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Saudi Arabia launched stealth campaign to close UN war crimes probe in Yemen

A new report says Saudi Arabia launched a stealth campaign to shut down a UN investigation of war crimes in Yemen, using “incentives and threats.”

The Guardian cited political officials and diplomatic and activist sources with close knowledge of the issue as saying the Saudis launched a stealth campaign in which they appear to have influenced officials in order to guarantee the end of the investigation.

One of the sources said Saudi Arabia had used “threats and incentives” to deter members of the UN human rights council (HRC) from voting for a resolution in October that would extend the mandate of independent investigators by another two years.

According to the Guardian, Riyadh allegedly threatened Indonesia that its people would face obstacles to travel to Mecca if officials did not vote against the resolution, while the kingdom offered Togo financial support to persuade the African nation to vote against renewing the mandate.

At the time of the vote, Togo declared that it would open a new embassy in Saudi Arabia, and receive financial aid from Riyadh to support anti-terrorism activities.

Indonesia and Togo, which voted against the measure this year, had abstained from the Yemen resolution in 2020.

One observer said the alleged threat to Jakarta to bar Indonesians from traveling to Mecca showed Saudis were willing to “instrumentalize” their access to a holy place.

The measure –which was passed by a vote of 22-12 in 2020, with 12 abstentions — was defeated by a majority of 21-18 last month, with seven member countries abstaining.

“That kind of swing – from 12 no’s to 21 – does not just happen,” said one official.

The four members of the council who served both in 2020 and 2021 and changed their votes from abstaining to opposing the resolution also include Bangladesh and Senegal.

According to the Guardian, the UAE, an ally of Riyadh and member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, invited Senegal to sign a memorandum of understanding to establish a joint Emirati-Senegalese business council, one week after the vote.

The HRC set up the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEE) in 2017 with the aim of conducting an investigation of possible violations of humanitarian law and human rights in Yemen.

The Saudi campaign came as reports by the experts grew more “damning” over the years, one person with inside knowledge of the matter said.

Last year, the GEE called for ensuring accountability for perpetrators of potential war crimes in Yemen, recommending that the matter should be referred to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court by the UN Security Council.

“I think that must have been the trigger moment when the Saudi coalition realized this is really going too far,” one person who followed the issue said.

The October vote marked the first defeat of a resolution in the HRC’s 15-year history.

“For the Saudis to win this battle at the expense of the Yemeni people is terrible… It really shook everyone to the core. The scrutiny should be on those members of the council that couldn’t withstand the pressure,” said one person close to the issue.

Saudi Arabia, backed by the US and regional allies, including the UAE, launched the war on Yemen in March 2015, with the goal of bringing the government of Yemen’s former president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi back to power and crushing the Ansarullah movement.

The war has left hundreds of thousands of Yemenis dead, and displaced millions more. It has also destroyed Yemen’s infrastructure and spread famine and infectious diseases there.

 

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