UN blames Saudi-led forces for most Yemen deaths

The Huthis are allied with elite troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

AFP| Updated: Mar 19, 2016, 00:43 AM IST

Sanaa: The Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen for one year has caused the vast majority of civilian deaths in the conflict, the UN rights chief said on Friday, warning international crimes may have been committed.

During its campaign against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen there have been repeated criticisms that coalition air strikes have not done enough to avoid non-military targets.

Rights groups have also raised concerns about civilian casualties caused by the Huthi rebels, but United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said the coalition bore the greatest responsibility.

"Looking at the figures, it would seem that the coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together, virtually all as a result of air strikes," Zeid said in a statement.

"We are possibly looking at the commission of international crimes by members of the coalition."

His office said it had tallied just under 9,000 civilian casualties, including 3,218 killed, since the coalition on March 26 last year intervened to support President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi after rebels seized large parts of Yemen including the capital Sanaa.

The Huthis are allied with elite troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Zeid voiced particular alarm at two air strikes on a market this week in northern Yemen's rebel-held Hajja province.

The UN children's agency yesterday put the death toll from those strikes at 119, and Zeid's office said today that 106 of those killed in the crowded market were civilians, including 24 children.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon demanded an investigation into the incident, one of the deadliest yet in the war.

During an exclusive interview on Wednesday the coalition spokesman, Brigadier General Ahmed al-Assiri, told AFP the strikes targeted "a militia gathering", the term he uses to describe Huthis.

Assiri said an independent panel was being formed nationally to examine charges of possible abuses against civilians in the war.

The alliance says it does not aim at civilians, and that targeting is verified many times to ensure non-combatants will not be killed.

Zeid's office condemned "the repeated failure of the coalition forces to take effective actions to prevent the recurrence of such incidents, and to publish transparent, independent investigations into those that have already occurred."