GENEVA (AFP) - The UN Human Rights Council agreed Friday to send war crimes investigators to Yemen, overcoming resistance from Saudi Arabia which sought to fend off an independent international probe.
In a resolution adopted by consensus, the council mandated UN rights chief Zeid Ra ad Al Hussein to send a group of "eminent experts" to Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been bombing Huthi rebels since March 2015.
The group will then "carry out a comprehensive examination of all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights" committed in the conflict and try "to identify those responsible."
Launching the probe marks a victory for a group of European states and Canada, which pushed hard for an international inquiry fully independent of the Yemeni national investigation that is supported by the Saudis.
The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of bombing schools, markets, hospitals and other civilian targets in support of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.
The Iran-backed Huthi rebels have also been accused of widespread abuses, which the UN team will also probe.
Saudi Arabia had for the past two years succeeded in blocking the rights chief s call for an international inquiry.
In a letter leaked to several media outlets this week, the kingdom threated economic and diplomatic retaliation against rights council members which voted for the EU/Canadian proposal.
The Saudi envoy to the council, Abdulaziz Alwasil, ended up endorsing Friday s resolution, which was slightly softer than previously EU proposals.
An earlier Dutch/Canadian draft asked for a Commission of Inquiry (COI) in Yemen, the UN s highest level investigation, but that call was removed from the adopted version.
Countries with significant and lucrative ties to Saudi Arabia, including the United States, Britain and France, were reported to have sought a compromise between the EU and Arab camps, which were deadlocked through the week on a resolution.
A US envoy to the UN in Geneva, Theodore Allegra, said he was pleased the 47-member rights council was "speaking with one voice on Yemen".
British ambassador Julian Braithwaite called the resolution "a significant achievement".
Yemeni ambassador Ali Mohamed Saeed Majawar said his government will "engage positively" with the team of experts.
For Human Rights Watch, which had argued forcefully for a Commission of Inquiry, Friday s result still amounted to a success.
"After more than two years of impunity for horrendous crimes in Yemen, today could mark a turning point," HRW s Geneva director John Fisher said in a statement.
The new probe "will bring an unprecedented level of scrutiny to the conduct of all parties to the Yemen war", he said.
Amnesty International called the resolution "a breakthrough" and a "victory" for suffering Yemeni civilians.
The conflict has killed more than 8,500 people and wounded nearly 49,000 others, according to the World Health Organization.
More than 17 million Yemenis are now facing dire food shortages, and a nationwide cholera epidemic has killed more than 2,100 people since April.
Cholera cases could hit 900,000 by year s end, the head of the Yemen delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Alexandre Faite, told journalists earlier Friday.
The situation in Yemen is often described as "the world s worst humanitarian crisis."