GENEVA (AP) — Experts backed by the U.N.'s top human rights body on Tuesday flagged allegations of rape, sexual assault and gender-based violence committed by all sides in Yemen's civil war, now in its fifth year.
The offenses also include those by militias backed by the United Arab Emirates. The militiamen have expanded their footprint in the south, seizing territory from forces loyal to the internationally recognized government, including the southern city of Aden.
The allegations are among key findings in the experts' latest report about an array of rights violations during the conflict in the Arab world's most impoverished country.
The experts commissioned by the Human Rights Council also denounced allegations of hostage-taking of women and girls, and said the Shiite Houthi rebels, who hold northern Yemen, have kidnapped and detained women over the last two years to blackmail their relatives.
Yemen's civil war started in 2014 when the Houthis overran the capital, Sanaa, and much of the country's north. A Saudi-led coalition of mostly Arab states intervened a year later to try and restore the internationally recognized government of President Mansour Abed Rabbo Hadi to power.
The UAE is part of that coalition but it never fully threw its support behind Hadi, whose government and officials mostly relocated to Aden and also to Saudi Arabia following the Houthi onslaught, choosing instead to train and support the separatist militias.
The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives, thrust millions to the brink of famine and spawned the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Along with exposing the poor human rights record of the UAE-backed militias in southern Yemen, the U.N. experts' report also repeated concerns about airstrikes conducted by the Saudi-led coalition.
The report, released in Geneva, comes just two days after a coalition airstrike hit a rebel-run detention center in Yemen, killing scores in one of the deadliest attacks of the war. The coalition, of which the UAE is also a member, has faced international criticism for airstrikes that have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties, killing thousands of civilians.
There were around 170 detainees at the facility when the airstrikes hit on Sunday. The International Committee for the Red Cross said 40 wounded were being treated for injuries while the rest were presumed dead.
By midday Tuesday, a total of 122 bodies had been pulled from the ruins of the building used as detention center in southwestern Dhamar province, Franz Rauchenstein, head of the ICRC in Yemen, told The Associated Press.
In recent weeks, the militias trained and armed by the UAE in southern Yemen, took Aden and several other cities and towns in the south, clashing with forces loyal to Hadi.
The fighting has exposed deep rifts among ostensible allies in the war — the UAE, the separatist militia and the Yemeni government, all fighting the Houthis.
While the U.N. expert's report reiterated findings about torture and arbitrary killings, the allegations of sexual violence were among the newer revelations by the three-person panel.
The report said the experts had verified 12 cases of sexual violence on five women, six men and a 17-year-old boy. Forces backed by the UAE and the government forces both "continued to commit sexual violence," it said.
The report cited accounts of "punching, kicking, beating with metal bars, sticks and guns, whipping with electric cables and electric shock, hanging from the ceiling for hours, and nail removal" in detention facilities.
The experts examined cases of at least 90 people reportedly assassinated over more than 3-1/2 years. They allege possible war crimes committed through airstrikes, indiscriminate shelling, snipers, use of land mines, as well as arbitrary killings and detention, and blocking of humanitarian aid deliveries.
"The suffering — and that is perhaps a very weak word — of the Yemeni people has reached an unprecedented level," Kamel Jendoubi, a Tunisian human rights advocate who chaired the experts group, told journalists in Geneva. "The international community must multiply its efforts to free the Yemeni people from the persistent injustice they have been enduring."
He decried "endemic impunity" for rights violators and abusers on all sides of the conflict. The report was based on more than 600 interviews "despite a lack of cooperation by the coalition and the government of Yemen."
Unlike for their first report a year ago, the experts' team was denied access to Yemen for this report.
Panel member Charles Garraway, a British expert in the law of armed conflict, said the report's authors did not allege that "any party was more prone to violations than any other."
"There are no clean hands in this combat," he said. "Everybody is responsible."
Associated Press writers Maggie Michael and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.