Saudis back int'l probe of Yemen crimes, question 'timing'

GENEVA — Saudi Arabia's ambassador in Geneva said Wednesday the kingdom would not oppose a resolution at the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council seeking an independent, international investigation of rights violations and crimes in war-torn Yemen, but raised questions about "timing."

Abdulaziz Al-Wasil's comments came as a Saudi-led coalition that has used blistering airpower to support Yemen's internationally recognized government has been battling Shiite rebels known as Houthis over the last 2 1/2 years. The war, which intensified in March 2015, has caused over 10,000 deaths, fomented a cholera epidemic, and put the country on the brink of famine in what the U.N. calls the world's greatest humanitarian disaster.

Yemen's crisis is shaping up as one of the key issues of debate at the 47-member council's three-week session that began on Monday. Saudi Arabia and Arab allies have thwarted past efforts at the council to create an international investigation, and they were expected to detail their own proposed resolution on Yemen this week.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands, which has strived in vain to establish an international investigation at past council sessions, was renewing its efforts — this time with new support from Canada. Those countries laid out their draft resolution Wednesday seeking the creation of a three-person international Commission of Inquiry in Yemen.

"We have no objection (to) the inquiry itself, we just have a discussion about the timing," al-Wasil said. "Whether this is the right time to establish an international commission with the difficulties on the ground, and we knew in advance that they will face tremendous obstacles in terms of access."

Al-Wasil said his country would seek "compromise," but suggested an inquiry should center upon Yemeni nationals. "It's always easier for them basically to try to understand the dynamics of their country, and also they have connections to go to different regions," he said.

The Arab countries have previously gained council support for a current human rights investigation under the internationally recognized Yemeni government, but alleged crimes in rebel-controlled areas are generally beyond its investigators' reach.

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting the deaths of 26 children killed in five airstrikes since June, saying the Saudi-led coalition is waging an air campaign against the Houthi in the north in what amounts to war crimes.

Airstrikes by the U.S.-backed coalition in the past two years have targeted civilian gatherings at weddings, funerals, hospitals, markets and houses. Over 10,000 people have been killed and three million others displaced as the conflict coupled with a naval and air blockade has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.

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