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Press briefing on Yemen

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Rupert Colville
Location:      Geneva
Date:      7 November 2017
Subject:        (1) Yemen

(1) Yemen

We are deeply concerned by a series of attacks in Yemen over the past week that have killed dozens of civilians -- including several children -- and we appeal to all parties to respect international law governing armed conflict.

Civilians must never be put in harm’s way during any conflict. International humanitarian law prohibits attacks against civilians and civilian objects, indiscriminate attacks, and it obliges all parties to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects.

On 1 November, two airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition hit the Al Layl market in the Olaaf area of Sahaar district in Saada governorate, killing 31 civilians, including six children, and wounding 24 others. The victims were Qat sellers and guests at the Al Layl hotel. We understand the coalition is investigating the incident.

The following day, 2 November, seven members of a farming family, including the farmer himself and three of his children, were killed in a coalition airstrike on their home in Al Islan area in Baqim district of Saada governorate. There was no known military objective in the area.  

On the same day, in Taizz, five children were killed and two wounded as a result of shelling carried out by the Popular Committee affiliated with the Houthis and the army units loyal to former President Abdullah Saleh. Based on the accounts of the victims' family, obtained by UN human rights monitors, the children were playing in the street of the residential neighbourhood when the rocket from a Houthi-controlled area fell on them.

On Saturday evening, 4 November, a missile was fired from Yemen towards the Saudi capital Riyadh. The missile was intercepted over the city and fragments reportedly landed in the airport area. Some media reports said the missile was targeting the airport. The international airport is prima facie a civilian facility, and as such, any attack against it is forbidden under international law.

Since Saturday’s missile launch, there have been at least another nine airstrikes on the Houthi-held city of Sana’a, including one that hit Celebration Square injuring three civilians. While the targets of the strikes are not clear, we are concerned that airstrikes in densely populated areas puts civilians and civilian objects, including infrastructure, at great risk.

We reiterate that parties to the conflict must take constant care to spare the civilian population.

We are also very concerned indeed that humanitarian aid destined for innocent civilians caught up in the three-year long conflict may be adversely affected by the coalition’s decision on Monday to close all land, air and sea ports into the country.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has said he will soon be appointing the members of the Group of Eminent Experts recently established by the Human Rights Council and mandated to carry out a comprehensive examination of all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights and international law committed by all parties to the conflict, and, where possible, to identify those responsible.

A UN Human Rights team from Headquarters recently visited Yemen to meet with the de-facto authorities in Sana’a and Government officials in Aden to reiterate the concerns raised by the High Commissioner in his recent report to the Human Rights Council and to prepare the ground for the Group of Eminent Experts.

The total number of civilian casualties since March 2015 stands at 14,168, including 5,295 people killed and 8,873 injured. These numbers are based on the casualties individually verified by our Yemen Office. The actual numbers are likely to be far higher.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Liz Throssell  ( +41 22 917 9466/ ethrossell@ohchr.org ) or Jeremy Laurence: + 41 22 917 9383