The Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi armed group engaged in a conflict in Yemen which have turned the country’s humanitarian crisis into a full-blown catastrophe, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2019.
Since the armed conflict escalated in March 2015, the warring parties have committed numerous laws-of-war violations, worsened the country’s humanitarian situation, and failed to hold those responsible for war crimes to account. The United States, United Kingdom, France, and other weapons suppliers have risked complicity in abuses through arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other coalition governments. The United Nations has warned that without a dramatic change in the situation, nearly half of Yemen’s population will be at risk of starvation.
“The Saudi-led coalition and Houthi forces have indiscriminately attacked, forcibly disappeared, and blocked food and medicine to Yemeni civilians,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments around the globe can either do nothing while millions sink closer toward famine or use the leverage at their disposal to press the warring parties to end their abuses and impose sanctions on those obstructing aid.”
In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.
Yemen’s armed conflict has taken a terrible toll on the population. Fighting has killed and wounded thousands of civilians. Millions suffer from shortages of food and medical care, yet the warring parties continue impeding aid. Across the country, civilians suffer from a lack of basic services, a spiraling economic crisis, and broken governance, health, education, and judicial systems.
The coalition has conducted scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes killing thousands of civilians and hitting critical infrastructure and other civilian structures in violation of the laws of war. Houthi forces have recruited children, used landmines and fired artillery and rockets indiscriminately into cities such as Taizz and Aden, and into Saudi Arabia. Houthi forces, government-affiliated forces, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and UAE-backed Yemeni forces have arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared scores of people. Houthi forces have held people as hostages. Yemeni officials in Aden have beaten, raped, and tortured detained migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa, including women and children.
The coalition has failed to conduct credible investigations into abuses, and coalition member countries have sought to avoid international legal liability by refusing to provide information on their forces’ role in unlawful attacks. The Houthi armed group also has not punished its commanders responsible for war crimes. Senior officials implicated in abuses remain in positions of authority across the country.
One cost of Yemen’s war has been the closing space for civil society groups. Warring parties have arrested, harassed, threatened, and forcibly disappeared Yemeni activists, journalists, lawyers, and rights defenders. Women activists, who have played a prominent role documenting abuses and advocating for their end, have been threatened, subjected to smear campaigns, beaten, and detained. Humanitarian aid workers have also been killed, wounded and detained.
“Rather than risk complicity in the next airstrike on a wedding or on a bus filled with children, the US, UK, and France should tell Saudi Arabia that weapons sales won’t continue until war crimes stop and those responsible are prosecuted,” Whitson said.