Skip to main content

Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Oral update on the situation of human rights in Yemen

20 March 2019

Arabic | Spanish

Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

40th session of the Human Rights Council

20 March 2019


I turn now to the human rights situation in Yemen. The ongoing mediation efforts by the Special Envoy have established a fragile ceasefire in the city of Hodeidah, and the ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa. Despite challenges, this ceasefire currently remains in force, and together with a number of small steps regarding prisoner exchanges, renewed access to the Red Sea Mills storage facilities in Hodeidah and the deployment of the UN mission to support the Hodeidah Agreement, this presents a glimmer of hope for further improvements.

But there remains a long way to go. While the situation in Hodeidah is important, the equally dire human rights situation in the rest of the country also merits attention. Despite the efforts of our humanitarian colleagues, Yemeni civilians, including children, are now more vulnerable and hungrier than at any time since March 2015.
More than 24 million people need aid; 14.3 million people are in acute need of aid. Over 2 million children are suffering from acute malnutrition in Yemen, including 360,000 from severe acute malnutrition.

People in vulnerable situations – including many women and children, particularly those who have been displaced – are at high risk of being subjected to trafficking, forced marriage and sexual violence and exploitation.

Basic resources have become a luxury that few can afford. Salaries of teachers, doctors, nurses and other public employees have gone unpaid for years. Some of these public employees have been able to survive and provide lifelines to patients through limited incentive payments provided by United Nations agencies on the ground. The non-payment of teachers’ salaries in 10,000 schools since 2016 – almost two-thirds of schools, in 11 governorates -- has further restricted access to education for 3.7 million children.

The number of health facilities, and the quality of services have fallen, while incidences of preventable diseases are on the rise. It is estimated that nearly 300 health facilities have been damaged or destroyed, and less than half of the remaining health facilities are fully functioning. Those facilities face acute shortages of medicine, equipment, and staff.

Some 19.7 million Yemenis lack access to basic health services. Non-communicable diseases are killing more people than bullets and bombs. The continuing closure of Sana’a airport, and lack of access to medical facilities outside the country, for patients in need of care, exacerbates this situation.

Meanwhile, periodic airstrikes, shelling and landmines continue to kill and maim civilians across the country. Since the Stockholm agreement on 13 December 2018, it is estimated that eight children have been killed or injured in Yemen every day. Nearly 1.2 million children continue to live in 31 active conflict zones witnessing heavy, war-related violence, including Taizz, Hajjah and Sa’da.

I am particularly concerned about the recent escalation of hostilities in Hajjah governorate, and the reported killing and injury of civilians, and destruction of homes, earlier this month. Preliminary reports indicate that 22 people have died, including 12 children and 10 women, and 30 people, including 14 children, were injured. We have received unconfirmed reports of thousands of families internally displaced in Hajjah governorate.

I remain deeply concerned at reports that the Government, coalition-backed forces and Houthi forces all continue to conscript or enlist children into armed forces or groups, and have used them as active participants in hostilities. In most cases, the children are between 11 and 17 years old, but there have been consistent reports of the recruitment or use of children as young as eight years old.

Parties to the conflict have also subjected countless civilians to arbitrary detention or enforced disappearances. So far, there has been little meaningful accountability for the human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict -- and no possibility of remedy and reparations for the victims. These are essential elements of any durable and just peace, and must not be viewed as an afterthought. I urge all parties to the conflict to take heed of the recommendation made last year by the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen.

I also urge all parties to the conflict to remove restrictions on the entry into Yemen of humanitarian supplies and other goods indispensable to the civilian population. I take this opportunity to reiterate that the Geneva Conventions – which were drawn up 70 years ago -- stipulate that all States, including those not involved in the armed conflict, have the obligation to take measures to ensure that parties to a conflict respect the Conventions. Conditioning, limiting or refusing arms transfers is one such measure.

In September, the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen will present their second written report to me, and I encourage full cooperation by all relevant stakeholders, with unrestricted access to the country so they can fulfil their mandate.

Pursuant to resolutions 39/16 and 39/21, my Office continues to provide capacity building and technical assistance to the Yemeni National Commission of Inquiry to complete its investigatory work, and to ensure that it investigates allegations of violations and abuses committed by all parties in Yemen, in line with international standards.

Thank you Mr President