In March, Saudi Arabia’s air campaign in Yemen will enter its second year.
Riyadh began flying combat missions last year in an effort to rollback the Iran-backed militiamen who drove Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi into exile. The results of the strikes have been mixed. The Houthis were driven from Aden but the fight for Sana’a is far from over.
And while the Saudis and the Houthis battle it out, ISIS and al-Qaeda are doing what they do best: finding opportunities amid the chaos. Just today for instance, ISIS claimed responsibility for a car bomb that exploded outside of Hadi’s residence in Aden. Hadi was unharmed but six people were killed in the attack.
As you might recall, the Saudis have a rather checkered human rights record. Earlier this month, the kingdom carried out its largest mass execution in 25 years, killing 47 in what Riyadh pitched as a crackdown on “terrorists.”
That rather blatant disregard for human life has carried over into the air campaign in Yemen.
As we’ve documented extensively, Riyadh’s warplanes have "accidentally" hit everything from MSF hospitals to wedding parties and just last week, we brought you the following footage of what Yemen Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Nashwan Attab called a “heinous massacre” involving an ambulance and rescue workers.
Now, a 51-page report from a UN panel of experts on Yemen has revealed "widespread and systematic" attacks on civilian targets by Saudi planes.
The report (which was obtained by The Guardian) says the following:
“The panel documented that the coalition had conducted airstrikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law, including camps for internally displaced persons and refugees; civilian gatherings, including weddings; civilian vehicles, including buses; civilian residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques; markets, factories and food storage warehouses; and other essential civilian infrastructure, such as the airport in Sana’a, the port in Hudaydah and domestic transit routes.”
"The panel documented 119 coalition sorties relating to violations of international humanitarian law.”
And it gets worse:
“Many attacks involved multiple airstrikes on multiple civilian objects. Of the 119 sorties, the panel identified 146 targeted objects. The panel also documented three alleged cases of civilians fleeing residential bombings and being chased and shot at by helicopters.”
The coalition’s targeting of civilians through airstrikes, either by bombing residential neighbourhoods or by treating the entire cities of Sa’dah and Maran as military targets, is a grave violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution. In certain cases, the panel found such violations to have been conducted in a widespread and systematic manner.”
“Alongside ground-led obstructions to humanitarian distribution, the panel documented 10 coalition airstrikes on transportation routes (both sea and air routes), four road supply routes and five storage facilities for holding food aid (including two vehicles carrying aid and three warehouses and facilities storing food), along with airstrikes on an Oxfam warehouse storing equipment for a water project funded by the European Union in Sana’a. The panel also documented three coalition attacks on local food and agricultural production sites.”
So let's see if we've got this straight. Over the course of 119 discrete sorties, Saudi Arabi bombed refugee camps, weddings, civilian cars, buses, people's homes, hospitals, schools, mosques, residential neighborhoods, an Oxfam warehouse, treated "entire cities as military targets," and chased after fleeing civilians with attack helicopters.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but that's laughably bad - it's just about the most egregious account of human rights abuses one could possibly imagine.
"Human rights groups and the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn – who described the leaked report as disturbing – called for an immediate inquiry and a suspension of arms sales to Saudi pending its outcome," The Guardian notes, adding that "UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia totalled £2.95bn for the first nine months of 2015, and about £7bn since Cameron took office, including a contract for 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets."
Of course it's not just Britain arming the Saudis.
In December, the US State Department approved $1.29 billion in arms sals to Riyadh including 13,000 precision guided weapons.
According to the kingdom, those weapons will help the Saudis avoid collateral damage. "We used precision bombs in the beginning, but the stocks dwindled and we got no resupply," NPR quotes a Saudi businessman with links to the royal family as saying. "We know we have a problem, but we must prosecute the war."
"You can imagine them saying to everybody that is criticizing them, 'Look, if we have better weapons, there will be less casualties,' " Ford M. Fraker, president of the Middle East Policy Council and a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said last month. "I think that is probably correct, but I think the whole issue of [collateral damage] is not one you are going to eradicate."
No it isn't. Especially not when the Saudis are shooting at civilians.