In a Compromise, U.N. Rights Experts Will Examine Abuses in Yemen’s War

Mr. al-Hussein’s office in the meantime is to provide support to Yemen’s national commission as it investigates human rights abuses.

The outcome, completed late Friday afternoon, reflected a compromise between two alliances of countries that had seemed set on a collision course.

An alliance of mainly European countries led by the Netherlands had proposed the creation of an international commission of inquiry to investigate abuses in Yemen.

They were opposed by a Saudi-led alliance, which supports Yemen’s exiled president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, against Iran-backed Houthi rebels and affiliated armed groups.

Earlier in September, Mr. al-Hussein, for the third year in a row, had urged creation of an international investigation panel as his office released a report presenting a litany of abuses by all parties involved in the conflict in Yemen, which has caused thousands of civilian casualties and contributed to a staggering humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country.

Saudi coalition airstrikes were the leading cause of civilian casualties, Mr. al-Hussein noted, scolding “the reticence of the international community in demanding justice for the victims of the conflict.”

Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies called instead for the United Nations to provide international experts to support Yemen’s national commission — a position rejected by the other side because of that commission’s close relationship with the Saudis.

An hour before the council reached its decision, senior Yemeni officials still were insisting that the Saudi demand would be the crux of any deal.

The final agreement emerged from a compromise text drafted by diplomats from the United States, Britain and France on Thursday night and discussed by representatives from both groups at an early morning meeting in the United States mission in Geneva.

Saudi Arabia and its allies avoided the embarrassment of a full-scale international commission of inquiry, and the text of the agreement omitted all language of investigation while pledging to support Yemen’s national commission on human rights.

“The combination of international and national mechanisms is an excellent result for the promotion and protection of human rights,” the Saudi ambassador, Abdulaziz Alwasil, said as he headed into the council to seal the agreement.

The Netherlands, after coming under intense pressure to soften it position, expressed confidence that it had preserved its main demand.

“We have a fully-fledged international investigation,” Rochus Pronk, the Dutch diplomat who led negotiations for the Western group — even though the term “investigation” is not used.

“I think it’s an incredible outcome,” Mr. Pronk said.

Saudi Arabia had successfully blocked Dutch calls for an international inquiry into the war in Yemen last year. There were unconfirmed reports that the Saudis had threatened to retaliate against states that supported the Dutch position.

But compromise was harder to avoid this year, diplomats said, partly because of the deterioration of conditions in Yemen, now described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with seven million people verging on famine and a cholera epidemic that threatens to sicken nearly a million people by year’s end.

Moreover, Yemen’s human rights commission, funded partly by Saudi Arabia, had proved unable in the last year to conduct comprehensive, impartial or transparent investigations, the United Nations said.

Human rights groups regarded the compromise reached Friday as a qualified victory. “It’s a historic decision to put in place a mechanism that will bring scrutiny to all parties,” said John Fisher, director of Human Rights Watch’s Geneva office.

Mona Sabella, an advocacy officer for the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, said: “Many thought it impossible to challenge Saudi impunity for war crimes in Yemen. The creation of an international investigative body today has shown that the lives of millions of Yemen people mean more than Saudi influence.”

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