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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

Yemeni minister says Houthis are frustrating Geneva peace process 

Government says it will release a report on alleged human rights abuses next week

A Yemeni child stands in the wreckage of a bus that was hit by a Saudi-led coalition air strike on the Dahyan market in August. AFP
A Yemeni child stands in the wreckage of a bus that was hit by a Saudi-led coalition air strike on the Dahyan market in August. AFP

Yemen’s minister of human rights on Thursday raised doubts about the Houthis participating in Geneva peace talks, saying they had shown a lack of goodwill and accusing them of deception.

Mohammed Askar told reporters in Abu Dhabi that the Houthis were still using people as human shields and said a report on abuses was being prepared by his ministry and was due to be released next week.

"Our delegation is in Geneva. These militias, as usual, have proven in front of the international community that they don't take heed of the respected international organisations,” said Mr Askar, disputing accounts from rebel media that the Houthi delegation had not been granted permission to travel to Geneva.

“Until now [the militia] says it hasn’t been given authorisation for its exit [from Yemen] knowing we did give it to them," he said.

The Houthi delegation was expected to arrive in Geneva on Wednesday for the first round of UN peace talks in almost three years, in a bid to build confidence between the warring sides. UN special envoy Martin Griffiths said the Houthis wanted to attend talks and that he would make sure they did.

As of Thursday, only the Yemeni government delegation had arrived and the meeting had been postponed to Friday.

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The Yemeni government report on human rights, announced by Mr Askar, follows a critical appraisal by the UN in which they said war crimes were possibly carried out by all parties in the Yemen conflict, which broke out in 2015.

The Yemeni government and Arab coalition rejected the UN report, saying it contained inaccuracies.

Mr Askar said his government was taking heat as a result of the report, adding, "this report is not neutral, it’s not objective, [there is a lack] of accuracy”.

He acknowledged however that human error was a reality of war, but stressed the need to inspect the actions of all sides.

The minister said the Iranian-backed rebels have been "using people as human shields in their commuting or in [busy] places… where they are storing arms and when the planes are used in this regard victims are killed."

One such incident was an air strike in August on Houthi rebels in Saada province that led to the death of 26 children travelling in a school bus.

"Saada is very painful," said Mr Askar. "A number of children, more than 26, were killed because they were in a market and in a bus and some leaders of the Houthi militia were there."

The Arab coalition, meanwhile, said on Thursday there may have been collateral damage and that its joint forces command had now completed an after-action review of the strikes.

"According to the results of the comprehensive review... there might have been collateral damage and civilian casualties," coalition spokesman Colonel Turki Al Malki said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

"The alliance has said that yes this has occurred and now they are talking about compensation," said Mr Askar in reference to the deadly strike.

"If we look at this war and its time frame and the planes used, we find that the rate of the mistakes are very low,” said the minister. “We call on all parties to respect international rights and adopt measures to avoid incidents.”

Mr Askar took the time to thank both the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s for their role in restoring peace to Yemen.

"We cannot deny the assistance of the UAE in Yemen, they are a very effective partner, since the first day they stood by the civilians,” he said. “Without this pivotal role played by our brothers…we wouldn’t be able to have this kind of peace in our temporary capital Aden. It is a favour that we will never forget."