'Saudi-led alliance in Yemen behind most civilian deaths'

Campaigners of Amnesty International carrying model missiles through Westminster in London yesterday to highlight the export of British-made arms to Saudi Arabia which could be used to commit war crimes in Yemen.
Campaigners of Amnesty International carrying model missiles through Westminster in London yesterday to highlight the export of British-made arms to Saudi Arabia which could be used to commit war crimes in Yemen. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

UN says air strikes that hit schools, markets, hospitals, weddings could be 'international crimes'

GENEVA • The United Nations yesterday decried the "carnage" caused by recent air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, saying the alliance was responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths in the conflict.

"Looking at the figures, it would seem that the coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together, virtually all as a result of air strikes," United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement, expressing outrage at one of the deadliest air strikes on a market this week.

Since the Saudi-led coalition began its air campaign in Yemen a year ago, the UN rights office said it had tallied just under 9,000 civilian casualties in the conflict, including 3,218 killed.

It condemned "the repeated failure of the coalition forces to take effective actions to prevent the recurrence of such incidents, and to publish transparent, independent investigations into those that have already occurred".

Mr Zeid's comments were echoed by the United States, which has welcomed talk of an end to the coalition's major combat.

"We have expressed our concerns about the loss of innocent life in Yemen. The violence there that is plaguing that country has caught too many innocent civilians in the crossfire," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Thursday.

He said "we would welcome and do welcome" a statement from the coalition spokesman, Brigadier-General Ahmed al-Assiri, who told Agence France-Presse the coalition is "in the end of the major combat phase".

This would be followed by security stabilisation and then reconstruction, Brig-Gen Assiri said.

Mr Zeid decried that coalition air strikes "have hit markets, hospitals, clinics, schools, factories, wedding parties and hundreds of private residences in villages, towns and cities."

"Despite plenty of international demarches, these awful incidents continue to occur with unacceptable regularity," he said, warning that "we are possibly looking at the commission of international crimes by members of the coalition".

Mr Zeid voiced particular alarm at two air strikes on a market this week in northern Yemen's rebel- held Hajja province.

The United Nations on Thursday put the death toll from those strikes at 119, and Mr Zeid's office said yesterday 106 of those killed in the crowded market were civilians, including 24 children.

The Saudi-led coalition intervened on March 26 last year to support President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi after Houthi rebels seized large parts of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2016, with the headline ''Saudi-led alliance in Yemen behind most civilian deaths''. Print Edition | Subscribe