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Halt Yemen conflict now to save generation from famine and cut “alarming” child mortality - UN experts

GENEVA (25 April 2017) – Fighting in Yemen must stop now and the blockade of the country’s ports be removed, to allow people facing starvation to access food and life-saving medical supplies, say two United Nations experts on the day of a key fund-raising event for the humanitarian crisis.

“If no immediate action is taken, an entire generation could be affected by widespread famine,” says the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Ms. Hilal Elver.

“The deliberate starvation of civilians, in both international and internal armed conflict may constitute a war crime, and could also amount to a crime against humanity in the event of deliberate denial of food,” she stresses.

“All parties of the conflict are responsible for such criminal acts,” the expert said. In addition, it is the responsibility of the international community to protect civilians, in particular women and children, through humanitarian assistance in order to prevent human tragedy.” 

The warning from Ms. Elver has been endorsed by Mr. Dainius Pûras, the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

“I deplore, in particular, that a high number of healthcare facilities have been destroyed or substantially damaged by airstrikes and only 37% cent of them remain fully functional,” added Mr. Pûras.

“I am seriously worried about access to healthcare and the spread of infectious diseases in Yemen. At least 10 million people are in need of medical assistance,” he emphasized.

Mr. Pûras also expressed concern about an outbreak of cholera in the country, with more than 15,000 suspected cases of the disease. The situation is made worse by the lack of access to improved drinking water (available to only 55% of the population) and by inadequate sanitary conditions in urban areas.

Uncollected garbage is contributing to the spread of the disease, with some 2.5 million children at high risk.

“The lack of access to healthcare combined with the lack of immunization, and severe malnutrition has also culminated in alarming rates of child mortality, with children at risk of acute respiratory tract infections and measles,” the experts say.

They echo an earlier call by the Special Rapporteur on human rights and international sanctions, Idriss Jazairy, for the blockade of Yemen’s ports to be lifted.

The Republic of Yemen relies on imports for more than 90% of its staple food. The ongoing naval blockade, air strikes and fighting around ports, as well as financial complications triggered by the conflict have severely reduced such imports. Air strikes have also reportedly targeted local markets and lorries delivering food. 

The blockade and delays in granting permits for the importation of cargo have also caused a significant shortage of medicines. There is also a shortage of fuel causing severe problems for hospitals which rely on generators, and also affecting the transportation of patients and the distribution of food and medical supplies.

“Considering 60% of households depend on agriculture for their livelihood, the impact of the conflict for them are potentially catastrophic and long term because the blockade is stopping them from getting vital resources equipment,” warns Ms. Elver. “The blockades of coastal areas are also depriving communities of their fishing livelihoods, which is the only way to feed themselves.”

Describing Yemen as the “largest humanitarian crisis in the world”, the fund-raising event taking place in Geneva on 25 April is aiming to raise US$2.1 billion to deliver crucial food, medication and other lifesaving assistance to the people of Yemen.

Some 17 million people are at risk of starvation. The situation is particularly acute for more than three million internally displaced people forced to flee their homes by various armed forces.

Ms. Hilal Elver (Turkey) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the right to food by the Human Rights Council in 2014. She is a Research Professor, and global distinguished fellow at the University of California, Law School Resnick Food Law and Policy Center. She has a law degree, a Ph.D. from the University of Ankara Law School, and SJD from the UCLA Law School. She started her teaching career at the University of Ankara Faculty of Law.

Mr. Dainius Pûras (Lithuania), Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, is a medical doctor with notable expertise on mental health, child health, and public health policies. He is a Professor and the Head of the Centre for Child psychiatry and social paediatrics at Vilnius University, and teaches at the Faculty of Medicine, Institute of International relations and political science and Faculty of Philosophy of Vilnius University, Lithuania.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page: Yemen

For further information and media enquiries, please contact Frederike Jansonius (+41 22 917 9339 / fjansonius@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, OHCHR Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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