Bahrain, Russia and other members of the UN Human Rights Council pushed for a vote on Thursday to close the body’s war crimes investigations in Yemen, in a stiff defeat for western states seeking to keep the mission going.
Members voted narrowly to reject a Netherlands-led resolution to give independent investigators another two years to monitor atrocities in the Yemen conflict.
It was the first time in the council’s 15-year history that a resolution was rejected.
Independent investigators have said in the past that all sides have committed potential war crimes in the seven-year conflict that has pitted a Saudi-led coalition against Iranian-allied Houthi rebels.
More than 100,000 people have died and 4 million have been displaced, activist groups say.
Dutch Ambassador Peter Bekker said the vote was a major setback. “I cannot help but feel that this Council has failed the people of Yemen,” he told delegates.
“With this vote, the Council has effectively ended its reporting mandate, has cut this lifeline from the Yemeni people to the international community.”
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres still believes there is a need for accountability in Yemen, spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.
“We will continue to press for accountability in Yemen, a place … where civilians have seen repeated crimes committed against them,” Dujarric said.
Ambassador Katharine Stasch, Germany’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, told the council: “While we acknowledge the efforts of the coalition (led by Saudi Arabia) to investigate allegations of civilian casualties through the joint incident assessment team, We are convinced that it is essential to have an international and independent Mechanism entrusted by the UN that works towards accountability for the Yemeni people. “
Rights activists said this week that Saudi Arabia lobbied strongly against the Western resolution.
The kingdom is not a voting member of the UN Human Rights Council and its delegation did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.
During the debate, Bahrain’s ambassador, Yusuf Abdulkarim Bucheeri, said that the international group of investigators had “contributed to spreading misinformation about the situation on the ground” in Yemen.
In the vote called by Saudi ally Bahrain, 21 countries voted against the Dutch resolution, including China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Venezuela and Uzbekistan. Eighteen, including Britain, France and Germany, voted in favor.
There were seven abstentions and the delegation of Ukraine was absent. The United States has only observer status.
Radhya Almutawakel, president of the independent Yemeni activist group Mwatana for Human Rights, said she was deeply disappointed by the outcome.
“By voting against the renewal of the GEE today, UN member states have given the warring parties the green light to continue their campaign of death and destruction in Yemen,” he said, referring to researchers known as the Group of Eminent Experts.
John Fisher of Human Rights Watch said the failure to renew the mandate was “a stain on the record of the Human Rights Council.”
“By voting against this much-needed mandate, many states have turned their backs on the victims, yielded to pressure from the Saudi-led coalition and put politics before principle,” he said.