UNHRC Response to Saudi Killing of Nearly 1,900 Civilians in Yemen
With its standing agenda item on Israel, one-sided reports, biased mandates, the UN Human Rights Council in its 10 years of operation has condemned Israel more times that the rest of the world combined.
Thus, while the 47-nation body convened an emergency session into Israel’s response to Hamas rockets last summer, condemned Israel for alleged war crimes in at least two separate resolutions while giving Hamas a free pass, and created a massive commission of inquiry headed by a paid PLO legal adviser, it has done absolutely nothing in response to the Saudi bombardment of Yemen and killing of civilians.
However, the latest statement on Yemen by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which as part of the Secretariat is supposed to be non-political and respect the “highest standards of integrity” (UN Charter, Art. 101), illustrates that the UN’s civil service fails its professional obligations, and follows the line of the politicized Council.
If anything, the moral and legal case for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen is far weaker than Israel’s case for responding to Hamas in Gaza.
First, Israel can claim self-defense in responding to a barrage of thousands of rockets that targeted its cities. In the case of Yemen, Saudi Arabia is waging a military campaign without its own territory being attacked, acting instead for broader geopolitical interests.
Second, Gaza saw, according to UN tabulations relying on Hamas health ministry figures, 1,483 civilians killed. In Yemen, the figures are more than 30 percent higher: 1,916 civilians killed so far.
Inexplicably, however, the UN’s response was dramatically harsher on the case having the least casualties and the legally and morally stronger basis for action.
Let us contrast a statement on Gaza issued by then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in July 2014, with a statement on Yemen delivered yesterday by the High Commissioner’s spokesperson.
1. Alleging war crimes
On Gaza: Pillay’s statement alluded to the strong possibility that Israel was responsible for war crimes:
“However, we have received deeply disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes. Such reports raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”
On Yemen: The Yemen statement omits any mention of international law, war crimes or violations.
2. Attribution of responsibilities to the parties
On Gaza: High Commissioner Pillay made a direct demand to Israel:
“For its part, the Government of Israel must take all possible measures to ensure full respect for the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack, during the conduct of hostilities, as required by international humanitarian law. In all circumstances, they must avoid targeting civilians.”
On Yemen: No demands made on, or even any mention of, the major warring parties of Iran and Saudi Arabia.
3. Call for investigations, reparations
On Gaza: Although in the third day into the conflict in Gaza, the OHCHR statement spoke about international law violations and called for investigations, justice and reparations for the victims:
“Every alleged breach of international law must be promptly, independently, thoroughly and effectively investigated, with a view to ensuring justice and reparations for the victims.”
On Yemen: There is no such reference anywhere in the statement on Yemen.
In conclusion, it is clear that the UN’s human rights office employs one kind of language, content and tone when dealing with Israel, and another set entirely with other comparable or even more intense situations. This not only damages the credibility of the office, but more importantly harms the cause of victims around the world.