HRW again gives benefit of doubt to Saudis for airstrikes on civilians
Last month I showed the striking differences between how Human Rights Watch treated Saudi and Israeli airstrikes that kill civilians.
Here is another example of the differences between the wording of a recent HRW report on a Saudi airstrike in Yemen versus a similar report from last Just about an Israeli airstrike in Gaza.
Note how HRW is bending over backwards to not directly accuse the Saudis of doing anything illegal, only suggesting that there might be problems and asking for an impartial investigation, while noting that the Houthis are placing military targets near civilian structures.
As opposed to Israel where they immediately accuse the IDF of violating the laws of war, purposeful targeting of civilians for no reason, and including sarcasm about Israel’s “precision” strikes.
April 16, 2015
17 days after the Saudi airstrike in Yemen
July 16, 2014
7 days after Israeli airstrike in Gaza
Saudi-Led, US-Backed Attack Raises Laws-of-War Concerns
Airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that hit a dairy factory in Yemen on March 31, 2015,killed at least 31 civilians and wounded another 11. The governments that participated in the attacks should investigate the airstrikes, which may have been indiscriminate or disproportionate, in violation of the laws of war.
Forces of Ansar Allah, known as the Houthis, and other opposition forces, also appeared to put civilians at unnecessary risk. Area residents told Human Rights Watch that the Yemany Dairy and Beverage factory, a multi-building compound 7 kilometers outside the Red Sea port of Hodaida, was about 100 meters from a military air base controlled by Houthi forces. Military units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh were at another nearby military camp.
“The coalition’s repeated airstrikes on a dairy factory show cruel disregard for civilians, as does the deployment near the factory by Houthi and pro-Saleh forces.” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “The attack may have violated the laws of war, so the countries involved should investigate and take appropriate action, including compensating victims of unlawful strikes.”
While civilian casualties do not necessarily mean that the laws of war were violated, the high loss of civilian life in a factory seemingly used for civilian purposes should be impartially investigated, Human Rights Watch said
Bombings of Civilian Structures Suggest Illegal Policy
Israeli air attacks in Gaza investigated by Human Rights Watch have been targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war. Israel should end unlawful attacks that do not target military objectives and may be intended as collective punishment or broadly to destroy civilian property. Deliberate or reckless attacks violating the laws of war are war crimes, Human Rights Watch said.
“Israel’s rhetoric is all about precision attacks but attacks with no military target and many civilian deaths can hardly be considered precise,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Recent documented cases in Gaza sadly fit Israel’s long record of unlawful airstrikes with high civilian casualties.”
Human Rights Watch investigated four Israeli strikes during the July military offensive in Gaza that resulted in civilian casualties and either did not attack a legitimate military target or attacked despite the likelihood of civilian casualties being disproportionate to the military gain. Such attacks committed deliberately or recklessly constitute war crimes under the laws of war applicable to all parties. In these cases, the Israeli military has presented no information to show that it was attacking lawful military objectives or acted to minimize civilian casualties.
On July 9, an Israeli attack on the Fun Time Beach café near the city of Khan Yunis killed nine civilians, including two 15-year-old children, and wounded three, including a 13-year-old boy. An Israeli military spokesman said the attack was “targeting a terrorist” but presented no evidence that any of those at the café, who had gathered to watch a World Cup match, were participating in military operations, or that the killing of one alleged “terrorist” in a crowded café would justify the expected civilian casualties.
Notice how HRW took far less time to “investigate” Israeli actions and declare them guilty than they spent to tell us that they don’t quite know what happened in Yemen.
There is another difference.
The dead Yemenis are not even worth naming in HRW’s dispatch, but HRW went into details of the lives of the victims of Israeli airstrikes, humanizing them.
Relatives and survivors said the victims frequently went to the beach café. Khaled Qanan, 30, told Human Rights Watch that the attack killed two of his brothers, Mohammed, 25, a master’s degree student in Arabic, and Ibrahim, 28, who sold fish. Ramadan Sabbah, 37, the two victims’ brother-in-law, said:
They went to the beach café all the time, including every day since this operation started [on July 8]. They said they felt safer there than they did in Khan Yunis. But there was nothing to shelter them; it was just chairs and fabric. When we found the bodies, they didn’t have visible injuries. Ibrahim had only a small cut, but we found his body almost 200 meters away. Mohammed was found on the asphalt. The road is cracked from the explosion.
As the Meir Amit Center documents, they were both members of the Fatah Abu Rish Brigades.
But HRW said, flatly, that these soccer-loving terrorists were civilians. And HRW used that as a reason to accuse Israel of war crimes.
Once again, HRW’s bias against Israel is unmistakable.