Scores dead and wounded. Accountability and redress urgently needed
Sana’a – Since Sunday, September 1, 2019 until the time of writing, Mwatana has been documenting the horrific attack waged by the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition on a detention center operated by the Ansar Allah armed group (also known as the Houthis) to the north of Dhammar city, 130 kilometers south of Sana’a. The air attack left dozens dead or wounded.
On Saturday, August 31, 2019, around 11:45 PM, witnesses reported hearing about six coalition strikes within 15 minutes of each other. The strikes hit four buildings of the Dhammar Community College compound. The compound includes nine buildings in total, at least one of which the Houthis have been using as a detention center. It appears the Houthis have been using the Community College compound as a detention center since early 2015, and began to hold combatant detainees from opposing forces at the site in early 2017, according to information collected by Mwatana. The Houthi detention center held around 170 civilians and combatant detainees at the time of the attack. The International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen said it had visited the site regularly before the attack.
A Mwatana team visited the site the morning after the attack and observed bodies and body parts scattered in the yard and under the rubble. Twenty-seven bodies in white plastic bags where brought to the College yard while Mwatana was there. During the visit, coalition aircraft were still flying in the sky. The Mwatana team interviewed the wounded, survivors, witnesses, medical staff and first responders. It also photographed the site, including the destruction to the buildings and other physical evidence found at the site.
“I was about to sleep when I heard a huge explosion. I put both my hands on my head. My left hand was red, and it was missing one finger,” a 38-year old survivor said. “I heard those on my left whining as if they were battling death. There wasn’t a single complete body on my right. I was on the dividing line between life and death.”
As of writing, the Yemeni Red Crescent Society had recovered 96 bodies and 40 wounded. There are likely still dozens of bodies under the rubble, based on Mwatana observations at the site. “We only recognized 55 full bodies. The rest is unrecognizable carnage,” a Yemeni Red Crescent worker told Mwatana.
According to preliminary information collected by Mwatana, at least 7 children were detained in the ground floor of one of the targeted buildings. Information verified by Mwatana indicates that at least four of them were appear to have been killed.
This attack provides further evidence that the warring parties are disregarding international humanitarian law and international human rights law in Yemen, and underscores the need for active scrutiny of all parties to the conflict in Yemen, as well as the urgent need for real, credible accountability.
This is not the first time the coalition has attacked Houthi detention facilities. On May 21, 2015, the coalition hit a building in Jabal Harran, Dhamar city where the Houthis held civilians, including two journalists. On October 29, 2016, the coalition launched another attack on Zaidia prison in Hudaydah. On December 13, 2017, the coalition struck a detention center at the Military Police camp in Sana’a.
Mwatana for Human Rights calls upon the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition to respect international humanitarian law and on the Houthis to immediately end arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances. Mwatana also calls for a transparent and independent international investigation into this and other awful attacks, with an aim towards holding those responsible to account, and to providing appropriate redress to victims. In the absence of serious and transparent investigations, accountability and redress, such attacks will almost surely be repeated in the future.