In a U-turn at the UN Human Rights Council, Western governments on Wednesday dropped plans for an international inquiry into human rights violations by all parties in the war in Yemen, which has killed thousands of civilians in the past six months.
The change of direction came as the Netherlands withdrew a draft resolution it had prepared with support from a mainly Western group of nations that instructed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein to send experts to Yemen to investigate the conduct of the war.
That proposal was a follow-up to recommendations by the commissioner, who in a report last month detailed the heavy civilian loss of life inflicted by the relentless airstrikes of a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia, but also by the indiscriminate shelling carried out by Houthi rebels.
The Dutch resolution also called for the warring parties to permit access to humanitarian groups seeking to deliver aid and to the commercial import of goods like fuel that are needed to keep hospitals running.
Deliveries of aid and other goods have been slowed by the coalition’s naval blockade of Yemeni ports.
However, in the face of stiff resistance from Riyadh and its coalition partners, and to the dismay of human rights groups, Western governments have accepted a resolution based on a Saudi text that lacks any reference to an independent, international inquiry.
Instead, the new resolution supports a decree issued by the exiled government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi appointing a national commission of inquiry.
It asks the UN human rights office only “to provide technical assistance and to work with the government of Yemen, as required, in the field of capacity-building.”
Hadi’s government is supported by Saudi Arabia and is a party to the war, commanding loyal forces in Yemen that are fighting against the Houthi rebels.
“The result is a lost opportunity for the council and a huge victory for Saudi Arabia, protecting it from scrutiny over laws of war violations, which will probably continue to be committed in Yemen,” said Philippe Dam, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director in Geneva.
The US had earlier signaled its support for the Dutch resolution and its call for an international inquiry, but human rights experts monitoring negotiations on the resolutions say it appears that the US, Britain and France opted instead to back a consensus resolution that was scheduled for a vote in the council tomorrow.
Such a resolution is much more “powerful,” a diplomat close to the discussions said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter.
Moreover, it also gives the UN human rights commissioner a mandate to monitor and report on developments in Yemen, the diplomat said.
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