Joint Incident Assessment Team Responds to Claims against Coalition Forces

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Riyadh: "alekhbariya" 07 Aug 2016

In response to claims that the Coalition Forces have caused accidents while conducting the military operations Decisive Storm and Restoring Hope, in support of the legitimate government of Yemen, an independent group, the Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT), was formed to assess these claims and the accidents to which they refer. The team consists of 14 members all of whom have considerable experience in military and legal fields. The members of the team have been drawn from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Republic of Yemen, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

The team investigated the claims after firstly establishing a code of practice governing its work, which includes customary procedures for assessing accidents occurring during such operations.

JIAT established its investigations based on existing recognized procedures for fact-finding and evidence collection, proofs and documents, as well as lists of targets to be met. It also referenced international humanitarian law, international norms, rules of engagement, accident evaluation, and target mechanisms. JIAT also called upon whomever it considered relevant to the specific incident to hear their statements and give evidence in support of the claims being made. Throughout the investigation the team operated with full independence and impartiality.

Legal advisor to JIAT, Lieutenant General Mansour Ahmed Al-Mansour, from the Kingdom of Bahrain, said in a news briefing held today at King Salman Air Base “JIAT’s work in assessing the accidents depends on ensuring the legal aspects of target operations are compatible with international law. It also uses American and British standard mechanisms to assess accidents in addition to the laws of armed conflict.”

The team has prepared a report for each individual case which includes the facts and circumstances surrounding each accident, background information, timings, lessons learned, recommendations and future actions to be taken. For this purpose, JIAT has focused on analyzing the information contained in the task report, reviewing the aerial photographs from the post-mission aircraft reports, recording videos, scheduling daily tasks and reporting to the coalition forces’ air control officer.

 JIAT'sMedia Spokesman said "The team has begun assessing a number of accidents claimed to be generated by coalition forces and has issued a number of reports for some of the claims”  The details of those claims are as follows:

Human Rights Watch claimed that the coalition forces bombed a residential complex in the Mokha Directorate on July 24th, 2015. After reviewing the facts, JIAT found that the intelligence information available had confirmed the presence of four targets in the areas controlled by Houthi armed militias and the forces of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. These targets included coastal defense missiles that constituted an immediate threat to the naval vessels of the coalition forces stationed nearby, and furthermore threatened the safety of maritime navigation in the Red Sea.

The investigating team found that the intended target was a residential complex, which had already been partly affected by unintentional bombing, due to the coalition forces responding to inaccurate intelligence information.

In submitting their official report to the Reparations Committee, JIAT recommended that compensation should be awarded to the families of the victims after they have submitted their official and documented claims to the Reparations Committee.

Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders, (MSF) claimed that the Haydan Hospital in Saada governorate had been targeted by aerial bombardment on January 26th, 2015. JIAT’s investigations found that the targeting of this location had been based on solid intelligence received by the coalition forces, identifying it as a military target (a gathering of Houthi armed militias) in Haydan Directorate. After verification, it became clear that the building was a medical facility which was being used by Houthi armed militias as a military shelter.  This was in clear violation of the rules of international humanitarian law. However, no casualties resulted from the bombing.

Although the coalition forces had bombed the medical facility following its identification and confirmation as a military target, it was imperative that they notify MSF that international protection was withdrawn from the building prior to the bombing being carried out. The investigation established that this procedural compliance was undertaken.

MSF claimed that a mobile clinic in Taiz province had been exposed to side effects of the bombing by the coalition forces on February 12th, 2015. The investigation found that armed groups belonging to Houthi militias were targeted in Taiz province, a valuable military target.

This action was taken following a request by the Yemeni forces loyal to the legitimate government of Yemen as well as the resistance movement located in Hoban, Taiz Province. The mobile clinic was not directly bombed, but was incidentally affected by the bombing due to its close proximity to the targeted area. No casualties were suffered by MSF as a result of this action.

It is recommended to keep the mobile clinic away from military targets to avoid any similar incidental effects. This episode demonstrates the soundness of the measures taken by the Coalition Forces in accordance with the international law.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon claimed that as many as 32 civilians were killed and 41 injured in a local market in the district of Nahm, in the governorate of Sana'a on February 27th, 2016. Upon investigation JIAT established that whilst carrying out an air back-up operation, one of the Coalition’s aircraft, near to the Popular Resistance and the army loyal to the legitimate government, had witnessed and reported two Houthi militia transport vehicles – clearly loaded with personnel, ammunition and weapons - near a small local market adjacent to buildings and tents on a road linking Nahm district to the capital Sanaa.

