Yemen war: Saudi king issues 'pardon' for his armed forces

In a move that appears to license war crimes, the Saudi king has issued a pardon for "all military men" involved in the Yemen conflict. 

An announcement by the government news agency on Tuesday said the pardon would apply to "military and disciplinary penalties, in regard of some rules and disciplines". The pardon had been issued "in appreciation" of the "heroics and sacrifices" of the Saudi armed forces and reflected the king's desire to "bring pleasure and happiness into the military men and their families", the announcement said.

It added that King Salman's decision had been "based on reports" submitted by Crown Prince Mohammed (who was the main instigator of the Saudi military intervention).

There have been frequent allegations of war crimes committed by Saudi forces (among others) in Yemen. In 2016 a UN report accused Saudi Arabia of "widespread and systematic" targeting of civilians with its air strikes. 

One notorious case was the bombing of a funeral gathering in 2016 which killed at least 140 people and injured more than 500. Video evidence (above) showed it was a "double tap" bombing with a second strike launched as rescuers moved in to help victims of the first strike.

After initially denying responsibility, the kingdom eventually admitted it had not only bombed the funeral but had done so with disregard for its own rules of engagement. An internal investigation found the attack had been carried out without approval from the coalition command and without following the command’s "precautionary measures" to ensure that the location was not a civilian one.

The official report went on to say "appropriate action ... must be taken against those who caused the incident" – though it is unclear what action was actually taken.

Under international law, states have an obligation to investigate war crimes allegedly committed by their nationals or armed forces and, if appropriate, prosecute the suspects. A generalised pardon for the Saudi military would appear contradict this. At the very least, it sends a signal that the kingdom is not particularly interested in pursuing crimes committed by members of its armed forces.