Beating back resistance from Saudi Arabia, the U.N. Human Rights Council broke its stalemate on Friday when it agreed to send investigators to Yemen to look into Saudi’s role in civilian deaths there. Accused of war crimes by several rights groups for its targeting of schools, markets, and hospitals, Saudi Arabia earlier in the week tried to deflect criticism by announcing that it would allow women to drive by June of 2018.
The resolution, which Agence France-Presse reported was adopted by consensus, allows U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein to send a team to Yemen to “carry out a comprehensive examination of all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights” that have taken place in the conflict, which started in 2015.
With support from the United States, Saudi Arabia managed to block calls for similar investigations in 2015 and again in 2016, when it threatened to withdraw funding from a number of United Nations programs. Two weeks ago, it again objected to an investigation, saying that “the timing” wasn’t right. Rights groups disagreed, with Akshaya Kumar, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for the United Nations telling ThinkProgress at the time: “We are way overdue on this … the evidence will be lost, the prospect of victims of being able to eventually secure justice is going to decrease dramatically.”
A controversial member of the U.N. Human Rights Council on account of its numerous rights violations against women, Shia Muslims, foreign workers, and members of any political opposition, Saudi Arabia had in years past tried to placate critics with inquiries carried out by either the Yemeni government or the Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT) made up of a coalition of Gulf Arab countries sympathetic to Saudi. Neither the Yemeni inquiry nor JIAT had found Saudi responsible for any wrongdoing in Yemen, clearing it deadly strikes on schools, clinics and homes.
The Saudi-led coalition responsible for carrying out nearly 6,000 airstrikes so far this year is backed by the United States and has been supporting the government of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi in his fight against Houthi rebels, backed by Iran.
Roughly 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and according to the United Nations, 5,144 of them were civilians. The war has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine, with over 17 million facing severe food shortages. It has also and triggered a cholera outbreak that has infected more than 600,000 and killed more than 2,000.