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Renewed push at UN for Yemen war probe

© AFP / by Nina LARSON | Yemen pro-government forces trained by the United Arab Emirates and backed by the US ousted Al=Qaeda fighters from the oil-rich Shabwa province

GENEVA (AFP) - 

Diplomats and rights advocates gathered at the UN Wednesday to launch a new push for an international investigation into rights violations in war-ravaged Yemen, after two previous attempts failed amid Saudi pressure.

The Netherlands and Canada are spearheading the new bid to push a resolution through the UN Human Rights Council this month on creating an International Commission of Inquiry -- the UN's highest-level probe -- to investigate abuses in Yemen.

United Nations rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has repeatedly urged the UN's top rights body to order such a probe into the situation in the country, where a brutal civil war has killed more than 8,400 people since April 2015.

"We have always strongly supported the call from the High Commissioner for the establishment of an international investigation with a clear mandate," Dutch representative Rochus Pronk told a conference at the UN in Geneva, presenting the case for a strong resolution.

- Disaster of epic proportions -

The bid has support from a range of rights advocates who described the horrors unfolding in Yemen, where more than two years of war between the Saudi-backed government and Shiite rebels has created the world's largest humanitarian crisis, according to the UN.

"Yemen is a humanitarian disaster of really epic proportions," Human Rights Watch chief Kenneth Roth told the gathering.

"What is striking to me is the incongruity between the severity of the disaster and the weakness of the response by the UN Human Rights Council" so far, he said.

Georgette Gagnon, who heads field operations at the UN rights office, agreed.

"The reticence of the international community in demanding justice for the victims of the conflict is shameful and in many ways contributing to the continuing horror," she said.

But it remains far from clear if the UN rights body will heed the calls to set up an international probe

- Saudi opposition softening? -

This marks the third year in a row that the Netherlands has attempted to drum up support for such a text.

On both previous occasions, the texts were withdrawn before a vote, after the European backers reached a compromise with Arab states presenting far milder texts instead bolstering Yemen's own National Commission on the conflict.

Rights groups have described that commission as feckless, one-sided, and lacking the expertise needed to conduct a credible inquiry.

The previous compromises on the previous resolutions came about amid heavy pressure from Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Ambassador Abdulaziz Alwasil hinted Wednesday that his country's opposition to an international probe may have weakened.

"We have no objection at all to having an independent inquiry. We just have a different opinion on when and how," he told AFP.

"I believe the national commission needs assistance from international experts," he said, but he seemed to shy away from the idea of a fully independent international investigation.

But he voiced hope that a new compromise could be found with the Arab states, who are once again preparing their own resolution to present to the council.

"I think we do have an agreement on the need to have a mechanism of investigation... and the necessity to track all violators and to bring them to justice," he said.

"I think it is possible to reach a compromise."

Pronk also voiced the desire to "engage constructively", and said a compromise would be possible "if there is willingness on the other side to establish an international, independent investigation."

by Nina LARSON

© 2017 AFP