A rights group filed a lawsuit against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to France on Tuesday, accusing him of complicity in torture and inhumane treatment in Yemen, lawyers said.
The complaint on behalf of Taha Hussein Mohamed, director of the Legal Center for Rights and Development (LCRD), said the prince who is Saudi Arabia’s defence minister was responsible attacks that hit civilians in Yemen.
The case was filed in a Paris court as pressure grows on President Emmanuel Macron to curb arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which spearhead a coalition fighting Iran-aligned Houthi rebels who control of most of northern Yemen and the capital Sanaa.
Speaking to reporters in Paris, foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir dismissed the lawsuit and said the Houthis should be held accountable for the war in Yemen.
The rights group, based in the Houthi-controlled Yemeni capital Sanaa, says on its website it monitors and documents rights’ violations in Yemen.
“He ordered the first bombings on Yemeni territory on March 25, 2015,” the group’s lawyers, Joseph Breham and Hakim Chergui, said in the complaint seen by Reuters.
“The existence of indiscriminate shelling by the coalition armed forces affecting civilian populations in Yemen can be qualified as acts of torture,” they wrote.
The lawsuit may embarrass Macron at a delicate moment in French-Saudi relations. France is the world’s third-biggest arms exporter and counts the kingdom as one of its biggest buyers.
The lawyers cited UN reports and documentation by rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Oxfam on arbitrary detentions and the use of illegal cluster bombs.
Authorities will now begin studying the suit and decide whether there is a basis to take further legal action. If the case follows the usual course, the prince would be informed of the legal action, but there would be no move to make him attend a hearing or detain him.
“The notion that the Houthis are victims is ridiculous. They are the aggressor. We have provided more humanitarian assistance than any country in Yemen,” Jubeir said.
“This notion of a lawsuit is ridiculous. I think the whole world should be supportive of our position with regards the legality of it. Everyone understands that you can’t have a terrorist militia that launches ballistic missiles on your capital. What would France do if six or seven ballistic missiles were launched on its capital?”
The Yemen conflict has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than 3 million – more than 10 percent of the population.
The complaint also accuses the coalition of depriving millions of people of access to basic necessities due to indiscriminate bombings and a naval blockade of Yemeni ports. The war has pushed the country to the brink of famine.
Coalition air strikes targeting Houthi fighters have frequently hit civilian areas, although the alliance denies ever doing so intentionally.
The coalition also says it is providing financial support to help aid agencies and humanitarian groups to help civilians.
The lawyers said French courts were competent to handle the case in line with the United Nations convention against torture.
Seventy-five percent of French people want Macron to suspend arms exports to Gulf Arab states. Several rights groups have warned of possible legal action if the government does not halt its sales.