UN experts say Saudi coalition violated international humanitarian law in Yemen attack

The UN Ministry of Health estimated 114 were killed and 613 injured in an attack on a funeral in Sanaa on October 8

Edith M. Lederer
Friday 21 October 2016 07:32
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A community hall that was struck by an air strike during a funeral on October 8, in Sanaa, Yemen
A community hall that was struck by an air strike during a funeral on October 8, in Sanaa, Yemen

UN experts investigating the double bombing of a packed funeral hall in the rebel-held Yemeni capital on Oct. 8 are accusing the Saudi-led coalition of violating international humanitarian law by attacking civilians, the wounded, and medical personnel.

The UN humanitarian coordinator cited initial reports saying over 140 people were killed and more than 525 injured in the attacks. The Ministry of Health has estimated 114 dead and 613 injured.

The panel of experts said the first bomb hit the Al-Sala Al-Kubra hall in Sanaa, which was packed with at least 750 adults and children including leaders of the Shiite Houthi rebels mourning the father of the acting interior minister. The second bomb was dropped three to eight minutes later when civilians and medical personnel were trying to help casualties from the first attack.

The Saudi-led coalition, which is backed by the US, has been targeting Houthi leaders since March 2015 when it intervened in Yemen's civil war in support of the internationally recognised government.

The experts' report, obtained Thursday by the Associated Press, said preliminary information indicates that “the attack resulted in a disproportionately higher numbers of civilian casualties, when compared to military casualties, and that this could have been anticipated prior to the attack.”

International humanitarian law prohibits attacks that may cause incidental civilian deaths and injuries or damage to civilian buildings, and requires any party planning an attack to first assess its “proportionality,” the report said.

The experts' report, to the head of the UN Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against the Houthi Shiite rebels, said the panel was unaware of any measures taken by the coalition to make such an assessment - or to prevent death and injury to civilians and damage to civilian buildings.

The panel said it “remains unconvinced” that the requirements under international law were met but it will continue to investigate.

But it said the second air strike “almost certainly resulted in more casualties to the already wounded and the first responders,” a practice prohibited under international humanitarian law.

“The panel thus finds, in respect of the second air strike, that the Saudi Arabia-led coalition violated its obligations” not to attack those unable to fight, the wounded and medical personnel, “and did not take effective precautionary measures to minimize harm to civilians, including the first responders,” the report said.

The coalition's Joint Incidents Assessment Team last Saturday blamed “wrong information” for the bombing. It said a “party” affiliated to Yemen's General Chief of Staff headquarters had provided intelligence that the hall was filled with Houthi leaders and was “a legitimate military target.”

The experts recommended that the head of the UN sanctions committee ask coalition members to stop using “the 'double-tap' attack tactic during air strikes,” in which a first bomb is quickly followed by a second, “as this nearly always leads to fatalities and injuries to first responders.”

They also said Saudi Arabia should be asked to cooperate and share data with the panel.

Associated Press

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