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CAIRO -- By arming and backing a Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, the United States, Britain and France may be complicit in potential war crimes, the United Nations said in a scathing report Tuesday that called for more accountability by all sides in the 5-year-old war.

The wide-ranging report from a team of investigators commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council found that all parties to the conflict had perpetrated possible war crimes through airstrikes, shelling, snipers and land mines, as well as arbitrary killings, torture and other abuses.

The Saudi-led coalition, which is aligned with Yemen's internationally recognized government, is accused of intentionally starving Yemenis as a tactic of war and killing thousands of civilians in airstrikes. The coalition's foes, northern rebels known as Houthis, are accused of planting land mines, shelling cities and deploying child soldiers.

The U.N. report also strongly challenges the credibility of the Saudi-led coalition to self-investigate and hold itself accountable for attacks that kill civilians. That assurance, routinely given by the Saudis after every attack, is often cited by President Donald Trump's administration and British officials to justify the continued military support and arms sales to the coalition.

Human-rights groups have long said the United States, Britain and other Western powers are abetting in prolonging the war and suffering in Yemen, which is on the brink of famine. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch called on France to "stop fueling Saudi war crimes in Yemen."

Campaigns by U.S. and British lawmakers, as well as activists, have led to bipartisan measures in the U.S. Congress and court hearings in Britain seeking to stop arms sales and other assistance to the coalition, especially after the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year. So far, those efforts have proved unsuccessful.

While most of the abuses detailed by the investigators have been previously reported by journalists and human-rights groups, the U.N. report is striking for its broad demand for accountability.

The investigators highlighted what many of the war's critics describe as the destructive role played by the United States, Britain and France -- all permanent U.N. Security Council members. The United States, in particular, provides logistical support and intelligence to the coalition, in addition to selling billions of dollars in weaponry to the group, whose main regional partner is the United Arab Emirates.

The report also cited Shiite-led Iran as helping to perpetrate war crimes through its support for the Shiite Houthis.

Such "third states" that "directly or indirectly" have influence on Yemen's warring parties "may be held responsible for providing aid or assistance for the commission of international law violations," the report said.

"The legality of arms transfers by France, the United Kingdom, the United States and other States remains questionable, and is the subject of various domestic court proceedings," it said.

The report comes two days after the coalition staged an airstrike against a rebel prison, killing more than 100 people.

On Monday, a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers opened a fresh push to stop U.S. logistical support for the coalition's air campaign and certain forms of intelligence sharing.

The U.N. investigators have sent a list of individuals "who may be responsible for international crimes" to the U.N. human-rights commissioner, Michelle Bachelet. But it remained unclear whether the list included any Westerners. In the report's appendix, investigators listed the names of more than 160 key actors in Yemen's war -- all Yemeni, Saudi or United Arab Emirates citizens -- but did not state whether any of them have committed potential war crimes.

The coalition has been battling the Houthis since March 2015 in a bid to restore Yemen's internationally recognized government and prevent Tehran from expanding its regional influence.

By some estimates, the conflict has killed as many as 95,000 people, including tens of thousands of civilians, violating international humanitarian laws.

Time and again, the Saudi-led coalition has promised to investigate such alleged violations through its internal Joint Incidents Assessment Team. But coalition airstrikes on civilian targets -- hospitals, clinics, markets, even school buses carrying children -- have been unrelenting.

After reviewing the assessment team's latest conclusions, the U.N. investigators found that the team did not expressly hold the coalition responsible for any violation. That, the report said, "raises concerns as to the impartiality of its investigations and the thoroughness and credibility of its analysis and findings."

A Section on 09/04/2019

Print Headline: U.N. rips U.S., allies over Yemen war

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