UN Human Rights Council Votes to Send War Crime Experts to Yemen
Last Friday, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted to send a cadre of war crime experts into Yemen. The civil war in Yemen has caught international attention due to famine and widespread casualties.
The 47 member council voted 21-8 in favor of the resolution, with 18 abstentions.
Saudi Arabia and Yemen were among the main opponents to the resolution. Saudi Arabia threatened to restrict trades with those supportive of the resolution. The Yemeni government declared it would not cooperate, and accused the UN of a biased view of the conflict that largely overlooked the war crimes of the Houthi rebels, an an Islamic political movement that emerged in Northern Yemen following unification in the 1990s.
The conflict in Yemen is complex, with roots in the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990. In 2003, Houthi rebels sparked conflict with the Yemeni government and Saudi Arabia in protest of the marginalization of the local Zaydi Shi’ite Muslim sect.
The 2011 Arab Spring resulted in further fragmentation and instability as the government lost control of territory to the Houthi rebels and al Qaeda. The current president of Yemen, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, and his supporters have been backed by an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Saudi-led airstrikes have caused a massive humanitarian crisis.
There are approximately 22 million people in Yemen in need of humanitarian aid, which is nearly three-quarters of the population. Aside from the 20.7 million people suffering as a result of widespread famine, the amount of civilian casualties as a result of Saudi airstrikes was also specific concern of the UNHRC resolution. Since March 2015, more than 8,530 people have been killed, 60 percent of whom are civilians. Additionally, 48,800 have been injured in air strikes and fighting on the ground.
While the need for action in Yemen may be clear, the vote for this resolution highlights complexities of determining a plan of action. Supporters of the resolution, including EU member states and Canada, argued that the expert groups are essential to understanding realities on the ground and evidence of war crimes. But opponents to the resolution — namely Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan — argued that the continued UN investigation would exacerbate the crisis and increase regional instability.