Mwatana for Human Rights said in a statement on Wednesday, October 26, 2021, that the warring parties have committed grave violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) in the midst of a large-scale military escalation in Ma’rib Governorate, in the northeast of Yemen. The Ansar Allah (Houthi) armed group, which opposes the forces of the internationally-recognized government, bears responsibility for the largest number of violations that Mwatana has documented.
Mwatana calls upon the Ansar Allah (Houthi) armed group, the Saudi-UAE/led coalition, and the internationally-recognized government of Yemen’s forces to immediately cease indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including medical facilities.
Radhya Al-Mutawakel, Chairperson of Mwatana, said: “The targeting of civilians and medical facilities, as well as the intimidation of civilians and other violations of international law in Ma’rib, reflect the degree of the warring parties’ indifference to civilian lives, and the failure by the international community to respond or to establish international investigative mechanisms further the long-standing policy of impunity for the perpetrators.” She added: “This situation is disgraceful and must end with the creation of comprehensive accountability pathways that deter violators, provide redress to victims, and achieve broader justice.”
Since early 2021, the armed conflict has intensified in Ma’rib Governorate, where Mwatana has documented ground and air attacks as well as the laying of mines by Ansar Allah, the coalition, the UAE, and the internationally-recognized government.
More specifically, Ansar Allah and the internationally-recognized government have been implicated in committing multiple types of violations on the ground, including practices of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention of civilians, the recruitment of child soldiers, and targeting humanitarian organizations with restrictions and harassment that affected their operations and necessary interventions towards civilians stranded in the midst of the escalating fighting.
Since January 2021, Mwatana for Human Rights has documented at least eight ground attacks launched by Ansar Allah that hit civilian objects, in which at least 10 civilians, including six children, were killed, and 39 other civilians were injured, including 13 children and 10 women.
In the latest ground offensive, Ansar Allah launched an attack with three missiles on a civilian house in the middle of Al-Rawda residential neighborhood in the city of Ma’rib at approximately 3:40 p.m. on Sunday, October 3, 2021.
In this bloody attack, Mwatana verified that at least three children (all between the ages of 3 to 5) and a woman were killed, and at least 26 civilians were wounded, including seven children and eight women. Two shells hit the house directly, while the third shell fell on an area to the north of the house, about 800 meters away.
Eight civilian homes adjacent to the site of the attack were damaged, two of which were completely destroyed. The information documented by Mwatana confirms that the first and second shells fell successively, with a time difference of about 45 seconds, while the third shell fell after about three to four minutes.
In a field visit to the site of the ground attack, Mwatana inspected the extensive damage inflicted on the area. It also carried out field visits to Marib General Hospital and Kari Rural Hospital in Marib city in order to obtain information about the victims and survivors.
Al-Rawda neighborhood is located in the north of the city of Marib, which is under the control of the internationally-recognized government. The neighborhood is about two kilometers away from the governorate’s center. Al-Rawda neighborhood is considered one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in Ma’rib.
Mwatana also documented at least one ground attack launched by the internationally-recognized government forces on Alfa area in Al Rahba district, located in the south of Ma’rib Governorate on September 12, 2021, which killed two people, including a woman, and wounded one.
Earlier in the year, on July 16, 2021, Mwatana also documented a live ammunition incident perpetrated by the internationally-recognized government forces in the Khailat Al-Musherif area of Rahba District in Ma’rib Governorate, and verified that man and his 4-year-old daughter were killed and a woman was injured.
According to witness testimonies, the live ammunition fired at the family’s came from the government forces’ Dhraa Dahan site, which is located approximately 300 meters northeast of the house. There were no military sites affiliated with Ansar Allah near the house.
Ground attacks in violations of IHL and IHRL in the area are also attributable to Ansar Allah. On Wednesday, October 13, the Ansar Allah (Houthi) armed group fired three shells at a medical facility supported by Doctors Without Borders in the Abdiya district of Ma’rib Governorate. The shells landed to the east of the hospital.
