Mr./Ms Chairperson, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen, it is my honour to address you today as we discuss our fourth report to the Council on the situation of human rights in Yemen. Ms. Melissa Parke, Mr. Ardi Imseis and I carried out the renewed mandate entrusted to us by this honourable Council in resolution 45/15 with the utmost independence, impartiality and integrity. I would like to express our gratitude to the Council for the continued trust placed in us, as well as our deep appreciation to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Michelle Bachelet, for her support and that of the Office of the High Commissioner, in assisting us in fulfilling our mandate.
Before I begin my substantive briefing, I regret the need to raise the issue of resourcing. Notwithstanding the Council's decision last year to extend our mandate for a further year, and to substantively expand our mandate in several respects, the Group of Experts was left without the requisite human and material resources to function for over half of its mandate period. In the remaining period, the Group operated with a scaled back secretariat. This has directly and significantly impacted on the scope and scale of investigations carried out this year and necessitated the Group adopting a retrospective approach, particularly in relation to gender-based violence and children's rights. Failure to adequately resource such investigations sends the wrong message to people suffering in Yemen at a time when they need all the support the international community can muster.
This year we entitled our report "A nation abandoned: A call to humanity to end Yemen's suffering". The Group continues to witness all parties to the conflict continuing to commit serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, many of which may amount to international crimes. That the parties are continuing to commit such violations points fundamentally to a lack of political will to change. If the parties wished to stop these violations they could. If they desired to hold persons to account and take steps to prevent a repetition of the violations, they could. If the parties were truly committed to respecting and protecting the human rights and dignity of persons in Yemen, they would.
Similarly, if third States were truly committed to bringing an end to the conflict and the violations being experienced in Yemen they would stop transferring arms and providing other military support to the parties to the conflict.
Notwithstanding the fact that for a third year in a row, the Group of Experts was not granted permission to visit Yemen or coalition countries, and saw only limited cooperation from parties in responding to our lists of questions, the Group continued to carry out its mandate diligently and professionally. During this reporting period, we conducted more than 152 interviews with witnesses, victims and other sources. Interviews were undertaken remotely, using secure channels of communication and additional precautions were taken to ensure the reliability of sources and the safety of interviewees. Open source and satellite imagery analysis further assisted our investigations. We are particularly grateful to all the victims and witnesses who entrusted their accounts to us, notwithstanding the climate of fear and intimidation prevalent in Yemen, as well as to the organizations and individuals who provided us with information.
The nature of our findings underlines the way in which violations have sadly become 'accepted practice' in so many parts of Yemen.
Airstrikes launched by the coalition continue to exact a huge toll on the civilian population. Since March 2015, it is estimated that over 23 000 airstrikes have been launched by the coalition, killing or injuring over 18 000 civilians. During this period, the Group investigated a further four airstrikes, including cases where bombs landed on civilian houses, remote farms, and a major grain port. Whilst its investigations are ongoing into some of these airstrikes, the Group remains concerned that the coalition are failing to abide by principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack in carrying out these airstrikes.
Shelling incidents continue to kill and injure civilians and destroy civilian property. Incidents investigated during this reporting period have included the attack on Aden airport, targeting members of the newly formed government in December 2020, as well as attacks impacting ordinary civilian life: men, women and children attending a wedding in Hawak, for instance, and children playing football in Ma'rib. The Group remains concerned that parties to the conflict, particularly the Houthis, are failing to take all feasible precautions to protect the civilian population and objects and may be shelling areas in an indiscriminate fashion.
Two-thirds of the population in Yemen are in need of humanitarian assistance for their very survival. Actions of parties to the conflict are creating and/or exacerbating this crisis. This includes the way in which blockades, or more prosaically overly restrictive bureaucratic measures, are impeding food supplies, humanitarian access and timely aid delivery. The protracted closure of Sana'a airport by the Government of Yemen and the coalition has precluded civilians from accessing life-saving health care. Its reopening, together with access to Hudaydah port, is being held hostage to the peace negotiations. Airstrikes or shelling continue to damage food production infrastructure and farms in areas known to be already affected by food insecurity. Similarly, hospitals and medical facilities have been damaged by attacks, further compromising the population's access to health care.
Individuals continue to be subject to arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture, and other forms of ill-treatment, denial of fair trial rights and murder. Those perceived as dissenting from or opposing the party in control of territory, including human rights defenders and journalists, or those seen as providing assistance to the opposing side (e.g. medical workers) – are particularly at risk, as are members of religious minorities, including the Bahai and Jewish communities. The lives of internally displaced persons and migrants are also at risk as a result of parties' failures to protect civilian populations. Gender-based violence, including sexual violence, continues to feature prominently amongst ongoing violations and the justice system has been abused to reinforce traditional gender norms. Children continue to be recruited into armed forces and used in hostilities, while their access to education is compromised due to the military use of schools, rendering these facilities liable to attack.
Many of the violations that the Group has identified may amount to international crimes. An updated list of names of alleged perpetrators responsible for such international crimes has been submitted to the High Commissioner for Human Rights on a strictly confidential basis to assist with future accountability efforts.
The Group is concerned that impunity continues largely unabated for those who perpetrate serious violations in Yemen. The Group has seen little progress in terms of investigations conducted by the parties. A small number of cases are currently pending before the Yemeni judicial system or Saudi Arabia's courts martial. These minor developments, however, have by no means been adequate or sufficient to quell the 'pandemic of impunity' in Yemen. Victims remain without redress. The Group repeats its call for the international community to take action: to refer the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court; expand the list of individuals responsible for violations under its sanctions regime; and create an international criminal justice investigation mechanism for Yemen (similar to the body established for Syria).
Any sustainable peace needs to be built on respect for human rights and accountability. Steps can be taken now to increase Yemen's preparedness for peace – in particular by increasing the inclusivity of the peace process; integrating a principled approach to accountability in any peace agreement; creating and preserving the space for discussions on transitional justice; and strengthening Yemeni civil society.
We call upon members of this Council to keep the situation in Yemen at the top of its priorities. As long as the people of Yemen continue to be subjected to such egregious violations in the absence of a sustainable peace, it is crucial that the Council remain actively engaged. Further investigations remain critical and we hope that a resolution is unanimously adopted to renew the mandate of the Group of Experts, preferably for a period longer than one year and accompanied with the requisite resources to discharge its tasks. Thank you for your kind attention.
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