UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A disproportionate number of attacks on civilians in Yemen’s conflict appear to be carried out by the Saudi-led and U.S.-supported coalition, the United Nations human rights chief told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday. The gathering was meant to press all sides to end a war that has shattered the Arab world’s poorest country.
Zeid Raad al-Hussein spoke as U.N.-sponsored peace talks on Yemen are scheduled to reconvene Jan. 14 after collapsing Sunday in Switzerland. Fighting continues despite a cease-fire agreement in place until at least Dec. 28.
The U.N. says the conflict has killed at least 5,884 people since March, when airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition began.
Yemen’s internationally recognized government and the Saudi-led coalition are fighting Iran-supported Houthi rebels and supporters of the country’s longtime former president. The conflict is seen as a deadly reflection of the struggle between enemies Saudi Arabia and Iran for influence in the region.
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U.N. special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed warned of “deep divisions” that remain and said the path to peace would be long and difficult.
Tuesday’s open meeting was organized by the United States, the current council president. The rare public meeting on the Yemen crisis gave the 15 council members and U.N. officials a chance to openly pressure all parties.
A notable absence was Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s powerful northern neighbor. An email to a spokesman for the mission requesting comment brought no immediate response.
Human rights groups have repeatedly blamed the Saudi-led coalition for killing civilians and destroying health centers and other infrastructure with airstrikes. A statement by Human Rights Watch on Tuesday criticized the Security Council for “remaining almost silent on coalition abuses.”
Looking ahead to the meeting, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters Monday evening that the U.S. has repeatedly urged Saudi Arabia to fully comply with international humanitarian law. “Those conversations have happened at really every level,” she said. The United States has backed the coalition with arms sales.
On Tuesday, Power said the U.S. will “continue to urge the Saudi coalition to ensure lawful and discriminate targeting.”
A statement Tuesday by Celine Langlois, who served as the emergency medical coordinator for the aid group Doctors Without Borders in Yemen, described the effects of airstrikes in the capital, Sanaa.
“The plane flies over, drops a bomb and goes away — and then comes back,” Langlois said. “It can stay in the sky for hours, making everyone nervous. All people want is for the plane to empty its deadly cargo and go away so they can continue with their day.”
She described a coalition bombing of a compound in front of a Sanaa hospital. “While the hospital staff were evacuating patients from the building, two children died_not because of the airstrikes, but because of a lack of oxygen,” she said.
The U.N. is supposed to provide technical assistance to Yemen’s government to look into human rights abuses, but Zeid said member states’ approval for needed U.N. personnel is pending.
Zeid also said a “failed state” in Yemen would almost certainly give space for further growth of extremist groups like the Islamic State.
The U.N. deputy humanitarian coordinator, Kyung-wha Kang, said millions of people in Yemen are malnourished and that the country’s health system is “close to collapse.”
Aid delivery to most of the country remains difficult, and some council members called for a lifting of blockades to allow access.