DUBAI (Reuters) – Amnesty International on Friday denounced Western arms sales to Saudi Arabia and its allies in a coalition battling the Houthis in Yemen, saying such traffic made a “mockery” of a global arms trade treaty.
The rights group accused both the Saudi-led coalition forces and the Iran-allied Houthis of committing potential war crimes in the three-year conflict.
More than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since March 2015 when Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim Arab states launched a military campaign against the Houthis, a group of Shi’ite fighters who had seized the capital and forced President Abd Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi to flee.
“There is extensive evidence that irresponsible arms flows to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition have resulted in enormous harm to Yemeni civilians,” Lynn Maalouf, Director of Research for the Middle East at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
“But this has not deterred the USA, the UK and other states, including France, Spain and Italy, from continuing transfers of billions of dollars’ worth of such arms. As well as devastating civilian lives, this makes a mockery of the global Arms Trade Treaty.”
The organisation said it had documented 36 coalition air strikes since 2015 that appeared to have violated international law, adding that some may amount to war crimes. The documented attacks had killed 513 civilians, including at least 157 children, and wounded 379 others, according to Amnesty.
It said the Houthis and their allies had conducted arbitrary arrests and detentions of opponents, and that scores of men and women had been subjected to enforced disappearances and harsh sentences following unfair trails.
Saudi Arabia and its allies have repeatedly denied allegations of war crimes and say their campaign is directed against Houthi fighters, and not civilians. The Houthi movement has also denied accusations of war crimes.
Amnesty said that as the conflict enters its fourth year it shows no real signs of abating and that all sides were impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid to at least 22.2 million people in need of assistance and more than one million suffering from suspected cases of cholera.
The rights group said that despite the loosening of a blockade on Yemeni ports imposed by the Saudi-led coalition, it continues to impose restrictions on aid and commercial imports of essential goods.
Two rights groups in France said on Friday they would take legal action against the French government unless it halts sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia and its ally the United Arab Emirates within two months.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed the Yemen conflict with President Donald Trump this week during a visit to the United States.
U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis told Prince Mohammed on Thursday that there was an urgent need to end the war.
(Reporting By Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Peter Graff)