The Metropolitan police and US justice department have been asked to launch a war crimes investigation into Saudi and Yemeni officials over a 2016 air attack that killed 137 civilians attending a family funeral.
Under the powers of universal jurisdiction states can undertake inquiries and prosecutions for serious offences such as torture and war crimes even if they were carried out by foreign nationals abroad.
A complaint was submitted on Monday to SO15, the Met’s counter-terrorism command by lawyers acting on behalf of UK national, Nabeel Gubari, 54, whose uncle, Muhammad Ali al-Rowaishan was among those who died in the community centre in Sana’a on 8 October 2016.
The bombing was one of the most notorious atrocities of the Yemen war. Many of the victims were young children. A further 695 people were injured, many suffering severe burns as flames engulfed the building. No one has ever been investigated or charged for the incident.
Lawyers, led by Rodney Dixon QC and Hakan Camuz of the London law firm Stoke White solicitors, have identified four Saudi and Yemeni officials – both military and governmental – whom they allege are directly responsible for ordering the bombing even though it was known those attending were civilians.
The suspects’ names have been passed to the Met and US justice department which, the lawyers said, can expand their inquiries. All four are known to travel to the UK and US regularly and have therefore not been named.
If the police pursue the investigation and the suspects fly into Britain, they could be detained, questioned, charged and imprisoned in the UK. The complaint against the suspects is for alleged crimes of torture under section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988.
The 2016 funeral attack involved the use of US-manufactured and supplied weapons. The Saudi-led coalition has already admitted responsibility for the bombing. British military staff and British weapons have been involved in other bombing raids on Houthi rebels in Yemen during the war.
The lawyers are also acting for a US citizen, Abdulla al-Alrowashan, who is the brother of Mohammed Ali, and another brother, Khalid Ali Saleh al-Ruwayshan, who is a Yemeni national living in Istanbul.
In a statement, Gubari said: “It is time that the people who murdered Ali and the many other innocent people on that day were made to face some consequences for their actions. They bombed a funeral. There is no excuse that can be given for what they did. We are angry and have suffered helplessly for too long. I really hope that the UK and US police take this seriously and do something about it. Too many innocent people have died for no reason and we deserve justice.”
Dixon, of Temple Garden Chambers, said: “After reviewing the evidence it is clear that the crimes committed on 8 October 2016 can and should be investigated under universal jurisdiction. We strongly believe that the Saudi officials who planned and carried out the attack on the community hall where the funeral was being held are guilty of war crimes and indeed torture. We need to use all international mechanisms that are available to us to try and bring the families of those innocent people who were killed on that day some semblance of justice and universal Jurisdiction is one such avenue.”
Camuz said: “The people of Yemen have suffered for too long with no clear path for them to pursue justice for the many horrific crimes which have been committed against them by the Saudi and UAE coalition forces.
“Today’s complaint is the first of its kind in relation to the appalling bombing of the funeral in 2016 and we will do everything we can to assist the Metropolitan police and the Department of justice as they begin their investigation into these crimes.”
Haydee Dijkstal, a barrister at 33 Bedford Row chambers, who is leading on the US complaint, said: “This was an attack on what was known to be a community centre and could hold up to 1,000 civilians. This is a US citizen who is asking his own government to have the murder of his brother investigated.”