Yemen Atrocity Sparks Call For War Crimes Investigation Of Saudi Officials In U.S. And U.K.
One of the deadliest incidents of the Yemen War is coming back to cause trouble for the Saudi authorities, with a call for war crimes investigations in the U.S. and U.K. launched today.
Lawyers representing relatives of Muhammad Ali Al Rowaishan, who was killed in a devastating air strike in late 2016, have submitted a complaint to the U.K. Metropolitan Police (the Met) and the U.S. Department of Justice, asking them both to investigate the alleged crimes.
If the American and British authorities accept the need for an investigation, a number of senior Saudi officials could be at risk of arrest and questioning if they travel to either country.
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The incident in question took place on October 8 2016, when a funeral in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, was hit by an airstrike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition. An estimated 137 civilians were killed and up to 695 others were injured in the strike.
It is the second highest death toll from a single incident during the four-and-a-half-year air campaign by the coalition, only exceeded by the 206 people killed on August 31 this year in an air raid on a community college which was being used as a detention facility. The Saudi war effort continues to be supported by the U.S. and U.K. governments.
The request for an investigation has been made on behalf of Rowaishan’s uncle Nabeel Gubari (a U.K. national) and two of Rowaishan’s brothers: Abdulla Alrowashan (a U.S. citizen) and Khalid Ali Saleh Al Ruwayshan (a Yemeni citizen).
“They bombed a funeral. There is no excuse that can be given for what they did,” said Gubari. “We are angry and have suffered helplessly for too long. I really hope that the UK and US police take this seriously and do something about it. Too many innocent people have died for no reason and we deserve justice.”
Lawyers have submitted evidence and a list of suspects to the Met’s Counter Terror Command and to the D.O.J. for investigation. According to the lawyers, the suspects include those “at the highest level who were in charge of the operation and who bear the greatest responsibility.”
For now, the names of those being targeted has not been released. “This has to remain confidential,” said a spokeswoman. “We will be able to reveal the names eventually, but we do not want their names revealed to stop them from travelling and thus not being prosecuted.”
It is the first criminal complaint to be filed in the U.S. or the U.K. in respect of the attack. However, it is not the first time the principle of universal jurisdiction has been used to target Saudi figures. In November last year, lawyers in Argentina threatened to use it against crown prince Mohammed bin Salman for his involvement in the Yemen war and his alleged involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Like Argentina, the U.K. and the U.S. both claim universal jurisdiction for a small number of serious offences, allowing anyone accused of such crimes anywhere in the world to be brought to justice in British and American courts. Offences covered include war crimes and torture. The most high-profile case in the UK to date involved Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was arrested in London in October 1998 for human rights violations, following a request from a Spanish magistrate.
After a high-profile legal battle, Pinochet was released on health grounds in 2000, but he was later indicted by the Chilean authorities after he returned home. He died in 2006 before the legal proceedings against him had concluded.
Saudi Arabia has previously admitted that it carried out the bombing of the 2016 funeral, but blamed false information it had received which had indicated there was a gathering of armed Houthi leaders. At the time a statement from the Saudi-led coalition’s Joint Incidents Assessment Team played down the consequences, only saying the strike “resulted in several deaths and injuries” and calling for compensation to be paid to the families of the victims.
“There is cogent evidence that the Saudi officials who planned and carried out the attack on the community hall where the funeral was being held should be investigated for committing war crimes and torture,” said Rodney Dixon QC of Temple Garden Chambers, who is working on the case. “We need to use all legal avenues that are available to try and bring the families of those innocent people who were killed on that day some semblance of justice.”
The October 2016 funeral was for Ali al-Rawishan, father of the rebel Houthi government’s interior minister Galal al-Rawishan. Muhammad Al Rowaishan was one of around 30 family members there on the day of the funeral.
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