A rights organization has called on the International Criminal Court to investigate allegations of war crimes in Yemen by the United Arab Emirates, the group’s lawyer said on Monday.
The Arab Organization for Human Rights in the U.K. accuses the U.A.E. government, part of a Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen, of “indiscriminate attacks against civilians,” lawyer Joseph Breham said.
The London-based AOHR further charges that the U.A.E. has used banned cluster bombs and hired mercenaries to carry out torture and executions.
ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda will have to decide whether or not to open a preliminary probe.
Yemen and the U.A.E. are not signatories to the Rome Statute, which underpins the court in The Hague, so Bensouda would only have jurisdiction if nationals from another country were involved. “Our complaint targets acts perpetrated on Yemeni territory by the United Arab Emirates which does not recognize the ICC,” said Paris-based Breham. But he added: “The perpetrators of these crimes are mercenaries employed by the Emirates and coming from Colombia, Panama, El Salvador, South Africa or Australia—countries that recognize the ICC.”
It would therefore be possible for the court to launch an investigation, Breham said, accusing Emirati forces of “airstrikes targeting civilian homes, hospitals and schools.”
Since the court opened in 2002, the prosecutor’s office has received about 10,000 requests from individuals, groups or countries to investigate alleged crimes. This year alone, activists from Mexico, Venezuela, the Philippines and the Palestinian territories have all sought to secure or broaden ICC probes.
There are currently 10 preliminary ICC examinations and 11 full investigations under way. Most existing probes have so far focused on African nations.
The AOHR accuses Emirati forces of using mercenaries to torture prisoners in Yemeni government-held jails and carrying out executions.
In June, Human Rights Watch accused the U.A.E. of running at least two “informal detention facilities” in Yemen and said it had reportedly transferred detainees to a base in Eritrea. The U.A.E. rejected the allegations as “totally unfounded,” saying its forces “respect international conventions on armed conflicts.”
The U.A.E. has been supporting Riyadh-backed Yemeni government forces since March 2015 in their conflict against the rebels, who are backed by Saudi Arabia’s regional arch-rival Iran.
The U.N.’s Human Rights Council agreed in September to send war crimes investigators to Yemen, overcoming resistance from Saudi Arabia, which fought to head off an independent international probe.
The U.A.E. has played a key role in the Saudi-led campaign, which was launched in March 2015 to roll back gains by Houthi rebels, who had taken the capital Sanaa and other northern and central areas of one of the Arab world’s poorest nations.
U.N. officials say Yemen could face the world’s largest famine in decades unless the Saudi-led coalition’s crippling blockade on ports and airports is lifted. U.N. children’s fund UNICEF warned on Sunday that more than 11 million Yemeni children are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.
The devastating war has since killed some 8,600 people, while a further 2,000 have died of cholera.