Children attending class on the first day of school, which was damaged by an airstrike during fighting between Saudi-led coaltion-backed government force and Houthi forces, Taizz, Yemen, September 3, 2019.
© 2019 Ahmad al-Basha/AFP/Getty Images
(Beirut) – Yemen’s armed conflict and humanitarian crisis is resulting in unspeakable suffering for millions of civilians despite increasing global attention to abuses occurring in the country, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020. The Saudi government’s murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in late 2018 galvanized the international community to scrutinize Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations in Yemen and their own potential complicity in these abuses through arms sales.
The Saudi–led coalition and the Houthi armed group fighting since March 2015 are responsible for laws-of-war violations and human rights abuses. The conflict has killed and injured thousands of civilians. A United Nations report in September 2019 found that: “parties to the conflict in Yemen are responsible for an array of human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law. Some of these violations are likely to amount to war crimes.”
“It’s well-established that the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi forces are indiscriminately attacking, forcibly disappearing, and obstructing food and medicine to Yemeni civilians, among other abuses,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The international community, including states allied with parties to the conflict, should use the leverage they have to press the warring parties to end their violations and ensure accountability.”
In the 652-page World Report 2020, its 30th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the Chinese government, which depends on repression to stay in power, is carrying out the most intense attack on the global human rights system in decades. He finds that Beijing’s actions both encourage and gain support from autocratic populists around the globe, while Chinese authorities use their economic clout to deter criticism from other governments. It is urgent to resist this assault, which threatens decades of progress on human rights and our future.
Since March 2015, the coalition has conducted scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes killing thousands of civilians and hitting civilian objects in violation of the laws of war, using munitions sold by the United States, United Kingdom, and others. The airstrike on a detention center in August 2019 that killed and wounded at least 200 people was the single deadliest attack since the war began.
Houthi forces have used banned antipersonnel landmines and fired artillery indiscriminately into cities such as Taizz and Hodeida, killing and wounding civilians, and indiscriminately launched ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia.
The conflict has had a devastating impact on the lives of ordinary Yemenis, placing millions of people at risk of famine. Yemen’s economy, already fragile prior to the conflict, has been gravely affected. Hundreds of thousands of families no longer have a steady source of income, and many public servants have not received a regular salary in several years.
Houthi forces, the Yemeni government, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, and various UAE and Saudi-backed Yemeni armed groups have arbitrarily detained people, including children, and committed forced disappearances. Houthi forces have held people hostage. Yemeni officials in Aden have beaten, raped, and tortured detained migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa, including women and children.
The warring parties have not acknowledged any responsibility for violations, which has resulted in a pervasive lack of accountability and justice.
Yemen’s civil society has faced security and political abuses. Warring parties have attacked, harassed, arrested, and forcibly disappeared Yemeni activists, journalists, lawyers, academics, and rights defenders, including members of the Baha’i faith. Women political activists, who have played a prominent role in human rights campaigning and peacebuilding, have been threatened and subjected to smear campaigns, and were excluded from peace talks in Sweden in December 2018.
“Instead of standing still amid the human suffering in Yemen, governments close to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the Houthis should pressure their allies to end their grave human rights abuses and establish accountability measures,” Page said.