Yemen: The forgotten war

Over the past three years the world has turned its back on a growing crisis

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A spiralling conflict

On 25 March 2015, an international coalition led by Saudi Arabia launched air strikes against the Huthi armed group in Yemen sparking a full-blown armed conflict.

Over the following three years, the conflict in Yemen is showing no real signs of abating. Horrific human rights abuses, as well as war crimes, are being committed throughout the country by all parties to the conflict, causing unbearable suffering for civilians.

While coalition forces relentlessly bomb from the air, rival factions are fighting a battle on the ground. On one side are the Huthis, a Yemeni armed group whose members belong to a branch of Shi’a Islam known as Zaidism. On the other side are anti-Huthi forces that are allied with the current President of Yemen, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.

Civilians are trapped in the middle – more than 15,000 of them have been killed and injured and a humanitarian crisis has spiralled.

For three years much of the world has ignored this raging conflict and heard little about its devastating consequences.

Amal Sabri, a resident of Mokha, describing an airstrike which killed at least 63 civilians.
[It was like] something out of judgement day. Corpses and heads scattered, engulfed by fire and ashes.
Residents of Magash village, west of Sa'da City, refilling their jerrycans with water. Residents of Magash village, west of Sa'da City, refilling their jerrycans with water.
© Amnesty International

Civilians paying a heavy price 

Civilians bear the brunt of the violence in Yemen. As well as causing the deaths and injuries of thousands of civilians, the conflict has exacerbated an already severe humanitarian crisis. This crisis is man-made, with the war deepening and exacerbating the humanitarian situation, and all sides impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Approximately 22.2 million Yemenis today rely on humanitarian assistance in order to survive. In order to deny supplies to the Huthi forces, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition imposed a partial aerial and naval blockade. After Huthi forces launched a missile unlawfully targeting civilian areas in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh in late November, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition unlawfully tightened its sea and air blockade on Yemen. Despite the blockade being loosened since then, the coalition continues to impose restrictions on aid and commercial imports of essential goods, including food, medicine and fuel.

My son was 14 hours old when he died… the doctors told us he needed intensive care and oxygen...We took him to every hospital we possibly could before he finally died. I wanted to take him outside the city but there was no way out
Mohamed, father of new born baby who died due to shortages of oxygen in Tai’z in December 2015

Humanitarian workers also report that the Huthis have excessively restricted the movement of goods and staff, forcing some of their aid programmes to close.

Human toll of the conflict

3 million

people forced from their homes by the fighting

22.2 million

people in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance including food, water, shelter, fuel and sanitation.

2.5 million

children out of school

Huthi armed group fighters August 2015 Huthi armed group fighters August 2015
©AFP/Getty
Jet fighters of the Saudi Royal air force Jet fighters of the Saudi Royal air force
© AFP/Getty Images

Who is fighting whom?

On one side is the Huthi armed group, often referred to as the “Popular Committees”, which was supported by certain army units and armed groups loyal to former late President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

On the other side is the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and supported by President Hadi, which has carried out air strikes and ground operations in Yemen. Members of the coalition include the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan and Sudan. The USA and UK have been providing key intelligence and logistical support to the coalition.

The force of the explosion sent my sisters and mother flying five metres, killing them instantly. Hani’s body was not dug out until 12 hours later. My father Faisal (60) was the only survivor.
Leila Hayal who lost her mother and four siblings when a coalition airstrike destroyed their home in Ta’iz in the middle of the night on 16 June 2015.

The coalition is allied with anti-Huthi armed groups operating on the ground in Yemen, often referred to as “Popular Resistance Committees”. They are also supported by units of armed forces loyal to President Hadi and a variety of different factions.

Types of attacks banned by international law during a conflict:

On civilian homes or buildings

Targeting medical facilities

Launched from civilian areas

IDPs in Amran City, refilling their jerrycans with water. Due to lack of electricty, it has been difficult to pump water in most areas of Yemen. IDPs in Amran City, refilling their jerrycans with water. Due to lack of electricty, it has been difficult to pump water in most areas of Yemen.
© Amnesty International
A joint crisis/MENA mission to Yemen in June/July 2015. Photos are from the team's visits to Taiz and Aden.  On 7 July, just after mid-afternoon (asr) prayers, a coalition strike killed 11 worshippers and injured several others in a mosque in Waht, a village north of Aden in Lahj governorate. A joint crisis/MENA mission to Yemen in June/July 2015. Photos are from the team's visits to Taiz and Aden.  On 7 July, just after mid-afternoon (asr) prayers, a coalition strike killed 11 worshippers and injured several others in a mosque in Waht, a village north of Aden in Lahj governorate.
© Amnesty International
Yemenis search for the air attack victims around the destroyed buildings after Saudi-led airstrikes hit Sanaa's Old City, Yemen, on June 04, 2015. Yemenis search for the air attack victims around the destroyed buildings after Saudi-led airstrikes hit Sanaa's Old City, Yemen, on June 04, 2015.
© Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
© Amnesty International
© Rawan Shaif

