Rights experts flag violations of rape, sex abuse in Yemen

People inspect an oil tanker truck set ablaze during recent clashes between Yemeni southern separatists and government forces near Aden, Yemen, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Wail al-Qubaty)
Bodies covered in plastic lie on the ground amid the rubble of a Houthi detention center destroyed by Saudi-led airstrikes, that killed at least 60 people and wounding several dozen according to officials and the rebels' health ministry, in Dhamar province, southwestern Yemen, Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019. The officials said the airstrikes took place Sunday and targeted a college in the city of Dhamar, which the Houthi rebels use as a detention center. The Saudi-led coalition said it had hit a Houthi military facility used as storages for drones and missiles in Dhamar. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
A Yemeni southern separatist fighter inspects the wreckage of government forces vehicles destroyed by UAE airstrikes near Aden, Yemen, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Wail al-Qubaty)

GENEVA — Experts backed by the U.N.'s top human rights body on Tuesday flagged allegations of rape, sexual assault and gender-based violence committed by all sides in Yemen's civil war, now in its fifth year.

The offenses also include those by militias backed by the United Arab Emirates. The militiamen have expanded their footprint in the south, seizing territory from forces loyal to the internationally recognized government, including the southern city of Aden.

The allegations are among key findings in the experts' latest report about an array of rights violations during the conflict in the Arab world's most impoverished country.

The experts commissioned by the Human Rights Council also denounced allegations of hostage-taking of women and girls, and said the Shiite Houthi rebels, who hold northern Yemen, have kidnapped and detained women over the last two years to blackmail their relatives.

Yemen's civil war started in 2014 when the Houthis overran the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country's north. A Saudi-led coalition of mostly Arab states intervened a year later to try and restore the internationally recognized government of President Mansour Abed Rabbo Hadi to power.

The UAE is part of that coalition but it never fully threw its support behind Hadi, whose government and officials mostly relocated to Aden and also to Saudi Arabia following the Houthi onslaught, choosing instead to train and support the separatist militias.

The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives, thrust millions to the brink of famine and spawned the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Along with exposing the poor human rights record of the UAE-backed militias in southern Yemen, the U.N. experts' report also repeated concerns about airstrikes conducted by the Saudi-led coalition.

The report, released in Geneva, comes a day after the international community expressed outrage over a coalition airstrikes that hit a rebel-run detention center in Yemen, killing over 100 people and wounding dozens more. The coalition, of which the UAE is also a member, has faced international criticism for airstrikes that have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties, killing thousands of civilians.

While the report reiterated findings about torture and arbitrary killings, the allegations of sexual violence were among the newer revelations by the three-person panel.

In recent weeks, the militias trained and armed by the UAE in southern Yemen, took Aden and several other cities and towns in the south, clashing with forces loyal to Hadi.

The fighting has exposed deep rifts among ostensible allies in the war — the UAE, the separatist militia and the Yemeni government, all fighting the Houthis.

The report said the experts had verified 12 cases of sexual violence on five women, six men and a 17-year-old boy. Forces backed by the UAE and the government forces both "continued to commit sexual violence," it said.

The report cited accounts of "punching, kicking, beating with metal bars, sticks and guns, whipping with electric cables and electric shock, hanging from the ceiling for hours, and nail removal" in detention facilities.

The experts examined cases of at least 90 people reportedly assassinated over more than 3-1/2 years. They allege possible war crimes committed through airstrikes, indiscriminate shelling, snipers, use of land mines, as well as arbitrary killings and detention, and blocking of humanitarian aid deliveries.

"Five years into the conflict, violations against Yemeni civilians continue unabated, with total disregard for the plight of the people and a lack of international action to hold parties to the conflict accountable," said group chairman Kamel Jendoubi. "The international community must multiply its efforts to free the Yemeni people from the persistent injustice they have been enduring."

He decried "endemic impunity" for rights violators and abusers on all sides. The report was based on more than 600 interviews "despite a lack of cooperation by the coalition and the government of Yemen."

___

Associated Press writer Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.

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