ICC asked to investigate Saudi-led coalition’s war crimes in Yemen

While leading coalition members Saudi Arabia and UAE are not signatories to the Rome Statute of the ICC, others which have participated in numerous human rights violations and crimes against humanity, fall under the ICC’s jurisdiction, opening up the possibility of investigation and prosecution

August 31, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
ICC on Yemen war crimes
(Photo: Ahmad Algohbary/Al Jazeera)

Hundreds of victims of the devastating drone strikes by the Saudi-led Gulf military coalition in Yemen have called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the coalition in the nearly seven-year-long war in Yemen. On Monday, August 30, London-based international justice chambers Guernica 37 submitted evidence to the ICC on behalf of the survivors and relatives of those killed. This was on the basis of ICC’s jurisdiction over Jordan, Senegal, Maldives and Sudan, and not directly implicating Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other main coalition members since they are not signatories to the Rome Statute which administers the ICC. 

The ICC has also been asked to investigate citizens of Latin American countries – Colombia, Panama, El Salvador and Chile – who are accused of being hired as mercenaries by a US-based private military contractor operating in Yemen on behalf of the UAE.

In a statement to reporters, co-founder of Guernica 37, Toby Cadman, said that “as the court of last resort, victims and families have no choice but to call on the International Criminal Court to ensure justice is done. The Saudis and Emiratis would not have been able to wage the war… without the support of those states. Look at probably the two worst conflicts in our lifetime, Syria and Yemen. We struggle to get the international judicial community to recognise how important it is to deal with them, so you have to find ways in which to stretch the notion of jurisdiction – and that’s what we’re doing.” Cadman concluded that the ICC “can and must use its clear jurisdiction to investigate these undeniable and evidenced crimes.” 

Jordan, Colombia, Sudan, and the other countries named in the submission to the ICC are signatories to the Rome Statute and fall under ICC jurisdiction.

According to the data publicly available, the Saudi-led coalition has carried out at least 22,766 raids in Yemen, consisting of a staggering 65,982 airstrikes, since it launched its military intervention in Yemen in March 2015 to restore the western-backed Yemeni government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi by defeating the rebel Houthis. The Houthis now control power in large parts of Yemen, including capital Sanaa. 

The data reveals that close to one-third of the Saudi airstrikes have struck non-military sites, such as schools, residential areas and hospitals. The airstrikes have killed and injured thousands of civilians. They have also exacerbated the humanitarian crisis by causing extensive damage to homes, hospitals and other essential civilian infrastructure like water pipelines and power lines. Overall, the UN estimates that more than 233,000 Yemenis have died since the beginning of the civil war and the subsequent military intervention. These deaths have been caused by the violence, as well as other related causes such as famine and disease.

The submission filed to the ICC on Monday focuses on three specific incidents: an August 2018 airstrike that destroyed a school bus and killed 51 people, mostly children; a missile attack on a funeral that killed at least 140 people in October 2016; and allegations of torture and murder of civilians being held in prisons in southern Yemen by Latin American mercenaries. In addition to these three incidents, the submission also mentions the military and diplomatic support provided to the Saudi-led coalition by other countries, such as Jordanian fighter jets participating in the aerial bombing campaign, Senegal supplying troops, and Maldives supporting the coalition diplomatically on the international stage.

The lawyers representing the victims and their families expressed hope that the ICC will investigate these crimes and issue international arrest warrants against the military leaders. They also made it clear that the campaign for justice for the victims will not stop at the ICC. Cadman said, “while our campaign begins at the International Criminal Court, we intend to fight our case using all and every legal avenue available. Those who perpetrate the worst crimes can and will be held accountable.” 

Guernica 37, a legal aid group, is reportedly already planning a number of other legal actions in relation to the war and conflict in Yemen. These include arrest warrants under universal jurisdiction and class action suits in the US and the UK to investigate the actions of senior government and military officials regarding the war in Yemen, especially on the issue of the massive western arms sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE, and other members of the military coalition. This was despite the emergence of clear evidence pointing to human rights violations and crimes against humanity committed with those arms.