The Fifth Anniversary of the Saudi/UAE-led Military Campaign in Yemen
Sana’a – On the fifth anniversary of the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition’s launch of military operations in Yemen, Mwatana for Human Rights said that the Coalition, as well as Ansar Allah armed group (the Houthis) and other warring parties, continue to systematically undermine the lives of Yemeni civilians.
Yemenis are not only suffering from violations perpetrated against them from the sky and earth. They also suffer from the warring parties undermining state institutions, particularly the Coalition, affiliated forces, and Ansar Allah armed group (the Houthis), including at the expense of rule of law, empowering and emboldening different armed groups to seize control of different parts of Yemen.
For Yemenis, five difficult years have passed since Ansar Allah armed group (the Houthis) extended their control over the capital Sana’a in 2014 and the following intervention by the Coalition in support of the internationally recognized government of Yemen in 2015.
The outcome today is obvious: a country torn apart and the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
Since the beginning of the war, parties to the conflict on all sides continue to violate the principles and rules of international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
“Accountability for abuses perpetrated by all parties of the conflict and providing justice to victims is necessary to stop the bloodshed and multi-faceted suffering Yemenis have endured for more than five years,” Radhya Al Mutawakel, Chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights, said.
The fifth anniversary of the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition intervention in Yemen coincides with global mobilization and panic in the face of COVID-19, or the coronavirus, even in societies at peace with efficient and effective health systems. In addition to direct violations by the warring parties, Yemenis are facing this pandemic with an ailing health system destroyed and weakened by parties to the conflict. Yemen could be the weakest link at the global level in the face of Coronavirus threat. The warring parties, including the Coalition, particularly with its control over Yemeni borders, and Ansar Allah, with its control over the majority of the population, have additional responsibilities to minimize harm to, and ensure the ability of Yemenis to protect themselves, in these delicate times.
On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the Coalition’s intervention, Mwatana highlights some of the violations committed by the coalition and its allies. Mwatana’s work highlighting other warring parties’ violations, including Ansar Allah’s use of landmines, abusive detention practices and obstruction of aid—the immediate ceasing of these abuses taking on increased urgency in light of the COVID-19 pandemic—is available on Mwatana’s website in English and Arabic.
Military operations carried out by the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition enter their sixth year today. These operations are still taking the lives of civilians, including women and children, and inflicting massive damage on civilian properties, including those specifically protected by international humanitarian law. The Coalition has flagrantly and repeatedly violated the principles of distinction and proportionality.
From March 2015 until March 2020, Mwatana documented at least 528 aerial attacks that killed or wounded civilians and damaged or destroyed civilian properties. These strikes killed 3,717 civilians, including 946 women and 364 children, and wounded 2,878 civilians, including 738 women and 303 children. These air strikes hit residential neighborhoods, villages, markets, bridges, health facilities, schools and other service and business facilities.
On Friday, February 14, 2020, at about 11:45pm, Saudi/UAE-led Coalition aircraft dropped a number of consecutive bombs on civilians in Al Saidah village, Al Maslub district, Al Jawf governorate, killing 32 civilians, the vast majority of them children and women. Twenty-one others were injured, including 12 children and 6 women. The air strike destroyed one house and damaged two other houses.
The first bomb hit a residential building. The second struck the area around the house as first responders gathered to help. The third bomb hit a group of women and children in the northeast part of the village. They have been trying to hide under trees after the first explosions. The fourth bomb landed on a hole in the ground women and children were using as a shelter in the southern part of the village. This last bomb did not explode.
The attack came less than half an hour after a Coalition aircraft was downed about 800 meters to the west of the village.
Ansar Allah armed group (Houthis) forces were fighting coalition-aligned forces about four kilometers to the east of the strike location.
In an interview with Mwatana, Ahmed Mosaed (pseudonym), 75 years, the head of a household whose family members were killed and wounded, said: “How can anyone imagine my internal pain as I lost 18 members of my family. They went to bed healthy and they become uncollectible carnage.”
