FORMER Fremantle federal MP Melissa Parke has been appointed an “eminent expert” by the United Nations to investigate war crimes and human rights abuses in war-torn Yemen.
Since 2015 the southern Arabian country has been embroiled in a civil war that has claimed an estimated 10,000 lives and contributed to a famine that is threatening millions and killing 130 children a day.
Violence escalated in December when former president Ali Abdullah Saleh tried to break off an alliance with Shia rebels only to be assassinated during heavy fighting in the streets of the country’s capital Sanaa.
That prompted the UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein to appoint Ms Parke, Tunisian Kamel Jendoubi and Englishman Charles Garraway to “monitor and report” on any human rights abuses.
The trio were also asked where possible to identify perpetrators.
The group was formed under a resolution of the UN Human Rights Council, where Australia now holds a seat.
The council resolution highlighted allegations that children had been recruited for armed conflict, there had been arbitrary arrests and detention and attacks on medical facilities and schools.
Ms Parke has previously worked as a lawyer for the UN, but this unpaid posting comes with significant international prestige and she said she was honoured by the appointment.
“It will be a challenge but I hope I can make a contribution to this horrible situation that is affecting millions of men, women and children,” says Ms Parke, who flies out this weekend for preliminary talks in Geneva.
“It’s a really important start for the international community to make sure the perpetrators are brought to justice,” she says.
“Yemen is the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world.”
Ms Parke has to be circumspect in her comments, as she has to be seen as going in neutral, but it will be an extremely delicate situation given the conflict is widely seen as a proxy war for outside forces.
Saudi Arabia has backed the Yemeni government formed during the “Arab Spring”, but is accused of bombing a refugee camp, schools and hospitals, while Iran is reportedly backing the Houthi Shia rebels with arms.
Complicating things further, the United States has also been operating drones because of Al Quaida and ISIS influences in the area and has been backing the Saudi coalition attacks against the Houthi and Saleh.
Ms Parke says Yemen hasn’t received the media coverage in Australia of other crises, prolonging the conflict by keeping it off the international radar.
She hopes Australia will use its position on the UNHRC to ensure her group’s report is acted on and the people of Yemen see some justice.
by STEVE GRANT