UN rights chief seeks international probe of Yemen violence

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GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. human rights chief on Thursday called for an international investigation of rights abuses and violence in Yemen's civil war which has killed thousands of people, insisting that a domestic panel set up to look into violations has not been up to the task.

The call from Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein came as his Geneva office released a 22-page report chronicling abuses on both sides in the conflict, which pits the internationally recognized Yemeni government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, against Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, and their allies.

In a statement, Zeid's office said he "called on the international community to establish an international, independent body to carry out comprehensive investigations in Yemen," noting in particular "challenges" faced by the national panel set up under President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi — notably, security concerns.

Mohammad Ali Alnsour, who heads the Middle East and North Africa section of the U.N. Human Rights office, said a recent report by the national panel focused on alleged violations by the Houthis, and said a "more objective, more comprehensive" report of rights violations by all sides was needed.

"Unfortunately, the humanitarian situation in Yemen is very bad," he told reporters.

Zeid, who is also a member of the Jordanian royal family, did not specify who would set up the international body, but he is expected to present the report's findings to the U.N. Human Rights Council at its session next month.

Last year, the council passed a resolution — brought by Saudi Arabia and its allies — that deferred to national investigators to report on rights abuses.

The Houthis and forces allied to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh seized Yemen's capital, Sanaa, in September 2014, forcing the internationally recognized government to flee the country. A Saudi-led coalition launched an air campaign against the Houthis in March 2015, pushing them out of southern Yemen, but has failed so far to dislodge them from Sanaa and the rest of the north.

Zeid's office says an estimated 3,799 civilians have been killed since the air campaign by the U.S.-backed coalition began. The U.N. and rights groups estimate at least 9,000 people overall have died. Some 3 million people have also been displaced inside the Arab world's poorest country.

According to the report, airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition were responsible for 60 percent of the 2,067 civilians killed in the conflict over a year-long span starting on July 1, 2015. Just under one-quarter — 475 — civilian deaths were attributed to rebel forces like those loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and another 113 to affiliates of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.

Saudi Arabia lobbied hard to weigh in on language included in a draft of the U.N. report before its release, and Yemen's foreign minister recently traveled to Geneva to press the government's case to diplomats.

Faisal Bin Hassan Trad, the Saudi ambassador in Geneva, provided to The Associated Press an 18-page rebuttal to the draft sent to the U.N. offices earlier this month, which detailed measures by the coalition such as dropping leaflets warning of military action and use of precision-guided munitions. That was aimed to show the coalition has taken to ensure that civilians and medical facilities were not targeted.

Thursday's report by the U.N. rights office also denounced the recruitment of child fighters in Yemen, civilian casualties linked to suspected U.S. drone strikes that target al-Qaida's local branch, attacks on human rights defenders and a crackdown on freedom of expression.

Last week, the aid group Doctors Without Borders announced a pullout from northern Yemen following an airstrike against a hospital it supported there — the fourth such deadly attack on one of its medical facilities in the war.

U.N.-mediated peace talks in Kuwait between the warring Yemeni sides were suspended earlier this month with no signs of progress.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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