Saudi Arabia used “incentives and threats” as part of a pressure campaign to close the United Nations investigation into human rights violations committed by all parties to the Yemeni conflict, according to sources with close knowledge of the matter.
The Guardian reported that Saudi efforts ultimately succeeded when the United Nations Human Rights Council voted against extending the independent investigation into war crimes in October. The vote represents the first defeat of a resolution in the 15-year history of the Geneva Commission.
In an interview with the newspaper, political officials, diplomatic sources and activists with internal knowledge of the pressure efforts described a hidden campaign in which the Saudis seem to have influenced the officials in order to ensure the defeat of this measure.
In one case, Riyadh allegedly warned Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim country – that it would create obstacles for Indonesians to travel to Mecca if officials did not vote against the October 7 resolution.
In another case, the African country of Togo announced at the time of the vote that it would open a new embassy in Riyadh and would receive financial support from the Kingdom to support counter-terrorism activities.
Indonesia and Togo abstained from voting on the Yemen resolution in 2020. This year, both voted against the measure.
The resolution was rejected by a majority of 21 to 18, with seven countries abstaining. In 2020, the resolution was passed by 22 votes to 12, with 12 abstentions.
“It was a very difficult vote,” said John Fisher, director of Human Rights Watch in Geneva. We understand that Saudi Arabia and its allies in the coalition and Yemen have been working at a high level for some time to persuade states in capitals, through a combination of threats and incentives, to support their efforts to end the mandate of this international monitoring mechanism.
“The loss of the mandate is a severe blow to accountability in Yemen and to the credibility of the Human Rights Council as a whole. The defeat of a state by a party to the conflict for no other reason than to evade scrutiny of international crimes is a farce.”
The Human Rights Council voted for the first time to establish a panel of experts investigating potential violations of humanitarian law and human rights in Yemen in 2017.
Yemen’s civil war intensified in 2015 after a Saudi-led coalition, using weapons purchased in the US and UK, on behalf of the internationally recognized Yemeni government, intervened against the Houthi rebels.
According to activist groups, more than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and 4 million people have been displaced.
One of the people who closely followed the expert reports – known as the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen – had increased “conviction” over the years.
In 2020, the International News Organization recommended for the first time that the international community focus its attention on accountability for possible war crimes. It contained five recommendations, including referring the matter to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court by the UN Security Council.
One of the people who followed the matter said: “I think this was the starting moment when the Saudi coalition realized that this was going too far.”