Yemen: An “entirely man-made catastrophe” – UN human rights report urges international investigation
GENEVA—Human rights violations and abuses continue unabated in Yemen, along with unrelenting violations of international humanitarian law, with civilians suffering deeply the consequences of an “entirely man-made catastrophe”, according to a UN human rights report published on Tuesday.
The report, mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, records violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law over three years, since September 2014. Between March 2015, when the UN Human Rights Office began reporting on civilian casualties, and 30 August, at least 5,144 civilians have been documented as killed and more than 8,749 injured.* Children accounted for 1,184 of those who were killed and 1,592 of those injured. Coalition airstrikes continued to be the leading cause of child casualties as well as overall civilian casualties. Some 3, 233 of the civilians killed were reportedly killed by Coalition forces.
In addition to markets, hospitals, schools, residential areas, and other public and private infrastructure, the past year witnessed airstrikes against funeral gatherings and small civilian boats. Such incidents were widespread, the report states.
The Popular Committees affiliated with the Houthis and the army units loyal to former President Abdullah Saleh (the Houthi/Saleh forces) were responsible for some 67 per cent of the 1,702 cases of recruitment of children for use in hostilities. UN Human Rights monitors frequently observed children as young as 10 who were armed and uniformed, manning checkpoints. Houthi/Saleh forces were also found to be responsible for widespread arbitrary or unlawful detentions.
The report found that the governorates most affected by the conflict were Aden, Al-Hudaydah, Sana’a and Taizz. The humanitarian crisis – with nearly 18.8 million people in need of humanitarian aid and 7.3 million on the brink of famine – is a direct result of the behaviour of parties to the conflict, including indiscriminate attacks, attacks against civilians and protected objects, sieges, blockades and restrictions on movement, the report states.
“In many cases, information obtained…suggested that civilians may have been directly targeted, or that operations were conducted heedless of their impact on civilians without regard to the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack. In some cases, information suggested that no actions were taken to mitigate the impact of operations on civilians,” the report states.
“The shelling of Taizz has been unrelenting, even after the impact of these attacks on civilians and civilian objects became apparent to the parties involved. The use of such tactics appears to be in violation of the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks and of the obligation to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects.”
The report adds that the use of restricted weapons continues. It stresses that “the minimal efforts towards accountability in the past year are wholly insufficient to respond to the gravity of violations and abuses continuing every day in Yemen.”
The National Commission established to investigate human rights violations in Yemen is not perceived to be impartial, the report notes. In the absence of its recognition by all parties to the conflict, the Commission cannot deliver comprehensive, impartial reporting on the human rights situation in Yemen.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said it was crucial for an independent, international investigation to be established on the conflict in Yemen.
“I have repeatedly called on the international community to take action – to set up an independent, international investigation into the allegations of very serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Yemen. An international investigation would go a long way in putting on notice the parties to the conflict that the international community is watching and determined to hold to account perpetrators of violations and abuses,” High Commissioner Zeid said.
“The reticence of the international community in demanding justice for the victims of the conflict in Yemen is shameful, and in many ways contributing to the continuing horror.”
“I appeal to all the parties to the conflict, those supporting them and those with influence over them to have mercy on the people of Yemen, and to take immediate measures to ensure humanitarian relief for civilians and justice for the victims of violations,” Zeid added.”
Other armed actors have continued to take advantage of the prevailing insecurity in Yemen. Over the past year, extremist groups have sustained and adapted their presences. For example, after being driven out of Al Mukalla in Hadramaut governorate in April 2016, Al Qaida is now operational in Taizz city.
The report raises fears of a full-scale operation on Al Hudaydah, which could lead to significant civilian casualties and increased displacement, as well as further limiting access to goods essential to the survival of the population that are supplied to most of the country through the port of Al Hudaydah. “Sieges and blockades imposed by the warring parties have had a devastating impact on civilians, preventing them from leaving areas affected by conflict to safety and, when they remain, preventing them from accessing goods necessary for survival,” the report states.
“I call on all parties to the conflict to cease hostilities and to work robustly toward a negotiated and durable solution, so that the people of Yemen may finally know peace,” High Commissioner Zeid said.
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* These figures have been updated beyond the time period covered by the report. The figures are a conservative estimate, given the strict verification methodology applied by the UN Human Rights Office, as well as access constraints to many areas of the country.
The full report, with graphics and photographs, can be downloaded on: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/YemenReport2017.aspx
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Photo: Yemenis inspect damage of a building in the capital, Sana`a, after an airstrike on 25 September 2017. Source: Yahya Arhab/EPA-EFE.