Human Rights Watch (HRW) has formally requested Argentine judicial authorities to use a domestic constitutional clause to arrest and prosecute Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MbS, for war crimes in Yemen and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi when he enters Argentina tomorrow to attend a G20 summit.
The New York-based rights group filed a submission with an Argentine federal prosecutor on Monday, presenting its public findings on violations of international law during a Riyadh-led military campaign against Yemen and bin Salman’s possible complicity in serious allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of Saudi citizens, including Khashoggi.
Argentina’s constitution recognises the principle of universal jurisdiction for war crimes and torture. As a result, its judicial authorities are able to probe and prosecute such crimes regardless of where they were committed, who carried them out or who the victims were.
‘Argentine prosecutorial authorities should scrutinise Mohammed bin Salman’s role in possible war crimes committed by the Saudi-led coalition since 2015 in Yemen,’ said HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth. ‘The crown prince’s attendance at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires could make the Argentine courts an avenue of redress for victims of abuses unable to seek justice in Yemen or Saudi Arabia,’ Roth said.
The writ presented by HRW was received at the court of federal judge Ariel Lijo, who forwarded it to federal prosecutor Ramiro González, who must now decide if the principle of universal jurisdiction applies in the case of bin Salman. An audio recording of the killing of Khashoggi reportedly links Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the murder.
‘A decision by Argentine officials to move toward investigation would be a strong signal that even powerful officials like Mohammed bin Salman are not beyond the reach of the law,’ Roth said.
‘And Mohammed bin Salman should know that he may face a criminal probe if he ventures to Argentina.’ Bin Salman is expected to attend the meeting of leaders of the world’s major industrialised and emerging economies, known as G20, in Buenos Aires on Friday, 30th November.
Saudi Arabia and a number of its regional allies launched a devastating military campaign against Yemen in March 2015, with the aim of bringing a former Riyadh-friendly government back to power. Bin Salman, who is also Saudi Arabia’s defence minister, is known as the architect of the Yemen war.
According to a new report by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), a nonprofit conflict-research organisation, the Saudi war has claimed the lives of around 56,000 Yemenis so far.
The Saudi-led war has also taken a heavy toll on the country’s infrastructure, destroying hospitals, schools and factories. The UN has already said that a record 22.2 million Yemenis are in dire need of food, including 8.4 million threatened by severe hunger.
According to the UN, Yemen is suffering from the most severe famine in more than 100 years. Save the Children says for every child killed by bombs and bullets, dozens are starving to death amid the brutal war and blockade led by Saudi Arabia.
A number of Western countries, the US and Britain in particular, are also complicit in the ongoing aggression as they supply the Riyadh regime with advanced weapons and military equipment as well as logistical and intelligence assistance.
There have been numerous calls over the past weeks for the US and its allies to end its military support for the Saudis. In another development, five international aid groups on Monday called on the United States to suspend all military support for the Saudi-led coalition, saying this will save millions of lives.
The International Rescue Committee, Oxfam America, CARE US, Save the Children, and the Norwegian Refugee Council said in a joint statement that 14 million people are at risk of starving to death in Yemen if the parties to the conflict do not change course immediately.
‘Starvation must not be used as a weapon of war against Yemeni civilians,’ the statement said. ‘All warring parties, and those fuelling the conflict through arms transfers, are implicated in this totally man-made humanitarian crisis.’
A Saudi-led coalition of states has been aggressively bombing Yemen and imposing an air and naval blockade of its ports for more than three years, leading UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to describe Yemen as ‘the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.’
Guterres put the crisis in stark perspective, emphasising the near complete lack of security for the Yemeni people.
More than 22 million people out of a total population of 28 million are in need of humanitarian aid and protection. Eighteen million people lack reliable access to food; 8.4 million people ‘do not know how they will obtain their next meal.’ Yemen has been gripped by a civil war since 2015, pitting the Shia Houthi movement – which has fought for centuries for control of parts of Yemen – against a government backed by Sunni Saudi Arabia.
During the first three years of ‘Operation Decisive Storm,’ later renamed ‘Operation Renewal of Hope,’ 16,749 coalition air attacks in Yemen were documented by the Yemen Data Project (YDP), which describes itself as an ‘independent data collection project aimed at collecting and disseminating data on the conduct of the war in Yemen.’
YDP reports that two-thirds of the coalition’s bombing attacks have been against non-military and unknown targets. The coalition isn’t accidentally attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure – it’s doing it deliberately. That’s evident from the kind – and volume – of civilian targets documented.
They include places that are generally protected against attack even under the lax rules of international humanitarian law: Residential areas, vehicles, marketplaces and mosques as well as boats, social gatherings and camps for internally displaced persons.
Because of the role it plays in the movement of people, food and medicine, Yemen’s transportation infrastructure is especially important. Airports, ports, bridges and roads have all been repeatedly attacked.
Yemen’s economic infrastructure – farms, private businesses and factories, oil and gas facilities, water and electricity lines and food storage – have also been hit. And the coalition has targeted and destroyed schools and medical facilities too.
Finally, Yemen’s cultural heritage has been attacked. In all, at least 78 cultural sites have been damaged or destroyed, including archaeological sites, museums, mosques, churches and tombs, as well as numerous other monuments and residences that have great historical and cultural significance.
The air and naval blockade, in effect since March 2015, ‘is essentially using the threat of starvation as a bargaining tool and an instrument of war,’ according to the UN panel of experts on Yemen.
The World Health Organisation reported in September 2017 that only 45 per cent of health facilities in Yemen were functional. As of February 2018, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the coalition had killed 6,000 people in airstrikes and wounded nearly 10,000 more. Yet, according to the OHCHR report, these counts are conservative.
According to Save the Children, an estimated 85,000 children under five may have died since 2015, with more than 50,000 child deaths in 2017 alone from hunger and related causes.