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Zeid condemns repeated killing of civilians in Yemen airstrikes

GENEVA (18 March 2016) – In the wake of another deadly airstrike that killed some 106 civilians in a crowded village market in north-western Yemen, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Friday condemned the repeated failure of the Coalition forces to take effective actions to prevent the recurrence of such incidents, and to publish transparent, independent investigations into those that have already occurred.

“The carnage caused by two airstrikes on the Al Khamees market, in north-western Yemen on Tuesday was one of the deadliest incidents since the start of the conflict a year ago,” said Zeid, noting that it was the second such incident in the past three weeks. On 27 February, at least 39 civilians, including nine children, were killed, and another 33 injured, by an airstrike on the Khaleq market in a north-eastern district of Sana`a.

UN Human Rights Office staff in Yemen, who visited the site of the attack in northern Hajja Gvernorate on Wednesday and interviewed a number of eyewitnesses, said the airstrikes had completely destroyed 16 shops in the Al Khamees market, which is the primary shopping area for some 15 surrounding villages. The attack had apparently taken place during the afternoon rush hour when the market was particularly crowded.

There were 24 children among the 106 people reported dead so far. UN staff recorded the names of 96 of the victims, although a further 10 bodies were burned beyond recognition. More than 40 other people were reported to have been injured during the attack.

Since the beginning of the conflict a year ago, the UN Human Rights Office has recorded a total of just under 9,000 casualties including 3,218 civilians killed and a further 5,778 injured (from 26 March 2015 to 17 March 2016).

The UN human rights staff could find no evidence of any armed confrontation or significant military objects in the area at the time of the attack, beyond the presence of a check-point some 250 meters away from the market usually manned by a small group of policemen and Houthis.

“Looking at the figures, it would seem that the coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together, virtually all as a result of airstrikes,” the High Commissioner said. “They have hit markets, hospitals, clinics, schools, factories, wedding parties – and hundreds of private residences in villages, towns and cities including the capital Sana’a. Despite plenty of international demarches, these awful incidents continue to occur with unacceptable regularity. In addition, despite public promises to investigate such incidents, we have yet to see progress in any such investigations.”

“It would appear to be the case that the distinction between legitimate military targets and civilian ones -- which are protected under international law -- is at best woefully inadequate,” Zeid said. “And at worst, we are possibly looking at the commission of international crimes by members of the Coalition. There is an obligation to distinguish at all times between military targets and civilians. The Houthis and their allies have also been responsible for indiscriminate ground attacks resulting in civilian casualties, which I also condemn and which could qualify, likewise, as international crimes.”

One year on from the start of the conflict, the UN Human Rights Chief lamented the failure of the two sides to the conflict to agree a peace deal, adding he hoped that an announcement by a Coalition spokesman on Thursday that Saudi Arabia was planning to scale back major combat operations would indeed lead rapidly to a full ceasefire and peace agreement.

“I urge both sides to swallow their pride and bring this conflict to a halt,” Zeid said. “The people of Yemen have suffered enough. A very poor country is having its limited infrastructure decimated, and people are struggling desperately to survive.”

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For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 97 67 / rcolville@ohchr.org), or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org)

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