UN human rights body highlights Yemen ‘war crimes’ in battle against rebels

Three experts working for the UN’s Human Rights Council have said the governments of Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia may have been responsible for war crimes during its battle with Shia rebels.

The allegations include claims of rape, torture, disappearances and "deprivation of the right to life" during the three-and-a-half years of fighting against rebels known as Houthis, the experts said.

In their first report for the council, the experts also point to possible crimes by the Shia militia, which has been fighting the Saudi-led coalition and Yemen’s government since March 2015.

The trio have also chronicled the damages from coalition air strikes, the single most lethal force in the fighting, over the last year.

Women walk past Saudi-led coalition backed forces, leading the campaign to take over Hodeida, as they patrol Mocha in Yemen. Credit: AP

They urged the international community to "refrain from providing arms that could be used in the conflict" in Yemen, an apparent reference to countries including the US and Britain that help arm the Saudi-led coalition, as well as Iran, which the coalition has accused of arming the Houthis.

The experts visited some but not all parts of Yemen as they compiled the report.

"(We have) reasonable grounds to believe that the governments of Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are responsible for human rights violations," the report said.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world. Credit: ITV News

The UN report accused the "de facto authorities" — an allusion to rebel leaders who control some of the country’s most populated western and northern areas — of crimes including arbitrary detentions, torture and child recruitment.

Human rights advocates have faulted the Houthis for laying landmines and targeting religious minorities and imprisoned opponents.

Kamel Jendoubi, a Tunisian human rights advocate who chaired the group of experts, said they compiled a "confidential list" of people suspected of committing international crimes, which was being handed over to the office of the UN human rights chief.

His team refused to indicate how many or which people or groups were on the list, on the government or rebel sides.

Kamel Jendoubi, right, with Charles Garraway, another member of the expert panel. Credit: AP

"Despite the gravity of the situation, we still note a total disdain for the suffering of the Yemeni people," Jendoubi told reporters in a briefing on the report.

Since March last year, the UN’s humanitarian aid agency has said Yemen is facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The report said three-quarters of its population of more than 29 million need humanitarian assistance.

The war has devastated the country’s health system and provided a breeding ground for the world’s largest cholera outbreak last year.

The experts cited 6,475 deaths from the conflict between March 2015 and June this year, but said the "real figure is likely to be significantly higher." - other groups have estimated more than 10,000 people.

They also sharply criticised work by the coalition’s Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), which was set up as a bulwark against possible rights violations.

They questioned the JIAT’s explanations for the air strikes that have killed civilians, and challenged its "independence and its ability to carry out impartial investigations."

The experts said nearly a dozen deadly air strikes they investigated over the last year "raise serious questions about the targeting process applied by the coalition."

They chastised some in-the-field coalition combatants for "routinely" failing to seek information about targets on official "no-strike" lists that should have been avoided.