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Yemen: Saudi-Led Funeral Attack Apparent War Crime, Says HRW

Unic Press UK: Saudi-led coalition forces have committed war crimes, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.

The denouncement of the coalition forces follows a range of horrifying events in Yemen, including the massacre of innocents during a funeral in Yemen, which caused the death of over 100 people.

On the 13 October 2016, the HRW said:

“A Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrike on a crowded funeral ceremony in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, on October 8, 2016, is an apparent war crime. The attack killed at least 100 people and wounded more than 500, including children. While military personnel and civilian officials involved in the war effort were attending the ceremony, the clear presence of several hundred civilians strongly suggests that the attack was unlawfully disproportionate.

“The funeral strike underscores the urgent need for credible international investigations into alleged laws-of-war violations in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said. The United States, United Kingdom, and other governments should immediately suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The coalition should urgently allow commercial flights to Sanaa, suspended in August, to allow anyone who is sick or wounded to seek medical treatment abroad.

“After unlawfully attacking schools, markets, hospitals, weddings, and homes over the last 19 months, the Saudi-led coalition has now added a funeral to its ever-increasing list of abuses,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “An independent international investigation of this atrocity is needed as the coalition has shown its unwillingness to uphold its legal obligations to credibly investigate.”

“Human Rights Watch interviewed 14 witnesses to the attack and two men who arrived at the scene immediately after the airstrike to help with rescue efforts, among other sources, by phone, and reviewed video and photos of the strike site and weapons remnants.

“On October 8, several hundred people had gathered in the al-Sala al-Kubra community hall, which has a capacity of over 1,000, for the funeral ceremony of Ali al-Rawishan, the father of the Sanaa-based administration’s interior minister, Jalal al-Rawishan. All the witnesses who spoke to Human Rights Watch said that at about 3:30 p.m., at least two air-dropped munitions penetrated the roof of the hall and detonated a few minutes apart.

“Photos and video footage taken after the attack show charred and mutilated bodies strewn in and outside the hall, the building destroyed, and rescuers carrying out bodies to ambulances. A spokesman for the Sanaa-based Health Ministry, Dr. Tamim al-Shami, told Human Rights Watch on October 9 that at least 110 people had been killed and 610 wounded, but that the death toll was likely to rise because a number of bodies had been burned or mutilated beyond recognition. Human Rights Watch was unable to independently verify the ministry’s figures, but soon after the attack, Doctors Without Borders reported that six of its hospitals had treated over 400 wounded.

“Hundreds of those killed and wounded were civilians, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). One witness said that he personally knew at least 45 civilians who had been killed in the attack. At least 20 high-ranking officials affiliated with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress and the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, as well as military and security officials, were at the funeral, and several were among the casualties. The Saudi Arabia-led coalition began an aerial campaign against the Houthis and allied forces in March 2015.

“Serious violations of the laws of war committed willfully – that is, intentionally or recklessly – are war crimes. The date and place of the funeral ceremony was announced on Jalal al-Rawishan’s Facebook page on October 7, and would have been publicly available. The afternoon hour of the attack would have been known to be the “peak time” when the funeral ceremony, open to the public, would have been very crowded. Coalition forces should have known that while a number of high-ranking commanders would be gathered, any attack on the hall would result in massive civilian casualties.

“Since March 26, 2015, the Saudi-led coalition of nine Arab countries, with direct military support from the US and assistance from the UK, has conducted numerous unlawful attacks in Yemen. Human Rights Watch has documented 58 unlawful airstrikes causing civilian loss of life and property. Other human rights organizations, as well as the UN, have documented dozens more. The Houthis and their allies, including forces loyal to former president Saleh, have also committed numerous serious abuses.

“The US, UK, and other governments should immediately suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia until it curbs unlawful attacks and credibly investigates those that have already occurred, Human Rights Watch said.

“The US, UK, and other coalition allies should send an unequivocal message to Saudi Arabia that they want no part in these crimes,” Whitson said. “Yemeni civilians should not be asked to tolerate such madness a moment longer.”



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