Houthi rebels on Thursday claimed that a strike by the Saudi Arabian-led coalition killed 26 civilians — 22 children and four women — who were fleeing another attack on Ad Durayhimi, about 12 miles from the city of Hodeidah in Yemen.
According to CNN, four people were killed in the earlier strike, which is why the women and children were evacuating their homes. “They wanted to save their lives, their children’s lives. Is nowhere safe for us?” a survivor told the network.
Via its state news agency, the United Arab Emirates, which is a Saudi ally in its intervention in Yemen’s bitter civil war, disputed the Houthi account, saying the rebels killed a child when they launched a ballistic missile.
The Saudi-led coalition — which enjoys the support of the U.S. via weapons sales, intelligence and refueling operations — earlier this month struck a school bus at a market, killing 40 children, who were buried in a mass funeral on Aug. 13.
That same day, President Donald Trump used his signing authority to override a provision in the National Defense Authorization Bill, removing even the weak attempts at protecting to civilians. For instance, one of the approximately 50 statutes he did away with required that, prior to authorizing the refueling of the Saudi coalition planes, the secretary of State certify that the coalition is minimizing harm to civilians.
The bomb used in that strike was manufactured by U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin and sold to Saudi Arabia under a deal approved by the U.S. State Department.
The U.S. supported Saudi Arabia’s mission in Yemen under President Barack Obama, but under President Trump that relationship has strengthened as Trump increasingly relies on Saudi Arabia to try and keep Iran in check as a regional power.
The attack on the school bus, however, was too egregious to be ignored, with the U.N. Security Council calling for a credible investigation in to the strike, which Saudi Arabia maintained was “legitimate.”
The State Department said only that it is “concerned,” while the Pentagon called on Saudi Arabia to investigate itself on what rights groups say is yet another in the list of the coalition’s war crimes in Yemen.
On Friday, Human Rights Watch released a new report on the futility of asking Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners — the U.A.E., Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, and Qatar — to investigate their own actions.
“Despite mounting evidence of violations of international law by the parties to the conflict, efforts toward accountability have been woefully inadequate,” said the report.
Looking at how the coalition’s investigating mechanism (known as the Joint Incidents Assessment Team, or JIAT) has carried out investigations — which absolves participating countries of any wrongdoing in all but two incidents — HRW noted that over the past two years:
JIAT has failed to meet international standards regarding transparency, impartiality, and independence. Established in the wake of mounting evidence of coalition violations, the body has failed even in its limited mandate to assess “claims and accidents” that occurred during coalition military operations. JIAT … appears to have regularly failed to conduct a thorough laws-of-war analysis in its investigations and produced flawed and dubious conclusions.
Additionally, JIAT has only investigated airstrikes, and no other alleged violations, such as the abuse of prisoners.
The United Nations Human Rights Council voted to investigate Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen, where the Gulf Arab kingdom has been leading a coalition in siding with the government against Houthi rebels since 2015.
Its involvement in the civil war, primarily through thousands of airstrikes, has lead to over 10,000 deaths, half of those being civilian, and has triggered two deadly cholera outbreaks (with a third one feared), and has pushed the country onto the brink of famine.