Yemeni rights inquiry not up to the job, U.N. official says

September 28, 2016 2:18 PM EDT

People gather at the site of a Saudi-led air strike in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, Yemen September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad

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By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) - A Yemeni commission reporting on human rights abuses in the country's civil war lacks impartiality and is not up to the job, U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore said on Wednesday, adding to pressure for an independent inquiry.

The Yemeni National Commission of Inquiry, which reports to the country's internationally recognized and Saudi-backed president, was set up a year ago after Saudi Arabia deterred a Dutch-led attempt to set up an independent investigation into the war that has killed at least 10,000 people.

The U.N. human rights office has said air strikes by a Saudi-led military coalition are responsible for most civilian casualties, and rights groups have demanded the U.N. Human Rights Council set up an independent investigation.

The Council is expected to choose between continuing the Saudi-backed investigation or backing a fresh Dutch-led demand for independent human rights monitoring on Friday.

Gilmore told the Council that the Yemeni inquiry "lacks impartiality, does not abide by the basic norms of protection" and its mandate, composition and methodology were not up to international standards.

Such a body "will fail to contribute to the direly needed cohesion and stability, and to promote justice and accountability," she said.

Gilmore said the Yemeni investigators had either rejected or failed to respond to U.N. offers of help, and had wrongly stated in their report last month that the U.N. human rights office failed to provide technical assistance.

Rights groups say all parties to the conflict - which pits Hadi's supporters, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, against Houthi fighters and their allies - have violated international human rights and humanitarian law.

An estimated 21.2 million people have been affected by the war and need humanitarian aid.

Gilmore said the U.N. wanted investigations into attacks on residential areas, marketplaces, medical and educational facilities, on public and private infrastructure, as well as into the use of landmines and cluster bombs, targeted killings and sniper attacks against civilians.

"The almost 10,000 civilians killed or injured in this conflict cannot callously be referred to as 'casualty figures' or 'collateral damage'," she said. "In several of the documented military attacks, we have been unable to identify the presence of possible military objectives."

In many other cases, attacks on military targets led to loss of civilian life and other damage "may have been excessive in relation to the anticipated concrete and direct military advantage apparently sought".

Yemen's Human Rights Minister Ezzeldin Al-Asbahi told the Council that the U.N. report was politicized and failed to take into account that the war was caused by a coup by the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; editing by)

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