GENEVA – Dutch diplomats want the U.N. human rights chief to send a mission to report on possible abuses and conflict-related crimes in Yemen, all but challenging Western and other nations to take a stand over a war that has involved blistering Saudi air power and over 2,100 civilian deaths.
The Netherlands submitted a resolution Thursday at the U.N. Human Rights Council in the face of another co-sponsored by Saudi Arabia, which has led a U.S.-backed coalition battling the Shiite rebels known as Houthis in neighboring Yemen. The Saudi-Yemeni resolution wants the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, to provide "technical assistance" to Yemen's government.
The Dutch resolution sets the stage for back-channel diplomatic wrangling to pass a resolution that may — or may not — authorize creation of a fact-finding mission in Yemen before the three-week council session ends on Oct. 2. The Human Rights Council has no power to compel countries to act, but its actions can shine a spotlight on human rights violations.
Philippe Dam, Human Rights Watch's deputy director in Geneva, praised the "important demonstration of principled leadership" by the Netherlands and said Arab states like Saudi Arabia appear "determined to avoid any scrutiny" of the war in Yemen.
The Dutch move puts the United States in a position of having to decide between resolutions by two allies over the crisis in Yemen, a country where U.S. drone strikes have been carried out against al-Qaida over the years. The U.S. ambassador to the council, Keith Harper, had no immediate comment on the resolution.
"We're following the ongoing discussions in Geneva closely," the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, told reporters this week. "We do believe the Human Rights Council and OHCHR have an important role to play regarding the humanitarian situation, and look forward to working with our colleagues in Geneva on a way forward."
Power added, "Here in New York, we and our partners in the Security Council have urged the parties to comply with international humanitarian law, including by taking all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians, and to facilitate the urgent delivery of humanitarian assistance and fuel to all parts of Yemen, including through all of Yemen's ports."
The war in Yemen escalated in March when the Saudi-led coalition launched a campaign involving air strikes and ground troops against the Houthis and their allies. More than 2,100 civilians have been killed, according to U.N. estimates. The coalition recently has sought to retake the rebel-held capital, Sanaa.
The United States has conducted aerial refueling of Emirati F-16s and Saudi F-15s taking part in the Saudi-led bombing campaign, as well as offered logistical and intelligence support. It has not taken part in airstrikes itself.
The Dutch resolution stressed the need "to ensure the safety and security of mission personnel" in Yemen. The U.N. is trying to lead talks between Yemeni parties that have been repeatedly postponed.
Yemeni Prime Minister Khaled Bahah told reporters in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden on Thursday that "all options are on the table. If negotiations would lead to actual results, then we welcome negotiations."
Yemen's internationally-recognized government has been calling on the Houthis to implement a U.N. resolution ahead of talks. The resolution requests that the rebels withdraw from areas they seized and surrender weapons they took from Yemeni military and state institutions.
Associated Press writer Cara Anna at the United Nations contributed to this report.