Dutch end bid for UN fact-finding mission in war-torn Yemen

AP News
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Posted: Sep 30, 2015 2:44 PM

GENEVA (AP) — Dutch diplomats on Wednesday dropped their attempt at the top U.N. human rights body to launch a fact-finding mission in war-torn Yemen, clearing the way for a rival initiative led by Saudi Arabia — a major protagonist in the conflict.

Two days before the end of the Human Rights Council session in Geneva, the Netherlands withdrew its proposal that had sought the deployment of a mission under the U.N. human rights chief to report on possible conflict-related crimes in Yemen. The U.N. estimates that at least 2,355 civilians have died since fighting escalated in March.

The less-ambitious Saudi alternative wants the human rights chief to provide "technical assistance" to Yemen's government and give an oral report to the council on the human rights situation. It also reiterates calls for Shiite militias, known as Houthis, and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh "to engage in the political process." A Saudi-led, U.S.-backed military coalition with blistering air power is fighting those groups.

Human rights groups expressed disappointment with the withdrawal of the proposal.

"The question is really what happened — and why is Saudi Arabia simply off the hook for massive bombing affecting civilian life and (that) probably may constitute war crimes?" said Philippe Dam, deputy director for Human Rights Watch in Geneva.

The United States had expressed support for the Dutch position, but also favored efforts at compromise on the issue. A Dutch diplomat declined comment, and the U.S. and Saudi ambassadors did not immediately respond to text messages and emails seeking comment.

Dam said there was a lack of transparency about coalition operations in Yemen.

"It's all been about Saudi Arabia protecting itself from an international probe, really," he said. "Unfortunately, the shift from the Dutch proposal position to this very weak resolution, and its very weak follow-up mechanism, fails to send a message that the conduct of operations has to respect the obligation to protect civilians."