Days after Bombing a Wedding Party and Squelching UN Investigation in Yemen, Saudi Arabia Worries about Civilian Casualties

On Monday, coalition forces in Yemen bombed a wedding party, killing over 130 people.

The death toll from an air strike on a wedding party in Yemen has jumped to 131, medics said on Tuesday, in one of the deadliest attacks on civilians in Yemen’s war that drew strong condemnation from the U.N. secretary-general.

[snip]

On Tuesday, a medical source at Maqbana hospital, where most of the casualties were taken, said the death toll had climbed to 131 people, including many women and children.

The United Nations and international rights groups have expressed alarm at the escalating number of civilian deaths in Yemen – at least 2,355 out of more than 4,500 people killed from the end of March to Sept. 24, according to figures released by the U.N. human rights office in Geneva on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia succeeded in pressuring western governments to withdraw a Dutch resolution to conduct an inquiry into the civilian casualties caused by both sides in Yemen.

In a U-turn at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Western governments dropped plans Wednesday for an international inquiry into human rights violations by all parties in the war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians in the last six months.

The change of direction came as the Netherlands withdrew the draft of a resolution it had prepared with support from a group of mainly Western countries that instructed the United Nations high commissioner for human rights to send experts to Yemen to investigate the conduct of the war.

[snip]

The Dutch resolution also called for the warring parties to allow access to humanitarian groups seeking to deliver aid and to the commercial import of goods like fuel that are needed to keep hospitals running. Deliveries of aid and other goods have been slowed by the coalition’s naval blockade of Yemeni ports.

But in the face of stiff resistance from Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, and to the dismay of human rights groups, Western governments have accepted a resolution based on a Saudi text that lacks any reference to an independent, international inquiry.

On Friday, Saudi Arabia condemned civilian casualties. Just those caused by Russian airstrikes targeting Saudi backed rebels seeking to overthrown Bashar al-Assad.

As Russia continued striking targets in Syria, the U.S. was joined by the U.K., France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey in saying a bombing campaign begun by Vladimir Putin’s government on Wednesday “led to civilian casualties” and didn’t target Islamic State militants. The statement came hours before Putin was due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the French and Ukrainian presidents, Francois Hollande and Petro Poroshenko, to discuss a Ukrainian cease-fire pact in Paris.

“These military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalization,” the countries said in the statement. “We call on the Russian Federation to immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians and to focus its efforts on fighting ISIL,” according to the statement, which used an acronym for Islamic State. Russia has said it is only targeting “terrorist” groups.

It’s a nice statement. And civilian killings surely do fuel extremism.

But Saudi Arabia — and, for that matter, the US, which has bombed its share of wedding parties (though often because it relies on Saudi intelligence) — is probably not the country that should be condemning civilian casualties right now.

Update: Billmon has been checking and he was only able to find the statement actually posted on Turkey’s Foreign Minister’s website.

Update: Meanwhile, the US (which also claims to be concerned about civilian casualties) told Judge Ellen Hueville that Ali Jaber, whose brother-in-law and nephew a US drone strike killed, does not have standing to ask for an apology.

Update: Lee Fang asked McCain about the Saudis killing Yemenis.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., spent the most time discussing the issue with me. But his answers were perplexing.

“They may be bombing civilians, which is actually not true,” McCain said, when asked about civilian casualties in Yemen.

“Civilians aren’t dying?” I asked.

“No, they’re not,” the senator replied. “Oh, I’m sure civilians die in war. Not nearly as many as the Houthis have executed,” McCain continued, referring to the Shiite militia waging an insurgency against the Sunni government in Yemen.

Asked about the recent reports of Saudi forces bombing a wedding party in Yemen, McCain said, “I’m sure in wars terrible things happen and the Houthis however are an extremist group backed by the Iranians who are slaughtering Yemenis.”

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

7 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    Ali Jaber, whose brother-in-law and nephew a US drone strike killed, does not have standing to ask for an apology

    If he doesn’t have standing, then who the fuck does?

  2. JohnT says:

    First rule about Fight Club marriages in the middle east don’t ever go to a wedding party
    .
    Seriously, what’s the military thought process in indiscriminately bombing large groups of people?
    .
    Mental note for the world: cross off ever even thinking of going to the World Cup in Qatar (middle east) from any kind of bucket list /s

  3. Don Bacon says:

    Rule: Killing people is bad, whether in one’s own country or abroad.
    .
    NOTE: This rule does not apply to the US nor its allies because everyone knows that the US is the world’s foremost promoter of human rights. Well, almost everyone. Well some do. –Okay, it’s just the government line.

  4. jdmckay says:

    I rarely come here anymore, haven’t commented (to best of memory) in several years.

    Bilmon’s sleuthing you mention got my curiosity going, I searched and read first 10 pages Google returned. I could find no mention of this statement posted by other then Turkey, either.

    I read the statement on Turkey’s page, decided to email them on their <a href="http://www.mfa.gov.tr/contact-us.en.mfa"contact page just for the hell of it, ask them one none of the other Nations mentioned posted this. It’s a simple “form” contact: their email address is hidden.

    So with Marcy’s article about all the hoopla over Hillary’s latest email “headline” (5 phishing mails), I thought folks might find Turkey’s “contact” form’s functionality a bit amusing. I put in a simple statement, and received the following error message

    An Error Occured:
    There was no endpoint listening at
    http://services.mfa.gov.tr/Service2.svc/Service2.svc that could accept the message. This is often caused by an incorrect address or SOAP action. See InnerException, if present, for more details.

    Or in other words, these guys haven’t quite figured out how to hook up an web based email form to their email servers, but feel imbued with wisdom to execute and advice WOT (blah blah blah). Trivial I know, but…

  5. wayoutwest says:

    There is enough hypocrisy being published these days to fill Warren Buffet’s oil trains but this communique seems to be mostly about Putin’s bald-faced lie about his intentions to only target the Islamic State in Syria. Instead they immediately attack rebel forces with no apparent concern for civilian causalities, no warning and they must have known some of the targets were mostly civilian. Russia’s new claim of ‘only targeting terrorists’ is a blank check on a battlefield covered with civilians.

    The sad and sick think about this development is there is now another world power bombing Sunni Muslims in Syria, more death and destruction and possibly even less concern about civilians who can’t or won’t get out of the way. Al-Nusra is already using the Russian attacks to attract new recruits to the ‘Graveyard for Invaders’ calling it a ‘Morale Boost’ for the fighters.

    There has probably been a million words written on blogs about how the US started bombing the Islamic State in Syria to further their hidden plan of attacking Assad directly and that plan , about to begin any minute, was even used by some people to explain why the Russians had to intervene today, one year after the coalition bombing began.

    It’s a bit ironic that the US has kept its word, for a year, about not attacking Assad but the Russians couldn’t keep their word for a week.

    It would seem by now people in ME war zones under near constant aerial attack would stop parading in long wedding processions of white Toyotas waving and shooting rifles. Word gets around about the results of that practice and I don’t think Arabs are particularly stupid.

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