Wed Jul 26, 2017 05:50PM
Bodies of Somali refugees, killed in attack by a helicopter while traveling in a boat off the coast of Yemen, are at the port in Hudaydah, Yemen, March 17, 2017. (Photo by AP)
Bodies of Somali refugees, killed in attack by a helicopter while traveling in a boat off the coast of Yemen, are at the port in Hudaydah, Yemen, March 17, 2017. (Photo by AP)

UN investigators have censured as a violation of humanitarian law a deadly March attack by the Saudi-led military alliance fighting Yemen on a boat carrying Somali refugees off the coast of the impoverished country.  

More than 40 people, including women and children, were killed and dozens of others were wounded after a Saudi-led strike hit the refugee boat near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait in the Red Sea.

The coalition has denied striking the boat near the port of Hudaydah. 

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"This civilian vessel was almost certainly attacked using a 7.62 mm caliber weapon from an armed utility helicopter," the investigators wrote in a 185-page report to the UN Security Council on Monday, Reuters reported on Wednesday, adding that the helicopter was likely operating from a naval vessel.

The UN report said the attack violated international humanitarian law and threatened the peace, security and stability of Yemen.

Saudi Arabia, along with some of its allies, has been pounding Yemen since March 2015 in a bid to undermine the Houthi Ansarullah movement and reinstate resigned president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.  

The Saudi-led coalition, which receives US arms and logistical support, includes Riyadh’s allies, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Jordan.

The UN investigators said the coalition had become a cover for its members to “hide behind 'the entity' of the coalition to shield themselves from state responsibility for violations committed by their forces.”

Body of a Somali refugee, killed in an attack by a helicopter while traveling in a vessel off the coast of Yemen, is carried at the Red Sea port of Hudaydah, Yemen, March 17, 2017. (Via Reuters)

"Attempts to divert responsibility in this manner from individual states to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition may contribute to further violations continuing with impunity," they wrote.

Human Rights Watch also censured the attack on the Somali refugee boast as a “war crime.” 

“The coalition’s apparent firing on a boat filled with fleeing refugees is only the latest likely war crime in Yemen’s two-year-long war,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, in March. 

“Reckless disregard for the lives of civilians has reached a new level of depravity,” she added. 

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The strike was reportedly carried out by an Apache helicopter, which is only used by Saudi Arabia in the war on Yemen.