A United Nations body has called on Saudi Arabia to immediately halt its deadly airstrikes against civilians in war-torn Yemen and prosecute officials responsible for child casualties due to unlawful attacks.
The statement by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on Thursday also said the investigative mechanism set up by the Saudi-UAE coalition to probe the bombing of a school bus in Yemen’s Sadaa in August was not credible.
The air attack, which killed 51 people, including 40 children, parked widespread international condemnation and calls for an independent investigation.
“We asked them to put a halt immediately to these air strikes,” Clarence Nelson, panel vice-chair, told reporters.
“Nearly 20 percent of the deaths of civilians are children. So that’s one in five civilians killed is a child under 18. That’s a lot of children,” Nelson said.
The Saudi-UAE coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels told the child rights panel of 18 independent experts last week that it was working to correct mistaken targeting by its military alliance, but the experts expressed doubt.
At least 1,248 children had been killed and nearly the same number wounded in air strikes since March 2015, according to UN figures.
The panel voiced concern at “the inefficiency of the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) set up by the coalition in 2016 to investigate allegations of unlawful attacks by [Saudi Arabia] and members of the coalition on children and facilities and spaces frequented by children”.
“There has been no case, let alone a case involving child casualties, recruitment or use of children in armed hostilities, where its investigations led to prosecutions and/or disciplinary sanctions imposed upon individuals, including military officials of [Saudi Arabia],” it said.
Nelson also said the JIAT team are “essentially investigating themselves”, adding that the panel had information to believe that the JIAT team is not investigating all “accidents”.
The panel’s remarks came as survivors of the August bus attack returned to school.
Ahmad Ali Hanash, a 14-year-old student who was friends with the air strike victims, tried to hold back tears.
“We tell the enemies that our classmates’ blood won’t be in vain and that we’ll avenge them by getting an education, we will avenge them by learning,” Hanash told Al Jazeera.
“Thank God who saved me from this strike and from the hands of this horrendous crime,” he said.
Other students shared their fears of another potential attack,
“We’re sad after we lost our dearest schoolmates, and we are worried that the enemies will strike the school again,” said Sadiq Amin Jaafar.
Schoolteacher Abdulwahab Salah said all those wounded continue to attend school without exception.
“They come on crutches or wheelchairs. What we’ve shown is that education for our children is paramount. They attend in spite of their wounds and their fears,” he told Al Jazeera.
The Saudi-UAE coalition had admitted that the bombing of the school bus was “unjustified”.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen since March 2015, after the Houthis swept across the country – including the capital, Sanaa. Their stated aim to restore the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power.
Of the 16,000-plus raids they have launched since the start of the conflict, only a handful have been investigated, despite nearly a third of all bombs hitting civilian targets.
Last year, the UN blacklisted the Saudi-UAE alliance for causing the majority of reported child deaths and injuries in Yemen.
The global body has described the situation in Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. It also said that at least 10,000 people have been killed since the start of the conflict – but observers say the death toll is likely to be higher.