Saudi self-investigation not sufficient, UN should probe deadly refugee boat attack — HRW to RT

Human Rights Watch has expressed doubts that a Saudi-led investigation into the alleged coalition strike on a refugee boat earlier this month will result in an impartial investigation.

Several dozen people were killed when a boat carrying Somali refugees off the coast of Yemen was fired on from a helicopter on March 16. Women and children were among the victims when the vessel was hit near the Bab al-Mandeb strait, the International Organisation for Migration said earlier of the incident, which was condemned by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) over the weekend.

While all parties to the conflict denied involvement in the attack, HRW pinned the blame for the strike on the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.

“Only the Saudi-led coalition has military aircraft. The Houthi-Saleh forces do not. Somalia, which supports the coalition, called on the coalition to investigate,” the HRW statement said, calling on the UN to investigate the deadly boat attack.

“We want the Human Rights Council to take up this matter and conduct an impartial investigation as well, to have the weight of the UN Human Rights Council behind it,” Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Division told RT.

“What we know is not going to be sufficient is to have the Saudi coalition investigate itself, because to date its investigations have not been serious,” the coauthor of HRW report added.

The investigation into the boat attack, as with all alleged war crimes in Yemen, is set to be investigated by Riyadh-led Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) comprising 14 coalition member states, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.

HRW and other rights groups have repeatedly blamed JIAT’s methodology, including its verification of information and the choice of incidents investigated, for not being transparent enough. Overall, rights group say that JIAT probes appear to be falling short of international standards.

JIAT has released the initial results of its investigations into 14 coalition attacks — about a paragraph on each strike — but refusing to concede fault in the bombings since August 2016.

The coalition says it does not target civilians and accuses the Houthis, who seized much of Yemen in a series of military advances since 2014, of placing military targets in civilian areas.

In two notable incidents, the Saudis failed to acknowledge its fault in the August 15 bombing of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in the Yemeni city of Abs, saying the strike which destroyed the facility engaged “legitimate” targets. 

The Saudi-led coalition has also not acknowledged responsibility for one of the deadliest attacks which targeted a funeral hall. On October 8, at least two air-dropped munitions penetrated the roof of a hall packed with over 1,000 mourners, killing at least 110 people and wounding 610 during the funeral ceremony of Ali al-Rawishan, the father of the Sana’a-based administration’s interior minister, Jalal al-Rawishan.

While HRW is calling for a UN investigation, any probe conducted by the Human Rights Council may potentially be compromised as long as Saudi Arabia remains a member of the Council. Recent history has shown that the Monarchy will not hesitate to use its influence in the UN to push through its own agenda.

“It is certainly not easy in terms of the willingness of the United Nations to back down to bullying which sadly it proved itself willing to do by removing Saudi from the list of shame,” Whitson told RT.

In June, former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admitted to bowing to Saudi pressure over a report that blasted Saudi Arabia for child casualties in Yemen. The Saudi coalition was removed from the UN blacklist of children's human rights violators, despite being accused of half the attacks on schools and hospitals in Yemen. 

“We very much hope that the next Secretary General will show greater backbone in identifying those perpetrators of crimes against children in an independent official way that is not politicized,” she added.

In an HRW letter to the Saudi-Led JITA dated January this year, the NGO also urged Riyadh to explain why JIAT does not appear to have examined a single attack involving cluster munitions. Speaking to RT on Monday, Whitson once again urged the UK and the US to stop sending arms to Saudi Arabia. 

“The US' and UK's arms sales to Saudi Arabia should stop and we have called for an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia until such time as they end their laws of war violation,” Whitson stressed.

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has led an international military coalition whose air operation targets Houthi rebels in Yemen. In February, UN Yemen Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick said that the death toll in the Yemeni conflict has surpassed 10,000 people.