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War crimes, invasion and the Human Rights Council

The United Nations General Assembly votes on a resolution to establish the UN Human Rights Council, 15 March, 2006, at UN headquarters in New York. [STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images]
The United Nations General Assembly votes on a resolution to establish the UN Human Rights Council, 15 March, 2006, at UN headquarters in New York. [STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images]

On Thursday 7 October, I received a call from the representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) Middle East office seeking more assistance to alleviate the sufferings of Yemeni people who are gripped by the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

After six years of an entirely man-made conflict, the UN refugee agency estimates that over 20 million people in Yemen are in need of urgent help. More than 66 per cent of the population depend on humanitarian aid to survive. COVID-19 is just another issue on top of existing crises.

It is a mere coincidence that on the same evening, some countries united in defeating a resolution put forward by the Netherlands in the 47-member UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meeting to give the independent investigators another two years to monitor atrocities in Yemen. It was the first time that a UNHRC resolution had been defeated in the 15-year-old history of the UN body.

Bahrain, Russia and other members of the Council pushed through a vote to shut down the body's war crimes investigations, in a stinging defeat for Western nations who wanted to keep the mission going.

In the vote called by Bahrain, 21 countries including China, Cuba, India, Pakistan, Russia, Venezuela and Uzbekistan voted against the resolution while 18 nations, including Britain, France and Germany, voted to support it. The United States couldn't vote as it has observer status. There were seven abstentions and Ukraine's delegation was absent.

The independent investigators have said in the past that potential war crimes have been committed in Yemen by all sides in the conflict that has pitted a Saudi-led coalition against Iran-backed Houthis.

The UNHRC agreed to send a "Group of Eminent Experts" (GEE) to Yemen in 2017 to probe into the war crimes nearly two years after the coalition forces launched a military offensive in support of UN-recognised President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who was toppled by the Houthis.

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The UNHRC renewed the mandate of the GEE in its resolutions subsequently in 2018, 2019 and 2020. In its fourth report released on 8 September 2021, GEE presented its findings on serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law committed by the parties to the conflict in Yemen. The report titled "A nation abandoned: A call to humanity to end Yemen's suffering" covers the period from July 2020 to June 2021.

The 7 October vote has effectively ended Council's reporting mandate on Yemen. As Human Rights Watch said, it is "a stain on the credibility of the Council and a slap in the face to victims."

After defeating the resolution on Yemen, the Council easily passed another resolution, on the same day, to "create a new special rapporteur on Afghanistan to probe violations carried out by the Taliban" and other parties.

This resolution brought by the European Union received the support from 28 countries, majority of them Western nations while five, including China, Pakistan, Russia, Eritrea and Venezuela opposed the motion.

Except Eritrea, all other four countries who opposed the resolution at least stick to their stand, whether right or wrong, in opposing all forms of war crime probes. But many other countries, including Bahrain and India, showed their double standard by opposing or abstaining from the war crime probe in Yemen but vigorously played their role to put the Taliban in the dock.

For them, 'Taliban atrocities' are more serious than the war crimes committed in Yemen by the region's powerhouses. For the Taliban, they were fighting against foreign invasion for two decades. Along with the Taliban, US and NATO forces should also come under any probe on atrocities committed against the people of Afghanistan.

This type of hypocrisy is more visible when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict.The majority of Western nations are biased in favour of Israel in spite of its unparalleled war crimes against the occupied Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The latest is the UNHRC vote to investigate Israel's fierce war against Gazan people in May that killed 242 Palestinians including 66 children and 38 women. Though the UN body approved a resolution brought by a group of Islamic countries, with 24 yes votes, nine countries, including several Western nations, voted against it, in a bid to protect Israel.

Everyone knows Israel is an invader. There are numerous UN resolutions calling for Israel's withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian lands. Even after more than half a century of invasion, Western nations fail to force the occupier to adhere to the UN resolutions.

Besides Palestine, Israel invaded Syria's Golan Heights in the 1967 war and annexed it unilaterally in 1981 by applying Israeli law to the region. In 1967 UN Security Council adopted Resolution 242 and in 1981 Resolution 497 that rejected the Israeli occupation and annexation respectively.

But on 25 March 2019, US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation officially recognising Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights. Trump's controversial relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018 was another move that defies the UN resolutions regarding the occupation.

Till this day we haven't seen Western nations criticising this illegal action by the US or seeking UN intervention to reverse Washington's actions.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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