Yemen rescinds expulsion of UN human rights representative

AP News
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Posted: Jan 08, 2016 7:59 PM
Yemen rescinds expulsion of UN human rights representative

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Yemen informed the United Nations on Friday that it is rescinding its order expelling the top U.N. human rights representative in the conflict-wracked country.

Yemen's U.N. Ambassador Khaled Alyemany said in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the government has decided "to maintain the status quo" of the representative, George Abu al-Zulof.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press, cites "excesses" by the rights office that led to the request to replace al-Zulof. But it says "because of the fuss created around the matter" the government decided to give more time to review its relationship with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

A senior U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the communication was private, said if the order declaring the representative persona non grata is reversed the United Nations will "very much welcome" the development.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.N. human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein had appealed to Yemen to allow the representative to stay.

Zeid issued a hard-hitting statement earlier Friday calling the expulsion "unwarranted, counter-productive and damaging to the reputation of the government and its coalition partners."

Yemen's conflict pits the government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, against Shiite rebels known as Houthis allied with a former president and backed by Iran. The Houthis took over Sanaa in September 2014, and the Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes against the Houthis in March.

The U.N. human rights office said this week it received allegations that the Saudi-led forces used cluster bombs.

Ban also received "troubling reports" of the use of cluster munitions in attacks Wednesday on several locations in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Friday.

The U.N. chief expressed deep concern at the "intensification" of airstrikes by the U.S.-supported coalition and warned that the reported use of cluster bombs in populated areas could amount to a war crime, the spokesman said.

Dujarric said the secretary-general is particularly concerned about reports of "intense airstrikes in residential areas and on civilian buildings in Sanaa, including the Chamber of Commerce, a wedding hall and a center for the blind."

"The use of cluster munitions in populated areas may amount to a war crime due to their indiscriminate nature," Dujarric said, adding that international human rights law and international humanitarian law prohibit attacks directed against civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Zeid said the government's expulsion order appeared to be based "on a number of misunderstandings," including the job of his office and the U.N.'s role in conflict situations.

He stressed that his office has tried to report objectively on the human rights situation in Yemen "in a very fluid and dangerous environment," without regard to politics.

"Unfortunately, both sides have very clearly committed violations, resulting in some 2,800 civilian deaths over the past nine months," Zeid said.

Peace negotiations were launched in December to try to end the conflict and a cease-fire was declared, but both government forces and rebels ignored it.

The truce formally ended last weekend, just as the Saudis broke diplomatic ties with Iran following attacks by Iranian protesters on its diplomatic missions in response to the Saudi execution of a Shiite cleric.

The Saudi-Iran rupture has raised concerns about peace prospects in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, where the U.N. says millions of people are in need of basics like food and fuel.

The U.N. special envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is trying to get commitments from both sides for a new cease-fire and talks. He was in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on Friday and will be going to Yemen soon, Dujarric said.