Saudi Arabian and Yemeni forces must protect civilians in Sa’da conflict

Amnesty International has called on all parties to the conflict raging in Yemen’s northerly Sa’da region to treat detainees humanely and protect civilians.

Fighting between Yemeni government forces and armed supporters of the late Shi’a Zaidi cleric Hussein al-Houthi is reported to have spilt over into Saudi Arabia, leading Saudi Arabian forces to become directly engaged against the Yemeni rebels.

Amnesty International has urged all parties to the conflict to adhere strictly to the requirements of international humanitarian law.

At least 100 al-Houthi supporters are reported to be detained in Saudi Arabia after being captured by or surrendering to Saudi Arabian forces in the past few days.

The rebels, in turn, say they have captured and are holding several Saudi Arabian soldiers. Neither side is yet known to have allowed those they are holding access to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), prompting fears for their safety.

On 5 November, the Saudi Arabian air force is reported to have struck at al-Houthi forces who had crossed the border near Jabal al-Dukhan, killing one Saudi Arabian soldier and wounding 11 others.

Allegations that the Saudi Arabian air force dropped phosphorus bombs have been carried by news reports. It is unclear whether anyone was killed in the bombing and, if so, whether they included civilians, but some 300 families are reported to have fled the area afterwards.

Phosphorus bombs are highly incendiary weapons and pose grave risks to civilians. They should never be used in the vicinity of civilians.

The day after the bombing raid, Amnesty International wrote to Saudi Arabia’s Defence Minister, Crown Prince Sultan bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz Al-Saud, asking whether phosphorus bombs were used and, if so, in what manner and what precautions were taken to ensure that civilians were not put at risk. As yet, the organization has received no response.

The conflict in Yemen’s Sa’da Governorate began in 2004 and has continued intermittently since then. It flared to new intensity last August, since when thousands of the predominantly Sh’ia population have been displaced and scores, possibly hundreds, of people, including civilians, have been killed.

The Yemeni government has largely sealed off the area making it extremely difficult to obtain independent information about events there and increasing concern for the safety and welfare of the civilian population.