Mwatana researchers photographed the remnants of the weapon used in this attack. According to a weapons expert, the remnants were part of a guiding unit for a guided bomb unit from the GBU-Paveway series manufactured by the American company Raytheon. Some other countries may have license to manufacture some models of the Paveway series.
Indiscriminate ground attacks
Warring parties in Yemen, including Ansar Allah armed group (the Houthis), the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition, its affiliated forces, and the internationally recognized government of Yemen, have launched indiscriminate ground attacks that have killed and wounded scores of people in different governorates of Yemen.
The Houthis has carried out frequent and bloody indiscriminate ground attacks, many likely war crimes. Some of Mwatana’s reporting on this is available here.
The Coalition has also carried out indiscriminate ground attacks. Saudi Border Guard Forces have carried out artillery attacks against Yemeni towns, villages and markets along the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Between 2018 and 2019, forces carried out indiscriminate shelling during the armed confrontations between forces loyal to Yemeni President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi and those loyal to members of the Coalition (fighting on behalf of the Southern Transitional Council) in the south of Yemen. These attacks resulted in civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian properties. International humanitarian law obliges warring parties at all time to distinguish between civilian and military objects, to ensure military operations are directed against military targets and to take the necessary precautions to minimize damage to civilians. Indiscriminate attacks include those that are not directed at a specific military objective.
Between January 2018 and March 2020, Mwatana documented at least 46 indiscriminate ground attacks that killed or wounded civilians and damaged or destroyed civilian objects carried out by forces affiliated with, or loyal to, the Coalition. These attacks killed 56 civilians, including 33 children and 8 women, and wounded at least 56 others, including 30 children and 11 women.
On Saturday, February 16, 2019, at 10:10am, in Abs district, Hajjah governorate, Saudi land forces fired an artillery shell which landed on a house in Baghtat village, killing one child and injuring two women and a child.
“Minutes after I left, I heard a very loud explosion. I rushed back to my house, and found it completely destroyed with my neighbors standing on its ruins. I would never believe that this debris is my house. I have left my children and wife drinking tea a moment ago. Under the rubble, I found my family members torn apart and the blood in my veins frozen” says the head of household (50 years) to Mwatana after the attack.
Since the escalation of the conflict in March 2015, Mwatana has documented child recruitment by parties to the conflict in Yemen on all sides, including cases of children being used in security, logistical and combat roles. Ansar Allah armed group (the Houthis) was responsible for the vast majority of Mwatana’s documented cases, but other parties, including pro-Hadi forces and armed groups affiliated with the Coalition, have recruited children in areas under their control.
In the period between March 2015 and March 2020, Mwatana documented at least 358 cases of child recruitment and use by forces affiliated with, or loyal to, the Coalition in the governorates of Aden, Lahej, Abyan, Shabwa and Hadramout. Child recruits who spoke to Mwatana cited economic reasons for their joining armed groups or forces, and said that logistical and security jobs were assigned to them. However, Mwatana interviewed recruited children and relatives of recruited children and documented cases of child soldiers killed on the front lines and on the battlefield.
Warring parties have taken advantage of the continued collapse of the economic situation in Yemen, as well as the deteriorated education system, to mobilize and recruit children. International humanitarian law and international human rights law prohibit the recruitment and use of children during conflict. Allowing them to volunteer or provide logistical services is also prohibited. The recruitment or use of children under 15 is a war crime.
Arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and torture
Between June 2016 and March 2020, Mwatana documented 401 cases of arbitrary detention of civilians, 205 cases of enforced disappearance and 106 cases of torture committed by the Coalition, or forces loyal to the Coalition. Mwatana documented cases of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and torture in secret or unofficial prisons administered by Coalition Forces or by forces loyal to the Coalition.
