UN experts: Huthis getting weapons similar to Iran's

Panel of UN experts says type of weapons being received, used by Huthi rebels are likely to have come from Iran and accuses rebels of repressing dissent with violence.

UNITED NATIONS - Yemen's Huthi rebels are in possession of new weapons similar to those produced in Iran, according to a UN report, in potential violation of a UN arms embargo.

The crisis in Yemen pits the Iranian-backed Huthi rebels against government forces supported by a Saudi-led military coalition.

UN experts said in a report to the Security Council that the main smuggling route for both the commercially available drone parts and weapons “seems to run overland from Oman and the southern coast of Yemen, through territory controlled by the government of Yemen, towards Sanaa,” the country’s capital, which is controlled by the Huthis.

The panel said the high-profile seizure Nov. 25 of a dhow in the Arabian Sea carrying anti-tank missiles indicates that sea transport also “continues to play a role” in potential violations of the arms embargo.

Some of the new weapons, which the rebels have possessed since 2019, "have technical characteristics similar to arms manufactured in the Islamic Republic of Iran," said the report, which was compiled by a panel of UN experts tasked with monitoring the arms embargo.

Aramco attacks

The panel didn't say whether the weapons were delivered to the Huthis directly by the Iranian government, which has repeatedly denied sending them arms.

"In addition to the previously known weapon systems, they used a new type of Delta-design uncrewed aerial vehicle and a new model of land attack cruise missile," the document said.

The weapons, as well as commercially available parts constituting some of the weapons, potentially violated the embargo, according to the document. During most of 2019, the panel said, the Huthis continued and intensified aerial attacks on Saudi Arabia using the two new weapon systems.

The experts said they investigated the Sept. 14 high-profile attack on Saudi Aramco oil facilities in Khurays and Abqaiq, where the kingdom’s crucial oil processing plant is. The drone and missile attacks cut into global energy supplies and halved Saudi oil production.

The Huthis claimed responsibility for the attacks. But the panel said it found that “despite claims to the contrary, the Huthi forces are unlikely to be responsible for the attack, as the estimated range of the weapon systems used does not allow for a launch from Huthi-controlled territory.”

Nonetheless, the experts said a number of other attacks using the same drones and land-based cruise missiles can be attributed to the Huthis.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have alleged that Iran was responsible for the Aramco attacks. Tehran has called the claims “maximum lies.”

The panel said it did not believe the comparatively sophisticated weapons used in those attacks “were developed and manufactured in Yemen, implying that they were imported in violation of the targeted arms embargo.”

The panel said it has analyzed debris from drones and seized parts, and traced one consignment from a Hong Kong company to an address in Muscat, Oman, and another from Japan to Abu Dhabi.

Huthi repression

The panel additionally said that it had identified a "Huthi network involved in the repression of women who oppose the Huthis, including through the use of sexual violence."

In 11 cases, the experts said they documented the arrest, detention, beating, torture and/or sexual abuse of women “because of their political affiliations or participation in political activities or public protests.”

“These women were threatened with charges of prostitution or organized crime if they persisted in activities against the Huthis,” the panel said.

"Violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law continued to be widely committed by all parties in Yemen with impunity," the report said.

The Yemen conflict began with the 2014 takeover of Sanaa by the Huthis, who control much of the country's north. A Saudi-led military coalition allied with Yemen's internationally recognized government has been fighting the Huthis since 2015.

The conflict has killed thousands of civilians and created the world's worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine last year. The UN has warned of a possible famine this year.

“Throughout 2019,” the experts said, “the Huthis and the government of Yemen made little headway towards either a political settlement or a conclusive military victory.”

“In a continuation from 2018, the belligerents continued to practice economic warfare: using economic obstruction and financial tools as weapons to starve opponents of funds or materials,” the panel said, adding that “profiteering from the conflict is endemic.”

In the Huthi-controlled north, the experts said, the rebels continued to consolidate their political and military control, using their “pervasive intelligence services” and brutally suppressing tribal opposition and political dissent.