A Mwatana researcher in Ma’rib stated that many of the patients were discharged from the hospital and returned to their homes, while the group transferred the wounded to areas under its control.
Separately, Mwatana also documented at least five incidents of explosions caused by landmines and other explosive objects that were planted by Ansar Allah in Ma’rib, which together resulted in the deaths of two children and injuries to five children and a woman in the districts of Rahba, Mahlia, Al-Abdiyyah, Serwah and Majzar between February and July 2021.
Additionally, Mwatana for Human Rights documented two air attacks launched by the Suadi-Emirati/led coalition in the Governorate, resulting in the deaths of five civilians, including at least three children, and the injury of five other civilians, including a child.
One of the airstrikes targeted Rahba District, south of the governorate, on April 2, 2021, as a result of which a civilian was killed and five others, including a 12-year-old child, were wounded while they were under one of the Arak trees in the Hada area.
IHL requires that warring parties distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians and between military objectives and civilian objects, and prohibits attacks that would cause disproportionate harm to civilians. More broadly, warring parties must take all feasible precautions to minimize the harm to the civilian population. In each of these attacks, the warring parties have failed to meet these obligations, and have caused undue harm to Yemeni civilians.
These attacks have caused a particular added layer of harm for Ma’rib’s significant population of of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in Ma’rib. Since the start of the armed conflict in Yemen in September 2014, there have been massive influxes of IDPs to the area, as it is a reception center for IDPs from various governorates around the country. No less than two million individuals have been internally displaced in Yemen since the start of the war, and many of them have fled to Ma’rib.
Following the escalating military operations in the governorate, the districts of Majzar and Madghal, both in the north of Ma’rib, as well as the Serwah camps (Dhanna camp, Al-Hayal camp, and Al-Sawabin camp), witnessed large waves of residents being displacement from mid-January 2020 until late August 2020. Many of these individuals—especially those living in the Serwah camps, had already been displaced before and were once again forced to flee in search of safety.
According to the International Organization for Migration’s Displacement Movement Matrix, which has access to seven out of 14 districts in Marib Governorate, nearly 10,000 people were displaced in September 2021 alone, which is the highest rate of displacement recorded in Ma’rib during this year.
In addition to their attacks on civilians, the Ansar Allah (Houthi) armed group has also imposed a complete siege on the Abdiya district from September 21 to October 15, 2021, causing further civilian harm. According to the International Organization for Migration, this siege impeded the movement of people and basic supplies. The area is considered one of the largest districts in Ma’rib Governorate, with an estimated population of more than 31,000 people, according to the local authorities. while the situation has also become dire in the districts of Harib, Al Juba and Al Rahba, where it is estimated that nearly 5,000 internally displaced people have fled this month. Most of them went to safer areas in the districts of Al-Juba and Marib Al-Wadi, and to the densely populated urban areas of the city of Ma’rib.
Radhya Al-Mutawakil urged the parties in Ma’rib, particularly the Ansar Allah (Houthi) armed group, “to deal responsibly with respect to the safety and lives of tens of thousands of displaced people who already have been harmed by the war and forced to flee their homes in search of a safe haven, and to spare them new woes.”
Al-Mutawakel called for the “opening of safe corridors and facilitating immediate and unconditional access for relief and medical aid to all areas without exception.”
Mwatana for Human Rights renews its call to the Ansar Allah (Houthi) armed group, the Saudi/UAE-led coalition, and the internationally-recognized Government of Yemen, to stop launching attacks against civilian objects and civilians, and to cease other violations of IHL and IHRL. Civilians have borne the greatest cost in the Yemeni war, and have yet to see any shifts toward accountability.
As the numbers of victims continue to rise, warring parties must immediately put an end to the horrifying violations of international law they are committing against the civilian population in Ma’rib and Yemen more broadly. The international community must also stand behind the victims of these attacks and hold the perpetrators of these violations accountable and put an end to seven years of impunity.