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Saudi accused of impeding UN-backed war crimes probe in Yemen

The Saudi-led military coalition has been accused of bombing multiple civilian targets, including hospitals.

Saudi Arabia has been accused of attempting to shut down a UN-backed war crimes investigation in Yemen where thousands of civilians have died in the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday said Saudi Arabia was making a "blatant attempt to avoid scrutiny" of its conduct in Yemen, where a Saudi and UAE-led coalition intervened in 2015 to support President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's government against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The allegations follow two rival resolutions on Yemen at the ongoing session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

A resolution led by a group of European countries and Canada calls for a one-year extension of the inquiry that last month reported evidence of possible war crimes by all sides in Yemen, including the Saudi-led coalition.

A second text, led by Tunisia on behalf of the group of Arab states, makes no mention of extending the probe, but calls for Yemen's often-criticised National Commission of Inquiry to continue studying the conflict.

Saudi Arabi and the United Arab Emirates are both members of the Arab group on the 47-member rights council.

"The Saudi-led coalition's campaign to discredit and undermine a UN investigation into abuses by all Yemen's warring parties is yet another blatant attempt to avoid scrutiny of the coalition's own actions in Yemen," John Fisher, HRW's Geneva director, said in a statement.

"The Human Rights Council cannot afford to fail Yemeni civilians. States should renew the mandate of the [probe] or risk the council's credibility," he added.

Diplomatic haggling over the rival texts is likely to continue before the current rights council session closes next week.

In their first and only report issued on August 28, the UN experts cited rights violations in Yemen including "deprivation of the right to life," arbitrary detention, rape, torture, enforced disappearances and child recruitment by Yemeni government forces and their Saudi and Emirati allies.

It said the Houthi rebels were also responsible for the same abuses.

UN standoff

The standoff comes three weeks after UN investigators issued a scathing report, saying the governments of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates could be responsible for war crimes.

The looming face-off is a familiar one at the 47-member UN rights body.

The Dutch and Canadians have repeatedly sought over the years to ensure that UN-backed investigators get access to as much of the country as possible - including areas hit by air attacks by the Saudi-led coalition.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly blocked such efforts and pushed instead for a national rights commission, supported by the Yemeni government, to carry out such investigations with advice from and consultation with the UN rights office. But the commission hasn't had access to rebel-held areas.

READ MORE: 'Why were they killed?': Saudi-UAE attack hits children in Yemen

Last year, Saudi Arabia gave its support to a consensus resolution creating the "eminent experts" group, after a diplomatic letter emerged in which Riyadh warned at least two other countries that any support for international independent investigators could "negatively affect" trade.

In its war in Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition receives military hardware and support from the United States, Britain and France. The coalition forces have also been criticised for air attacks that have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties.

At least 10,000 have died in fighting in the impoverished country in what the UN has called the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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