Paris, France | AFP | Ten international rights groups called on French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday to pressure Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over his country’s bombing campaign in Yemen.
Macron is expected to host Prince Mohammed for a three-day trip to France starting Sunday, the latest stop in an international tour by the 32-year-old son of King Salman who is considered the de facto Saudi leader.
A civil war in Yemen, which Saudi Arabia has been bombing since 2015, is considered the world’s worse humanitarian crisis by the United Nations with 22.5 million people in need of aid.
“Emmanuel Macron should put Yemen at the centre of his discussions with Mohammed bin Salman as he hosts him in France,” said a statement from the rights groups including Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch.
They called for “the end of bombing targeting civilians and respect for international humanitarian law” as well as the “unconditional and permanent lifting on restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian aid and commercial goods to Yemen”.
In November, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies including the United Arab Emirates tightened a pre-existing blockade on Yemeni ports and airports, severely restricting deliveries of food aid and other humanitarian supplies.
The Saudi-led coalition says it has since lifted the restrictions, but a recent visitor to the main port of Hodeida, humanitarian worker Suze van Meegen, described it as a “wasteland” in an interview with AFP in late March.
The UN Security Council warned last month that conditions in Yemen were deteriorating and having a “devastating” impact on civilians.
Jonathan Cunliffe, from the Action Against Hunger rights group, said Wednesday that after a devastating outbreak of cholera last year that saw a million people affected, the country faced new risks from disease.
“This week we’re already seeing another disease that has disappeared from most of the world: diphtheria is emerging in the country as well,” he told a joint press conference on Wednesday.
The Saudi-led military intervention began in March 2015 with the goal of rolling back Iran-backed Shiite Huthi rebels and restoring Yemen’s internationally-recognised government to power.
“France, the US, Britain are all implicated in this conflict due to their technical, military, financial support to the coalition,” Jean-Francois Corty from the Medecins du Monde group told a joint press conference on Wednesday.
– Macron, rights defender? –
France is a major arms vendor to Saudi Arabia and separate rights groups have accused the country of doing too little to ensure that its weapons are not used in the Saudi military campaign.
Amnesty International says it has documented dozens of Saudi-led coalition military operations that could amount to war crimes due to the deaths of more than 500 civilians.
“Seeing this wave of crimes, it’s amazing to see there hasn’t been an immediate suspension of all weapon and missile sales to the Arab coalition,” Antoine Madelin from the International Federation for Human rights (FIDH) told the press conference.
Three out of four French people believe it is “unacceptable” to sell military weapons to Saudi Arabia, according to a poll by the YouGov group published at the end of March.
Macron has made clear he is unwilling to lecture countries about their human rights records, however, declining to raise the topic publicly with Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi or Chinese leader Xi Jinping during meetings.
Prince Mohammed defended his country’s actions in Yemen at the UN in New York last week.
“We try as much as we can to solve the problems of the Middle East politically and if things get out of control, we try as hard as we can to avoid all the other impacts,” he told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“We will continue to comply, as we always have, with international law,” he added after presenting him with a cheque for $930 million (757 million euros) for humanitarian aid in Yemen.