Yemeni children take part in a mass funeral for children killed in an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition last week. Photo:  AFP
Yemeni children take part in a mass funeral for children killed in an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition in August 2018. Photo: AFP

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which together have led a three-year intervention in Yemen on behalf of the internationally-recognized government, are likely guilty of war crimes, a new UN report finds.

“Individuals in the Government and the coalition, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have committed acts that may amount to war crimes, including cruel treatment and torture, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 or using them to participate actively in hostilities,” it said.

The report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which covers the period of September 2014 to June 2018, said air strikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition have posed the biggest direct threat to human life.

“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 objects struck raise serious concerns about the respect of the principle of distinction and how military targets were defined and selected. The use of precision-guided munitions would normally indicate that the object struck was the target,” it said.

Kamel Jendoubi, who led the group of experts on Yemen that carried out the study, said, “There is little evidence of any attempt by parties to the conflict to minimize civilian casualties.”

The coalition’s “de facto” blockades on Yemeni air and sea ports meanwhile violate the international legal principle of proportionality, the report said, emphasizing Yemen was already dependent on imports before the start of the war.

The role of the United Arab Emirates and its proxies in southern Yemen, namely the Security Belt forces, was also scrutinized.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that government personnel and Security Belt Forces have committed rape and other forms of serious sexual violence targeting vulnerable groups, including foreign migrants, internally displaced persons and other vulnerable groups, including women and children,” the report said.

All sides were found to have used children in combat.

Saudi Arabia and its allies intervened in neighboring Yemen in 2015 with the goal of rolling back Houthi rebel gains and restoring the government to power. The conflict has triggered what the UN says is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, pushing half the country’s population to the brink of famine.

While the latest UN report made no explicit mention of the coalition’s powerful backers, rights group Amnesty International has warned that the United States, United Kingdom and France risk complicity in war crimes for their military and logistical support to the coalition.