Human rights abuses by all sides

Amnesty International has gathered evidence revealing that all parties to this conflict have committed serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including war crimes.

Amnesty International has documented 36 air strikes across six different governorates (Sana’a, Sa’da, Hajjah, Hodeidah, Ta’iz and Lahj) by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that appear to have violated international humanitarian law – the rules that apply during a conflict which are sometimes known as the “laws of war” - resulting in 513 civilian deaths (including at least 157 children) and 379 civilian injuries. These have included attacks that appear to have deliberately targeted civilians and civilian objects such as hospitals, schools, markets and mosques, which would amount to war crimes.

She thinks that if she goes home, she will find them there… She had five siblings to play with. Now she has none… What kind of sorrow and pain could she be feeling in her heart?
Ali al-Raymi, 32, who lost his brother Mohamed al-Raymi along with his sister-in-law and his 5 nieces and nephews aged between 2-10 years in a Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrike in Sana’a. His niece, 5-year-old Buthaina, was the sole survivor in her family.

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition has also used cluster munitions, lethal explosive weapons banned under international law. When launched cluster bombs release dozens – sometimes hundreds - of small “bomblets”, which often lie unexploded and can cause horrific injuries long after the initial attack. Amnesty International has documented the coalition’s use of at least four different types of cluster munitions, including US, UK and Brazilian-manufactured models.

Imprecise weapons are used on a daily basis in residential areas, causing civilian casualties. Such indiscriminate attacks violate the laws of war.

Amnesty International has also investigated 30 ground attacks - by both pro and anti-Huthi forces - in Aden and Ta’iz which did not distinguish between combatants and civilians, and killed at least 68 civilians, most of whom were women and children. Fighters from both sides have also used imprecise weapons, such as artillery and mortar fire or Grad rockets, in heavily populated civilian areas and have operated in the midst of residential neighbourhoods, launching attacks from or near homes, schools and hospitals. All these attacks are serious violations of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes.

The Huthi armed group, supported by state security forces, has carried out a wave of arrests of its opponents, including human rights defenders, journalists, and academics arbitrarily seizing critics at gunpoint and subjecting some to enforced disappearance as part of a chilling campaign to quash dissent in areas of Yemen under its control.

Anti-Huthi forces allied to Yemen’s President Hadi and the coalition, have also carried out a campaign of intimidation and harassment against hospital staff in Ta’iz and are endangering civilians by stationing fighters and military positions near medical facilities.

Arms fuelling the crisis

In the face of multiple reports pointing to reckless conduct in Yemen and the devastating impact of serious violations of international law on civilians, many countries have continued to sell and transfer weapons to Saudi Arabia and its coalition members for use in the conflict. These arms have been used by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition to kill and injure civilians and shatter the livelihoods of Yemenis. Arms have also been diverted into the hands of Huthi and other armed groups fighting in Yemen. While a host of European countries have suspended arms transfers to the Saudi Arabia and the UAE, other countries, led by the US and UK, continue to supply coalition members with huge amounts of advanced military equipment.

There is no reasonable explanation by states such as the US and the UK that would justify their continued support and irresponsible arms flows to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, when there is extensive evidence that these have resulted in enormous harm to Yemeni for the past three years.
Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International

Several of these states are parties to the Arms Trade Treaty which has the aim of “reducing human suffering” and which makes it unlawful to transfer weapons where there is a high risk they could be used to commit serious violations of international law. Amnesty International is urging all states to ensure that no party to the conflict in Yemen is supplied – either directly or indirectly – with weapons, munitions, military equipment or technology that could be used in the conflict until they end such serious violations. This also applies to logistical and financial support for such transfers.

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Act now to stop the sale of weapons that fuel violations and destroy civilian lives in Yemen

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