UN human rights body passes Saudi proposal on Yemen

AP News
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Posted: Oct 02, 2015 11:11 AM

GENEVA (AP) — A leading human rights advocacy group on Friday accused the top U.N. human rights body of failing to improve scrutiny of abuses in war-torn Yemen by approving a resolution presented by Saudi Arabia — a major participant in the conflict.

The Human Rights Council vote by consensus calls for Yemen to receive "technical assistance" on improving human rights. The U.N. estimates that more than 2,300 civilians have died since fighting escalated in the poor Arab Peninsula country in March, notably involving air power from a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition.

The measure that passed Friday came after Dutch diplomats this week abandoned a separate proposal calling for an international fact-finding mission in Yemen.

Human Rights Watch, in a statement, called the Saudi-led resolution "deeply flawed" and said the Dutch backed down only after "intense pressure from Saudi Arabia."

"By failing to set up a serious U.N. inquiry on war-torn Yemen, the Human Rights Council squandered an important chance to deter further abuses," said Philippe Dam, its Geneva deputy director.

The Saudi-led proposal calls on Yemen's government to take measures to protect civilians, and calls on armed militia groups to release political prisoners. It asks the U.N. human rights chief to report next year on the situation — though no debate on the matter is so far planned.

The United States, which has supported the Saudi-led military campaign notably with midair refueling aircraft, initially supported the Dutch resolution but also said it was seeking compromise.

U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper decried the "terrible humanitarian toll" carried out by all sides in the conflict, and said the U.S. would support further action by the council if human rights don't improve in Yemen.

The resolution came on the last day of the 30th session of the 47-member council, which was created in 2006 to keep an international spotlight on rights abuses around the world — even if it cannot compel countries to act.

Separately Friday, Unicef said that at least 505 children have been killed in Yemen, more than 600 have been recruited as child soldiers, and 1.7 million are facing the risk of malnutrition as infrastructure crumbles.

Also Friday, the U.N. circulated a letter from U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power to the U.N. Security Council president, dated Monday, saying the U.S. expects "tangible results," and quickly, from Saudi Arabia's commitments to "unfettered access to all forms of humanitarian assistance, including fuel, into Yemen and to work towards the opening of all Red Sea ports." The U.N. has said no fuel reached Yemen in September.

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Associated Press writer Cara Anna at the United Nations contributed.

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This story has been corrected to show that the estimated civilian death toll is 2,300, not 2,200.