Yemen: Restrictions to life-saving supplies putting millions of civilians at risk

  • The Saudi Arabia-led coalition has continued to impose restrictions on the entry of essential goods into conflict-ravaged Yemen
  • Huthi de facto authorities have excessively delayed the delivery of humanitarian assistance in famine-threatened areas and are said to have asked for bribes
  • The coalition’s tightened restrictions could constitute a war crime

Millions of lives are at risk because the entry of essential goods such as food, fuel and medical supplies into war-torn Yemen is being restricted by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and their distribution then delayed by the country’s Huthi de facto authorities, Amnesty International warned in a new report released today.

The report, Stranglehold, documents how the coalition has imposed excessive restrictions on the entry of essential goods and aid, while the Huthi authorities have obstructed aid movement within the country. These obstacles – compounded by a deadly Saudi-led military assault on the vital port city of Hodeidah – have exacerbated the already dire humanitarian situation in Yemen and violate international law.

“The Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s unlawful restrictions on imports, coupled with the Huthis’ harmful interference with aid distribution, are preventing life-saving supplies from reaching Yemenis who desperately need them,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.

“These constraints are having increasingly grave consequences for civilians, millions of whom are on the brink of famine and in need of humanitarian assistance. This man-made humanitarian crisis cannot be ignored any longer. The world must stop looking the other way while the life is slowly suffocated out of Yemen.”

Since 2015, the coalition has repeatedly tightened its naval blockade on the Huthi-controlled ports of Saleef and Hodeidah – its restrictions on commercial imports impeding Yemenis’ access to food.

The restrictions and delays placed on fuel and medical supplies have also contributed to the collapse of the country’s health care system. The manner and timing of the tightened restrictions – coming after Huthi missiles were fired at the Saudi capital Riyadh – suggest it could amount to collective punishment of Yemen’s civilian population, which would constitute a war crime.

The Huthi de facto authorities have also created barriers to the delivery of humanitarian assistance within Yemen, with aid workers describing to Amnesty International how overly bureaucratic procedures have caused excessive delays.

In a further escalation last week, Yemeni forces backed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition launched an offensive on Hodeidah. Cutting off this crucial supply line would further exacerbate what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Port access restricted by Saudi Arabia-led coalition

Saudi Arabia started to inspect vessels and delay or restrict access to Yemen’s Red Sea ports in 2015, claiming it was enforcing an arms embargo set by UN Security Council Resolution 2216. As a result, in 2015 the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) was established to clear commercial vessels destined for Yemen’s Red Sea ports while ensuring compliance with the arms embargo.

Nevertheless, the coalition maintained its inspections of ships, even after UNVIM had cleared them to proceed to port, subjecting them to excessive delays. Vessels travelling to Yemen’s Red Sea ports had to wait for coalition clearance for an average of 120 hours in March 2018 and 74 hours in April 2018. 

On 15 March 2018, the UN Security Council called on member states to inspect vessels already cleared by UNVIM “in an efficient and timely manner”. The coalition has continued to ignore this call and to misuse the inspection regime, preventing the delivery of essential goods and humanitarian aid.

Such delays have exacerbated a crippling fuel shortage, which has reduced access to food, clean water and sanitation and contributed to the spread of preventable diseases. According to five medical staff interviewed, the lack of fuel has also made it harder to run hospitals, which need it to run generators that provide electricity.

“These excessive inspections are having a catastrophic effect on Yemen. By delaying vital supplies such as fuel and medicine getting into the country, the Saudi-led coalition is abusing its powers to cruelly inflict additional hardship on the most vulnerable civilians in Yemen,” said Lynn Maalouf. “Blockades that cause substantial, disproportionate harm to civilians are prohibited under international law.”

Huthi de facto authorities creating obstacles to aid within Yemen

Amnesty International spoke to 11 aid workers who hold senior-level positions in NGOs that have been operating in Yemen since the start of the conflict. They have consistently described a range of practices by Huthi de facto authorities that have hampered the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Aid workers described how excessive and arbitrary bureaucratic procedures have led to restrictions on the movement of humanitarian staff and aid. In one incident, an aid official described how, once supplies reached the country, it took the organization two months to move the supplies out of Sana’a: “The most difficult part was getting the aid out of the warehouse once it was in Yemen,” said the official.

According to aid workers interviewed, Huthi de facto authorities are also attempting to control the delivery of aid and to influence who receives it, and in which areas. 

One aid official told Amnesty International they were “often told by Huthi forces to hand over the aid and that they would distribute it”. Several aid workers described incidents in which government workers had demanded bribes from humanitarian groups in order for them to approve projects or movements of staff.

Under international humanitarian law, all parties have an obligation to allow and facilitate rapid and unimpeded delivery of impartial humanitarian assistance for civilians in need. And they must ensure the freedom of movement of authorized humanitarian personnel to carry out their work.

“The Huthi forces’ repeated, excessive, arbitrary interference with the delivery and distribution of aid is causing untold damage to civilians whose lives are being ruined as a result,” said Lynn Maalouf.

“The Huthi authorities must end the obstructions that hamper the delivery of aid and the implementation of humanitarian projects, while also taking effective measures to stamp out extortion.”

Saudi Arabia’s allies must take a stand

Amnesty International is calling on the UN Security Council to ensure that all parties to the conflict in Yemen allow prompt and unhindered humanitarian access to UN agencies and humanitarian organizations to deliver food, fuel, medicines and medical supplies to civilians in need across Yemen.

It should impose targeted sanctions against those responsible for obstructing humanitarian assistance and for committing other violations of international humanitarian law.

“The Saudi Arabia-led coalition must end delays on commercial imports of essential goods destined for Yemen’s Red Sea ports and allow the reopening of Sana’a airport to commercial flights. States providing the coalition support, in particular the USA, United Kingdom and France, should pressure them to do so,” said Lynn Maalouf.


Between December 2017 and June 2018, Amnesty International conducted interviews with 12 aid workers, as well as with six doctors, three other medical staff and five local community activists located in Sana’a, Hodeidah and Ta’iz. All those interviewed spoke to Amnesty International under condition of strict confidentiality due to their concern that their public identification could expose them and their families to serious risk or undermine their ability to carry out their work without further constraints.


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