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U.N. Experts Say the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia Could Have Committed War Crimes in Yemen

After over three years of civil war in Yemen, experts working for the United Nations' Human Rights Council have released a report that implicates the governments of Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia in war crimes that include rape and torture. 

Conflict between warring factions in Yemen broke out in March of 2015. As chaos took over the country, the conflict quickly became what many have called a proxy war between Iran and a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf states. Iran has backed the Houthi rebels (a sectarian religious and political group that opposes the Yemeni government), and Saudi Arabia has engaged in a devastating air campaign within Yemen. The Saudi-led attacks have killed hundreds of civilians, including a bus full of children bombed in a single strike earlier this month. 

In June of last year, an Associated Press report revealed that the UAE was operating an extensive network of secret prisons in Yemen. Detainees were tortured and questioned. According to the AP, United States intelligence agents participated in interrogations. Even though the Americans did not engage in torture, international law prohibits interrogating prisoners who have been abused.

The question of how complicit the U.S. is in the crisis in Yemen has been hotly debated. Critics have censured the U.S. for providing many of the weapons and aircraft that the Saudi coalition has used in its air campaign. In their report to the Human Rights Council, the three experts tasked with investigating the situation in Yemen called for the international community to "refrain from providing arms that could be used in the conflict"—an apparent rebuke to the U.S., but also Iran and the United Kingdom (which has also provided weaponry and munitions to the Gulf coalition).

The U.N. calls the war in Yemen the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. Huge swaths of the country are in famine, and the collapse of the country's health infrastructure led to the world's largest cholera outbreak last year. In January of 2018, the U.N.'s humanitarian chief told Al Jazeera, "Unless the situation changes, we're going to have the world's worst humanitarian disaster for 50 years."