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UN Calls for Saudi Probe of Airstrikes on Yemen Detention Facility to be Independent, Transparent

Relatives carry bodies of the victims of air strikes on a detention center to be buried at a cemetery in Saada, Yemen January 25, 2022.

The United Nations Friday called for the investigation by the Saudi-led coalition into its recent airstrikes on a Houthi-run detention facility in Yemen to be independent and transparent.

Three airstrikes in quick succession hit a Houthi-run detention facility in the northern Yemen city of Sa’ada January 21, one of the deadliest single attacks in Yemen’s nearly-seven-year civil war.

Initial findings by aid agencies indicate 91 detainees were killed and 236 injured. United Nations human rights spokesman Rupert Colville says colleagues who were in Sa’ada this week as part of an interagency mission are working to verify the number of civilian casualties.

“The information they have collected paints a chaotic and desperate picture after the remand prison, which was believed to be holding some 1,300 pretrial detainees as well as 700 migrants was struck by these airstrikes," said Colville.

The most severely injured have been taken to a hospital in Sa’ada. Colville says the medical staff is struggling to deal with the number of patients needing urgent treatment.

The Saudi-led coalition says it has begun an investigation into the attacks. Colville says such a probe must be conducted in a transparent, independent, and impartial manner in line with international standards.

To be credible, he says the investigation must establish why the prison was hit. It must ensure individual accountability for any breaches of international humanitarian law and must identify steps to prevent such incidents in the future.

“During our recent visit there, our team this week, we saw no signs indicating that this site, which was formerly a barracks, continues to have a military function," said Colville. "And in light of this, we have asked the coalition to share their information with us.”

The United Nations recorded just under 600 airstrikes a month across Yemen by the government-backed Saudi-led coalition last year. Also in 2021, it reported the Iran-backed Houthi rebels had launched 340 missile and drone attacks on Saudi territory.

The escalating conflict has taken a devastating toll on Yemen’s civilian population. The United Nations reports more than 377,000 people have died, 60% by indirect causes such as disease and hunger.