The French media have confirmed that a complaint has been filed against the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi accusing him of torture and enforced disappearances in the ongoing war in Yemen.
The charges against Mohammed Bin Zayed have been made by the International Coalition for the Defence of Rights and Freedoms and six Yemenis who have demonstrated that they were subjected to torture and violence in UAE-run prisons.
Given his overriding military authority, the Bin Zayed, it is alleged, is "complicit in acts of torture" in Yemen. The French courts operate with "universal jurisdiction" and thus have the capacity to prosecute and convict the perpetrators of such crimes and their accomplices if they are on French territory.
Le Monde confirmed that complaints made in civil proceedings can trigger a judicial investigation. However, the question of diplomatic immunity for the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto ruler of the UAE is still under discussion and will be decided by the investigating judge.
"My clients are satisfied with this opening-up and have high hopes for French justice," said Joseph Barham, the lawyer acting for the plaintiffs. "In particular, they denounce acts of torture committed in detention centres supervised by the armed forces of the UAE."
The French newspaper reported that one of the victims explained that he had been imprisoned while working for the release of Yemenis detained by UAE forces. He was put in a large barrel-like "hole" for forty-eight hours, and his feet and hands were tied up with wire, before he was "stripped naked and suspended from the ceiling for several hours." He was also, it is alleged, subjected to electric shocks and being burnt with lit cigarettes.
According to lawyers involved, the case is built upon the UN Convention against Torture. Indeed, the complaint against Bin Zayed is based on a report prepared by UN experts indicating that attacks by the Saudi-UAE coalition in Yemen may constitute war crimes and that torture took place in two centres controlled by Emirati forces.
The Geneva-based organisation SAM for Rights and Freedoms welcomed the opening of the French investigation against the Crown Prince. "The decision to proceed sends clear and strong messages to all parties who have committed human rights violations in Yemen," it said in a Press Release. "We encourage all victims to overcome their fears and submit similar cases."
Human rights organisations and activists have documented cruel and horrific violations committed by the UAE, UAE-supported and UAE-supervised forces in southern Yemen between 2017 and 2020. The crimes include forced disappearances, torture and sexual abuse.