection for the sick and wounded. Such acts, together with the requisite intent, may amount to international crimes.

In what was clearly a reference to both the U.S. and the U.K., the report urges the international community to "refrain from providing arms that could be used in the conflict."

An effort in the U.S. Senate last week to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led assault, led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), was defeated by Republicans.

Citing the United Nations Human Rights Office, the report estimated that 6,660 civilians have been killed and 10,563 injured in the war, but noted that the real figures are likely to be significantly higher.

On Monday, ahead of this latest report but in the wake of other rebukes by the UN against the coalition's tactics in the war, Saudi Arabia lashed out by accusing the world body of "bias" against the monarchy in Riyadh.

Also on Monday, the Pentagon offered a tepid statement regarding the ongoing killing of Yemen civilians, including several recent bombings which resulted in the mass slaughter of children.

"Recent events dictated to US military leaders that the situation required special mention and official emphasis during his visit," Lt Cmdr Rebecca Rebarich, a DOD spokeswoman, told CNN. "Lt. Gen. Garrett delivered a message of concern regarding the recent civilian casualty incident, and on behalf of the US government continued to urge for a thorough and expedited investigation as well as continued emphasis on the reduction of civilian casualties in the Yemeni campaign."

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