These military targets were engaged and removed as they are considered a valuable, and legitimate target capable of potentially securing a military advantage for the rebel opposition, the two vehicles were targeted by an accurate laser-guided bomb. This incident took place in an uninhabited desert area, which was at the time under the control of Houthi armed militias, at a supply and provision point.

This information was corroborated and evidenced by recordings indicating the presence of only 7 people at the site, a fact that countermands the claim by the UN of as many as 73 civilians dead or injured.

JIAT determined that there was no breach of protocol by the coalition forces, in compliance with the rules of international humanitarian law, and in particular that there was no direct attack on civilians during this manoeuvre.

The UN News Center claimed that on March 15th, 2016 the coalition forces bombed the market of (Khamis Mastaba), in the District of Hajjah, and alleged that the bombing caused the death of some 106 civilians.

This target was bombed based on solid intelligence that there was a large gathering of Houthi armed militias at a site nearby a weekly market place. This market place has no regular activity except on a Thursday, the day the weekly market is held. The operation was carried out on a Tuesday.

JIAT determined that such evidence established it as a legitimate and high value military target. Khamis Mastaba is located, just 34 km from the border with Saudi Arabia, and such a large gathering in this location posed a very real threat to troops stationed on the border.

Moreover, the prosecution could not provide any proof to support the claims that there were a number of civilian casualties involved in the operation. Consequently JIAT found no proof that any violation of human rights had actually been committed by the coalition forces in the process, and further confirmed that the Coalition forces had complied with the rules of international humanitarian law

The Special Prosecutor for extrajudicial cases or summary and arbitrary executions, claimed that an air strike on October 6th, 2015 resulted in the deaths of 47 civilians and the injury of a least 58 others (including women and children), during a wedding in the province of Dhama.

The military’s records relating to air sorties evidence that there was no bombing in the province of Dhama on the date of the claim. However, JIAT did find that there had been an airstrike on the Dhama – Radaa – al-Baidah road on October 7th, on a group of armed vehicles. There were specified coordinates for the targeted area on the road, and furthermore there was no targeting of civilians in the same area. The team therefore concluded that measures applied by coalition forces were carried out safely in compliance with the rules of international humanitarian law.

The President of the World Food Programme claimed that four trucks affiliated to the World Food Programme carrying foodstuffs were exposed to bombing on November 11th, 2015 at 10:00 pm in Hreib Directorate in the Marib Governorate. Four drivers were injured as a result of the bombing.  Two trucks were totally destroyed and the other two severely damaged.

Reviewing the facts, JIAT found that the trucks were targeted based on intelligence which indicated that trucks affiliated to Houthi armed militias and the forces of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh were carrying missiles intended to target the positions of coalition forces' and resistance fighters loyal to Yemen’s legitimate government in Marib Province. As such, they presented an immediate threat, it being a key supply region for Houthi armed militia.

In light of what has been determined by the gathering of facts and evidence, the team found that these trucks were in fact a WFP convoy. The coalition forces were not aware of the timings and locations of the WFP convoy as the officials supervising this programme failed to provide the coalition forces with memorandum detailing their movements as prescribed by international conventions. JIAT’s investigation into this incident also revealed that the trucks did not use international protection signs on the trucks. The team further established that the targeting of this convoy was directly due to the lack of coordination between WFP and the relevant authorities at the coalition forces command.

MSF claimed that the area surrounding Republican Hospital in Saada, on January 23rd, 2016, were hit by explosive fragments as a result of air strikes.

After an assessment of the facts, JIAT found that the command of the coalition forces targeted in the same area as the hospital a number of warehouses containing weapons and munitions used by Houthi armed militias.  Because of the close proximity to the hospital and in order to minimize the possibility of damage in that area, laser-guided bombs (with accurate targeting) were used to neutralize a site 1300 meters away from the hospital.  It was confirmed that there was no direct targeting of the hospital or civilians located around the warehouse.

This information is reinforced by aerial photographs related to this operation which do not show that any buildings or civilians, in the nearby warehouse have been affected either directly or indirectly. The Coalition Forces were most clearly aware of the Republican Hospital as it is a prohibited target, being a medical facility and thereby protected under international conventions.

Such conventions state that it is a requirement to avoid targeting such facilities when preparing and planning for any military operation.  Following their investigation of this incident JIAT were quite satisfied that the coalition forces had complied with the rules of international and humanitarian law.

JIAT’s Legal Advisor concluded the statement emphasizing the team’s determination to carry out its responsibilities in a timely manner, its commitment to impartiality and independence and the public announcement of its findings and the conclusions reached.

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