UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday urged the U.N. Human Rights Council to immediately establish an independent body to investigate rights abuses and other violations in Yemen, especially following last weekend’s “horrendous attack” by the Saudi-led coalition on a funeral hall.
The U.N. chief told reporters that Saturday’s airstrikes in Yemen’s capital Saana, which killed over 140 people and injured more than 525 others, were the latest disasters in the Yemen conflict, which has left over 20 million people — “an astounding 80 percent of the population” — in need of humanitarian aid.
“Aerial attacks by the Saudi-led coalition have already caused immense carnage and destroyed much of the country’s medical facilities and other vital civilian infrastructure,” Ban said. “Bombing people already mourning the loss of loved ones is reprehensible.”
“This latest horrific incident demands a full inquiry,” he said. “More broadly, there must be accountability for the appalling conduct of this entire war.”
Earlier Monday, U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein denounced the airstrikes and faulted the Human Rights Council for not doing more in the face of a “climate of impunity” in the impoverished, war-torn country.
He reiterated his calls for an independent investigation of abuses in Yemen, which the 47-member Geneva-based council, which includes Saudi Arabia, all but ignored at its last session in September.
Ban noted Zeid’s call and said his strong message to the Human Rights Council, especially after Saturday’s attacks, is “to fulfill its duty and act.”
“Despite mounting crimes by all parties to the conflict, we have yet to see the results of any credible investigations,” the secretary-general said. “Excuses ring hollow given the pattern of violence throughout the conflict. Parties cannot hide behind the fog of this war.”
Since the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition started launching airstrikes against Shiite Houthi rebels in March 2015, at least 4,125 civilians have been killed and over 7,200 wounded in Yemen, Zeid’s office said in a statement, including 369 civilian casualties this month alone.
The Saudi-led coalition backs the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The coalition is fighting Shiite Houthi rebels and supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Zeid expressed concerns that an escalation of hostilities could follow Saturday’s attack, saying “the international community has a legal and moral duty to react robustly to the increasingly horrific levels of civilian casualties in Yemen, just as it has in many other situations.”
Ban urged a cessation of hostilities “as the only way to protect civilians, and the resumption of political talks as the only way to end the conflict.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he and Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the U.N. special envoy for Yemen, agreed at a meeting in Paris on Monday night “to quickly organize a new negotiation session.”
Ahmed expressed regret that the funeral hall airstrikes took place “at a moment when important progress was obtained in the peace process … and especially at a moment when we were negotiating a long-term agreement including all concerned parties.”
He called on the parties to reduce tensions, saying “everything should be done to bring to justice the authors of this attack as soon as possible.”
Ayrault said it’s urgent to resume negotiations and called the peace plan “a good political start.”
“Now it should be applied and fighting should stop,” he said.
Germany also expressed concern over the airstrikes, with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier saying “those responsible for this cruel act must be found,” and that such attacks must not be repeated. He did not say who was responsible, but the Saudi-led coalition has the only warplanes known to be operating in Yemen.
“The many dead at the funeral should be a warning to all in Yemen and in the region who have political responsibility to seek possibilities now to resume the U.N.-mediated talks on a cease-fire and a political solution for Yemen,” Steinmeier said.
In Beirut, nearly 200 supporters of the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group protested outside the offices of the United Nations, holding banners showing Yemeni casualties, including children. In reference to the Saudi monarchy, protesters raised placards that read: “Yemeni children are dearer than your thrones.”
Hezbollah, which maintains a dominant militia force in Lebanon, has also aligned itself with the Houthi rebels in Yemen’s civil war.
Keaten reported from Geneva. Associated Press writer Angela Charlton contributed to this report from Paris.