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UN rights council seeks greater monitoring of Yemen abuses

Associated Press Associated Press 29/09/2016 By JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press

GENEVA — The United Nations Human Rights Council has passed a resolution calling for greater U.N. monitoring of rights abuses in war-torn Yemen, while shrugging off calls from the U.N. human rights chief and others for an independent investigation of abuses.

The 47-member Geneva council approved by consensus the resolution backed by Arab states, which contained some late revisions on Thursday that calls for U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein's office to deploy more staffers to Yemen to investigate abuses and "coordinate" with a national Yemen rights panel that has been criticized for inadequate and one-sided conclusions.

The revisions came only after the European Union floated a rival text seeking greater U.N. oversight. That EU text was subsequently dropped, paving the way for the consensus vote. The resolution that passed is expected to free up over $1 million for the larger U.N. role in Yemen, diplomats said.

John Fisher, head of the Geneva office of Human Rights Watch, said the vote marked a "significant step forward in recognizing the seriousness of the human rights and humanitarian situation in Yemen." The council, marking its 10-year anniversary this year, has repeatedly come under criticism for its alleged ineffectiveness, and Fisher acknowledged its credibility was on the line with the Yemen resolution.

"While it doesn't go so far as we would have liked in creating a full-fledged international commission of inquiry, nonetheless does provide the high commissioner with the tools he needs to provide the scrutiny that is required," Fisher said in an interview. He noted that the resolution also calls on U.N. rights officials to report back to the council at its next session in March.

The resolution stopped short of launching an independent inquiry which could also investigate the Saudi-led military coalition whose airstrikes have led to the deaths of hundreds of Yemeni civilians.

Saudi Ambassador Faisal Bin Hassan Trad called the consensus resolution a vote of confidence in the Yemeni government.

"It's a political message in fact, to support the government against those who made the coup in Sanaa," he said in a phone interview. "They have given the government of Yemen a very political support: 'We still trust you, we still believe you can work to continue your work to protect human rights in Yemen.' "

Trad said that the deployment of U.N. rights experts to provide technical assistance and capacity-building to the domestic investigative body, the Yemeni National Commission, "would indeed enhance the work of this commission to conclude its investigatory work."

This marks the second time in a year that Saudi Arabia and its allies have succeeded in watering down or blocking attempts to have the council authorize an international investigation that U.N. human rights chief Zeid has sought. The EU has faced discord on the issue, and powers like Britain, France and the United States have provided weaponry and support to the Saudi-led forces.

U.S. Ambassador to the council Keith Harper called the resolution "much stronger" than another Arab-led one last year, saying Thursday's resolution has "a more substantial reporting mandate and a credible international component that will aid in determining the facts in human rights violations and abuses."

Zeid, a Jordanian prince who goes mostly by his first name, last month called for an international investigation of rights abuses and violence in Yemen as his office released a 22-page report that chronicled abuses on both sides in the conflict.

Violence in an ongoing war in Yemen accelerated in March last year, when the air campaign began. Roughly 3,799 civilians have been killed since then, according to Zeid's report. The U.N. and rights groups estimated at least 9,000 people overall have died. Nearly 3 million more people have also been displaced inside the Arab world's poorest country.

According to the report, coalition airstrikes were responsible for 60 percent of civilian deaths over a year-long span starting in July last year. 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.

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