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Yemen: Zeid calls for investigations into civilian casualties

GENEVA (14 April 2015) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Tuesday reminded all sides to the conflict in Yemen to ensure that attacks resulting in civilian casualties are promptly investigated and that international human rights and international humanitarian law are scrupulously respected during the conduct of hostilities in the country.

In addition to hundreds of fighters, at least 364 civilians are reported to have lost their lives since March 26, including at least 84 children and 25 women. Another 681 civilians – possibly more – have been injured. Dozens of public buildings, including hospitals, schools, airports and mosques have been destroyed in airstrikes, through shelling and other attacks.

Over the past week, street fighting also intensified in densely populated areas, particularly in Aden between armed groups affiliated with President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi on one side, and those affiliated with the Houthis and the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh on the other. There have also been accounts of recruitment of children as fighters in Aden, Dhale and Mareb.

“Every hour we are receiving and documenting deeply disturbing and distressing reports of the toll that this conflict is taking on civilian lives and infrastructure,” High Commissioner Zeid said.

“Such a heavy civilian death toll ought to be a clear indication to all parties to this conflict that there may be serious problems in the conduct of hostilities. The parties to the conflict are obliged to ensure that international humanitarian law and international human rights law are scrupulously respected and that the civilian population is protected. Any suspected breach of international law must be urgently investigated with a view to ensuring victims’ right to justice and redress and to ensure that such incidents do not recur.”

Zeid stressed that parties to the conflict must take all feasible measures to avoid locating military objectives in populated residential areas and must exercise maximum care to ensure that civilians and civilian objects are protected against dangers arising from military operations.

Over the last few days, several airstrikes by coalition forces have hit residential areas and civilian homes in Amran, Taiz, Ibb, Aljawf and Sa’da. On Saturday, an airstrike, reportedly targeting a nearby military base in Taiz, hit a residential area about 500 metres away, killing ten civilians and injuring seven. All such attacks need to be thoroughly and transparently investigated by the coalition forces.  Over the past three weeks, at least 52 public buildings have been either partially or completely destroyed, by airstrikes as well as by shelling and other forms of ground-fire.

Eight hospitals were hit in Sana’a, Sa’da, Dhale and Aden; 17 schools and educational institutions in Aden, Dhale, Hajjah, Ibb and Sana’a; the three main national airports in Sana’a, Aden and Hudaydah, as well as the main power station in Sa’da; as well as bridges, factories, farmlands and five mosques in Dhale and Sa’da.

“Hospitals and ambulances must be safe from attacks and allowed to function at all times. Intentional attacks on hospitals or ambulances being exclusively used for medical purposes would amount to war crimes,” Zeid said.

The High Commissioner also warned that the intentional targeting of civilians not taking direct part in hostilities would amount to a war crime. He cited in particular reports of the killing of civilians by snipers located on rooftops in Dhale.

There have also been worrying reports of arbitrary arrests, indiscriminate firing at protesters and attacks against media premises by Houthi-affiliated forces.

Zeid stressed the important role of civil society, particularly in the midst of an armed conflict.

High Commissioner Zeid urged all sides to negotiate a swift end to the bloodshed and devastation in Yemen.

“Most of the country is now suffering from the effects of armed conflict, with the situation particularly devastating in Sana’a, Aden, Dhale, Sa’da, Hudayda, Lahj, Ibb, Taiz, Amran and Hajjah. The humanitarian situation is appallingly bad, compounded by wanton violence, lawlessness and serious human rights violations,” the High Commissioner said.

“The people of Yemen have already suffered for too long and the calamitous effects of the conflict are already going to take years, if not decades, to reverse.”

ENDS

For media enquiries please contact Ravina Shamdasani (+ 41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Cécile Pouilly (+ 41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org).

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