Press releasesOffice of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Civilians in Yemen caught between warring parties
Civilian plight in Yemen
10 February 2017
GENEVA (10 February 2017) – Extremely worrying reports suggest that civilians and civilian objects have been targeted, in violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, over the past two weeks, in the southwestern port of Al Mokha in Taizz Governorate in Yemen.
While the intense fighting – both ground fighting and airstrikes – made it impossible for UN Human Rights Office field monitors to access the area and to verify the number of civilian casualties, credible reports indicate that civilians were caught in an intolerable situation between warring parties giving them opposing instructions. The Popular Committees Affiliated with the Houthis and their allies warned civilians not to leave their homes while pro-Government and Coalition forces were demanding that they evacuate. Credible reports indicate that Houthi-affiliated snipers shot at families attempting to flee their homes in Houthi-controlled areas – suggesting the use of civilians as human shields.
In at least one incident, on 22 January, 11 civilians were reportedly killed and four injured inside a house that was struck by an airstrike. According to reports, more than 200 houses have been either partially damaged or completely destroyed by airstrikes, which also hit Al Mokha Port.
Reports indicate that pro-Government forces yesterday took over the Al Maghini and Al Hali areas of Al Mokha city, placing the whole city and port under Government control. The last shelling incident was recorded late last night.
“Civilians were trapped and targeted during the Al Mokha fighting. There are real fears that the situation will repeat itself in the port of Al Hudaidah, to the north of Al Mokha, where air strikes are already intensifying,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said. “The already catastrophic humanitarian situation in the country could spiral further downwards if Al Hudaidah port – a key entry point for imports into Yemen – is seriously damaged.”
The UN estimates that around 12 million people are facing famine in Yemen, with 3.3 million people - including 2.1 million children - already acutely malnourished.
“Yemenis have found themselves in a calamitous situation that was entirely man-made, living in constant fear of violence, death and destruction and reeling from hunger,” Zeid said.
“I once again appeal to the humanity of the parties to this conflict and I remind them of their obligation under international humanitarian law to take constant care to spare the civilian population. Any intentional, direct attack against civilians or civilian objects is considered a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”
“Extremely serious violations of international law, including possible war crimes, have been documented with alarming frequency since the beginning of this armed conflict in Yemen almost two years ago. While my Office is currently implementing the Human Rights Council resolution* requesting us to work with the national independent commission of inquiry, I call, again, for an independent international investigation to break the climate of impunity in Yemen, to give pause to those planning and carrying out these attacks. The international community needs to make it clear that there will be consequences for a failure to respect international law.”