Al-Sabah Al-Yemeni | news agencies |
A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia was most likely responsible for a fatal attack in March on a boat packed with migrants fleeing the war zone Yemen, a United Nations panel has concluded.
Most of the passengers aboard the vessel were believed to be Somalis who had been staying in Yemen and were trying to reach Sudan.
The attack, which killed more than 40 people, violated numerous international humanitarian laws, the panel’s report said.
The fatal shots were probably fired from a machine gun or minigun, a type of rotary machine gun, on a helicopter “most likely operating from a naval vessel,” the panel wrote in its 185-page confidential report to the United Nations Security Council.
“The Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces are the only parties to the conflict that have the capability to operate armed utility helicopters in the area,” it added.
The gunfire went on for five minutes. When it was over, 42 people were dead, and 34 more were wounded. The attackers made no efforts to help the victims. It took the boat six hours to reach safety. Neither Saudi Arabia nor the United Arab Emirates, which has naval forces in the area, cooperated with the panel, the report said, accusing them of “obstruction.” Nor did the Houthis, who have seized part of Yemen, give the panel access to the port of Al Hudaydah, which they control, to interview survivors and examine evidence. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The report, written by a four-member panel of experts and expected to be discussed by Council members on Monday, was seen by The New York Times on Wednesday. It is unclear whether the Council will take any action. Both Britain and the United States, permanent members of the Council, support the Saudi-led military coalition.
The report paints a harrowing picture of what happened on the night of March 16 as a boat packed with up to 145 people, mostly Somalis, was sailing across the Red Sea, away from the Yemeni coast. The panel said it found no evidence of fighters or weapons on the vessel.
A large ship approached their boat and ordered it to stop. When it did not, the attack began. First, rockets were fired, and then, sustained gunfire from either a “medium machine gun or minigun of 7.62 mm caliber mounted on a helicopter,” according to the report.
The Saudi-led coalition has such weapons, according to the panel, and so do many of the warships in the Red Sea that belong to what is called a combined maritime force, which includes ships from Britain, Canada and the United States.
Many women and children were on the boat. Those who survived “hid themselves beneath the bodies of the dead and remained motionless for approximately 10 minutes to avoid further attack,” the report said.
The United Arab Emirates is singled out in the report. In state media, the Emirates had said it knew the boat was a civilian vessel. If Emirates naval forces were in the area, the panel said, they could have helped the wounded or seen who attacked them. They did not help, nor did they cooperate with the panel when it requested information, the panel said.
New York Times