Two competing resolutions — one by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states and another by Canada and the Netherlands — have been proposed on how to best document the human rights violations in Yemen. The resolutions are shaping up as the main diplomatic showdown at the Human Rights Council session that ends Friday.
Saudi Arabia has sent a letter to at least two foreign countries warning that the Arab states "will not accept" the Dutch-Canadian resolution, which seeks an "international, independent investigation."
U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein has repeatedly called for such an investigation. Saudi Arabia favors an existing domestic investigation that critics say has failed to hold rights violators to account in a war pitting the Saudi-backed, internationally recognized government against Shiite and affiliated rebel groups. The fighting has killed more than 10,000 civilians over the last 2-1/2 years in the Arab world's poorest country.
While both sides say they are working to reach a single, compromise text at the 47-member rights council in Geneva, the letter suggests that Saudi Arabia is exerting diplomatic and economic pressure to thwart the rival plan.
"Adopting the Netherlands/Canadian draft resolution in the Human Rights Council may negatively affect the bilateral political and economic relations with Saudi Arabia," the 1-1/2-page letter said, while also emphasizing the "importance of adopting a unified stance to face the conflict in Yemen."
Two Western diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the negotiations are ongoing, confirmed that their countries had received the letter. When shown a copy of it, the Saudi ambassador in Geneva, Abdulaziz Alwasil, told the AP that he was not aware of it.
Saudi Arabia has succeeded in derailing past attempts by the Dutch at the council to ensure greater accountability for rights violations in Yemen. The Dutch-Canadian effort seeks to get access for human rights teams to rebel-held parts of Yemen that domestic investigators cannot visit.
The United States has not taken sides publicly about the competing resolutions. "We do not support options that could further divide the Council on this topic and believe the most impact will come from a single resolution that can be adopted by consensus," State Department Public Affairs said in an email relayed by the U.S. mission in Geneva.
The Saudi-led coalition, which has received military hardware and support from the United States, Britain and France, has come under increasing fire from advocacy groups over its blistering air strikes that have killed civilians in an impoverished country that is now on the brink of famine and facing the world's largest cholera outbreak.
"The world has sat largely silent while Yemeni civilians endure horrors," said John Fisher, Geneva director for Human Rights Watch, citing abuses by both the pro-government side and by forces loyal to Yemen's former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and their allies: the Iran-backed Shiite rebels known as Houthis.
Since March 2015, Fisher said in a statement, the Saudi-led coalition has bombed "homes, markets, schools, and hospitals. Opposing Houthi-Saleh forces have shelled cities and laid land mines that will harm civilians for years to come. Both sides have carried out arbitrary detentions, torture, and forced disappearances."
Human Rights Watch supports the Dutch-Canadian proposal. "The Saudi text offers more of the same," Fisher wrote. "While shoring up the Yemeni commission can't hurt, it's no substitute for the independent international commission that is desperately needed."