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New Zealand must call for accountability for war crimes

New Zealand must use its role on the UN Security Council to call for accountability for war crimes

Damning evidence of war crimes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which is armed by states including the USA, highlights the urgent need for independent, effective investigation of violations and for the suspension of transfers of certain arms, said Amnesty International in a new report published today.

‘Bombs fall from the sky day and night’: Civilians under fire in northern Yemen examines 13 deadly airstrikes by the coalition in Sa’da, north-eastern Yemen, which killed some 100 civilians, including 59 children. It also documents the use of internationally banned cluster bombs.

“This report uncovers yet more evidence of unlawful airstrikes carried out by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, some of which amount to war crimes. It demonstrates in harrowing detail how crucial it is to stop arms being used to commit serious violations of this kind,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser who headed the organization’s fact-finding mission to Yemen.

“The USA and other states exporting weapons to any of the parties to the Yemen conflict have a responsibility to ensure that the arms transfers they authorize are not facilitating serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

Amnesty International is calling for a suspension in transfers to members of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, that are participating in the military campaign, of weapons and munitions which have been used to commit violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes in Yemen: in particular, bombs from the MK (MARK) 80 series and other general purpose bombs, fighter jets, combat helicopters and their associated parts and components.

More civilians have died as a result of coalition airstrikes than from any other cause during the conflict in Yemen. The city of Sa’da has suffered more destruction from coalition airstrikes than any other city in the country.

The report reveals a pattern of appalling disregard for civilian lives displayed by the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition which declared the entire cities of Sa’da and nearby Marran - where tens of thousands of civilians live - military targets in violation of international law. In at least four of the airstrikes investigated by Amnesty International, homes attacked were struck more than once, suggesting that they had been the intended targets despite no evidence they were being used for military purposes.

“The designation of large, heavily populated areas as military targets and the repeated targeting of civilian homes are telling examples revealing the coalition forces’ flagrant failure to take sufficient precautions to avoid civilian loss of life as required by international humanitarian law,” said Donatella Rovera.

Overall at least 59 children were killed in the 13 airstrikes documented by Amnesty International in the Sa’da region between May and July 2015, many of them while they were playing outside their homes, others while sleeping.

In one airstrike on 13 June 2015 at a home in Dammaj valley in al-Safra, coalition forces killed eight children and two women from the same family and injured seven other relatives.

“There were 19 people in the house when it was bombed. All but one were women and children. The children who would usually be outside during the day were in the house because it was lunchtime. They were all killed or injured. One of the dead was a 12-day-old baby,” said Abdullah Ahmed Yahya al-Sailami, whose one-year-old son was among those killed.

Another relative who helped with the rescue efforts said the body of a one-year-old baby was found in the wreckage with his dummy [pacifier] still in his mouth. Amnesty International researchers found only household items – children’s toys, books and cooking utensils – among the rubble. No sign of weapons or military-ware could be found, nor any other evidence to suggest the house was a legitimate military target.

Other attacks struck vehicles carrying civilians fleeing the conflict, foodstuff, humanitarian supplies and animals. The report also details several attacks on shops, markets and other commercial properties.

Civilians in Sa’da living under the terror of constant airstrikes are also contending with a major humanitarian crisis, which has seen electricity cut off to the whole of the city, the healthcare system collapsed in remote areas and a severe shortage of doctors.

Amnesty International researchers also found remnants of two types of cluster bombs, BLU-97 sub-munitions and their carrier (CBU-97) and the more sophisticated CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon. Cluster bombs, which are banned under international law, scatter scores of bomblets over a wide area. Many of the bomblets fail to explode upon impact, posing an ongoing deadly threat to anyone who comes into contact with them.

Mohammed Hamood al-Wabash, 13, sustained multiple fractures in his left foot after stepping on an unexploded bomblet from a cluster bomb. Amnesty International is urging coalition members to cease the use of cluster munitions immediately, and for all states to stop transferring such weapons.

Calls for accountability

Last week, attempts to set up an independent, international investigation into the conflict at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva collapsed and instead a resolution was adopted supporting a national-led investigative committee.

“The world’s indifference to the suffering of Yemeni civilians in this conflict is shocking. The failure of the UN Human Rights Council last week to establish an international investigation into violations committed by all sides is the latest in a series of failures by the international community to address total impunity for perpetrators of serious violations in Yemen,” said Donatella Rovera.

“Lack of accountability has contributed to the worsening crisis and unless perpetrators believe they will be brought to justice for their crimes, civilians will continue to suffer the consequences.”

An international investigation or inquiry could be established through a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly or the UN Security Council - or by the UN Secretary-General or the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights acting on their own initiative.

The UN Security Council has been virtually silent on the continued - and increasingly blatant - violations of the laws of war by all parties to the conflict.

As an elected member, New Zealand has a key role to play in highlighting the commission of mass atrocities and mobilising the Council to bring an end to the plight of civilians in conflict.

Amnesty International is calling on New Zealand in its capacity on the UN Security Council to:

• Publicly condemn the violations and war crimes committed in Yemen and urge all conflict parties to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law;

• Push for the UN Security Council to establish an international investigation or inquiry into war crimes and human rights violations through the adoption of a resolution;

• Advance any effort to restrain the use of the veto by the Council’s five permanent members in situations of crimes under international law.


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