GENEVA – Three experts working for the U.N.'s top human rights body say the governments of Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia may have been responsible for war crimes including rape, torture, disappearances and "deprivation of the right to life" during 3½ years of escalated fighting against rebels in Yemen.
In their first report for the Human Rights Council, the experts also point to possible crimes by rebel Shiite militia in Yemen, which has been fighting the Saudi-led coalition and Yemen's government since March 2015.
The experts have also chronicled the damages from coalition air strikes, the single most lethal force in the fighting, over the last year.
They urged the international community to "refrain from providing arms that could be used in the conflict "— an apparent reference to countries like the United States and Britain that help arm the Saudi-led coalition, as well as Iran, which the coalition has accused of say has been arming the Houthis.
The experts visited some but not all parts of Yemen as they compiled the report.
"(We have) reasonable grounds to believe that the governments of Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are responsible for human rights violations," the report said. It cited violations including unlawful deprivation of the right to life, arbitrary detention, rape, torture, enforced disappearances and child recruitment.
It accused the "de facto authorities" — an allusion to rebel leaders that control some of the country's most populated western and northern areas — of crimes including arbitrary detentions, torture and child recruitment.
Since March last year, the U.N.'s humanitarian aid agency has called Yemen the world's worst humanitarian crisis — with three-fourths of its population of over 20 million in need of humanitarian assistance. The war has devastated the country's health system and provided the breeding grounds for the world's largest cholera outbreak last year.
The experts cited some 6,475 deaths from the conflict between March 2015 and June this year, but said the "real figure is likely to be significantly higher."
They also sharply criticized work by the coalition's Joint Incidents Assessment Team, which was set up as a bulwark against possible rights violations. They questioned the JIAT's explanations for the air strikes that have killed civilians, and challenged its "independence and its ability to carry out impartial investigations."
The experts also said nearly a dozen deadly airstrikes they investigated over the last year "raise serious questions about the targeting process applied by the coalition." They chastised some in-the-field coalition combatants for "routinely" failing to seek information about official "no-strike" lists that should have been avoided.
Even getting the experts up and running was an accomplishment for the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council, which passed a resolution creating the team last September. Largely due to the objections of Saudi Arabia and its allies, the council failed several times to authorize more intrusive investigation into possible war crimes in Yemen. The 47-member body only last fall reached a compromise to bring in the experts.