UN Human Rights Council during a debate at the United Nations in Geneva. (Photo: Reuters)
The United Nations backed a Saudi-led resolution on Friday to support Yemen in setting up a national inquiry into human rights violations, having ditched an attempt led by the Netherlands to mandate an independent UN investigation.
Human Rights Watch, criticising the move, said Yemeni authorities had neither investigated nor prosecuted serious international crimes committed since 2011, "nor has the Saudi-led coalition investigated possible war crimes by its forces".
A Saudi-led coalition of Arab states has been pressing a bombing campaign in Yemen over the past six months to try to restore a Yemeni government forced into exile by Houthi fighters.
Rights groups have accused both sides in the war of carrying out indiscriminate attacks on residential areas. The Saudi-led coalition denies abuses in Yemen and says it will acknowledge mistakes if and when it makes them.
The conflict has stirred a humanitarian crisis, with more than 5,000 people killed, including 500 children, and 21 million people in need of humanitarian aid.
The Netherlands gave up on a draft resolution for a UN-backed investigation earlier this week after an unprecedented rival resolution was presented by Saudi Arabia, on behalf of a group of Arab States, and Yemen.
Human Rights Watch said the United States and Britain, both allies of Saudi Arabia, had given only tentative backing to the Dutch resolution.
"By failing to set up a serious UN inquiry on war-torn Yemen, the Human Rights Council squandered an important chance to deter further abuses," Philippe Dam, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Geneva, said in a statement.
But Yemen's Human Rights Minister Ezzeldin Al-Asbahi called the resolution for a national inquiry a "balanced text".
He described it as "a very good starting point for an independent national institution that would seriously investigate all violations of human rights all over Yemen."
"They will not disregard any violation of human rights in my country," Al-Asbahi told the Human Rights Council, shortly before its 47 members gave the resolution unanimous backing.
U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper said it would be vital for the UN human rights office to help the Yemeni commission do its work "in a swift, credible and comprehensive way" to ensure that human rights abuses were properly investigated, monitored and reported to the international community.
Saudi Arabia's Ambassador Faisal Bin Hassan Trad said Yemen was "going through very difficult and complicated circumstances" and international assistance would ensure its government could uphold all its human rights obligations.