In March 2019, in the early hours of the day, four military vehicles and an armored vehicle carrying about 20 military personnel affiliated with the Security Belts (UAE proxy forces), some of them wearing masks and others in civilian clothing, encircled the house of Samer Salah (pseudonym) (30 years) in a village in Abyan governorate. The men raided the house, handcuffed and detained Samer on the suspicion of affiliation with Al Qaeda.
Samer remained forcibly disappeared until April 2019 when his body was found in a hospital in Abyan governorate. His family arrived to the hospital to receive the corpse and found marks on the body, including what appeared to be the marks of a rope around his neck.
The brother of the victim (38 years) said to Mwatana, “Prison officials asked us to take away the dead body but we refused so they moved it to the hospital and warned doctors against photographing the dead body or issuing any relevant medical report. In the prison where my brother was detained, detainees are subject to the ugliest crimes against humanity without any deterrence. They have tortured and killed my brother, and when we asked for a clarification, they simply said that he hanged himself.”
International humanitarian law prohibits torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment under all circumstances. The Geneva Conventions Common Article 3 specifically provides for the protection of people in detention, including civilians and captured combatants, from “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture,” as well as “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.”
Attacks on health facilities
Throughout the period from March 2015 until March 2020, Mwatana documented 35 air attacks carried out by the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition against medical facilities. Saadah governorate was particularly affected by the attacks on health care facilities, with 22 air strikes on hospitals and health units. Mwatana also documented one incident of ground shelling on a health facility carried out by Saudi land forces positioned on the Yemeni-Saudi border.
On March 18, 2020, Mwatana and Physicians for Human Rights issued a report entitled “I ripped the IV out and started running” to shed light on violations against hospitals, health and care centers in Yemen between 2015 and 2018. The report covered 120 attacks on medical facilities and personnel. The report was composed of four main sections: air strikes, indiscriminate ground shelling, attacks on medical staff and the occupation of hospitals. The aim of the report was to draw attention to the material and human damage inflicted through attacks on medical facilities with the backdrop of a complete collapse of the health system in the country. The warring parties have not spared the health system during the conflict in Yemen, even while disease and epidemics spread.
Hospitals and other health centers and medical units are extended special protection under international humanitarian law. International humanitarian law requires that medical staff, such as doctors and nurses, and those searching for, collecting, transporting and treating the wounded, are protected.
Blocking humanitarian access
Between March 2015 and March 2020, Mwatana documented at least 14 cases of blocking humanitarian aid access by the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition or forces loyal to the Coalition. The Coalition’s closure of airports (specifically Sana’a International Airport), land and sea ports has impeded the delivery of humanitarian aid, and impacted the ability of Yemeni civilians to access food, medicine and fuel, essentials for the survival of the civilian population. Yemen relies heavily on imported goods and commodities. These restrictions have also impeded Yemenis’ access to vital healthcare services, amplified the risk of famine and accelerated the spread of epidemics like cholera. These practices have contributed to pushing the country to the brink of a humanitarian disaster, while the country is already in the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
International humanitarian law prohibits attacks on objects indispensable to the civilian population and requires that relief supplies are not obstructed.
Ansar Allah armed group (the Houthis) has also grievously impeded access and aid in areas under their control.
The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic adds increased urgency for all warring parties in Yemen to immediately lift all impediments to the access and transport of aid and other goods essential to the survival of the civilian population in the country. The warring parties should also take immediate steps, including agreeing to an immediate ceasefire as part of the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire in light of the pandemic, to allow for an urgent, life-saving response in Yemen.
Al Mutawakel added, “Five years after the start of the the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition military operation, the international community has to be serious and responsible in its position towards Yemen. Countries that continue to sell and supply weapons to the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition should end this military support and support accountability efforts instead. As a very first step, the Human Rights Council should support the Group of Eminent Experts and strengthen its mandate to include the collection and preservation of evidence in relation to all alleged violations and related crimes.”