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Spike in Yemen fighting causes massive civilian suffering

05 September 2017

Four-year-old Buthaina Muhammad Mansour, the sole survivor of a recent air strike on Yemen’s capital Sana’a, is among the latest victims of a conflict that has spawned the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. The blast killed Buthaina’s parents and five siblings, and left her with a concussion and skull fractures. A photo of Buthaina in hospital, bruised and bandaged and trying to open her swollen eye, has sparked outrage worldwide about the toll the conflict has taken on the people of Yemen.

At least 5,000 civilians, including 1,120 children, have been killed and more than 8,500 wounded in the conflict, according to the UN Human Rights Office, which has monitored conditions in Yemen since war broke out in March 2015. In its latest report to be presented to the Human Rights Council in September, the UN Human Rights Office presents findings that document mounting human rights violations during the period between 1 July 2016 and 30 June 2017.

Interviews with survivors, witnesses and victims’ family members, along with site visits and meetings with authorities, reveal an escalation of hostilities, an increase in the number of civilian deaths and a rapid deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Yemen. According to the latest report, there were more air strikes in the first half of this year than all of 2016. The result has been an increase in the number of civilian deaths and a worsening humanitarian emergency.

A survivor described the aftermath of an airstrike that occurred in August 2016 in Al Sofan, Ath’thaorah district, Sana’a governorate. The attack destroyed a food factory, killing 10 workers and injuring 13 others.

“The bodies were so charred that the victims’ families had difficulty identifying them. Some survivors were stuck under rubble for hours.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that some three million people have been forced to flee their homes since the conflict began, more than seven million people are at risk of famine, and close to 19 million people out of a population of 27.4 million are in need of humanitarian assistance. Since April 2017, more than half a million people have been struck with cholera in an outbreak linked to the lack of access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation.

“The human rights situation in Yemen has unfortunately continued to deteriorate as a result of the conflict,” said Elobaid Elobaid, Head of the UN Human Rights Office in Yemen. “Civilian casualties have increased and human rights violations have persisted, including attacks on education and health facilities as well as the recruitment of children as soldiers. There is an ongoing crackdown of freedom of expression and a host of violations of economic, social and cultural rights.”

Information gathered by the UN Human Rights Office shows apparent indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations by both sides to the conflict, with civilians seemingly directly targeted by airstrikes and shelling. The report also notes that those opposing the parties to the conflict have been subject to harassment, detention and, on occasion, tortured and killed, raising serious concerns about worsening human rights violations and abuses against civilians.

Attacks on civilians have extended recently into the waters off the western coast of Yemen, where fishing vessels and boats carrying migrants have come under fire. In one incident, a boat carrying 146 Somali migrants was fired upon by attackers on a ship and helicopter, killing 42 civilians. No party has claimed responsibility for the attack.

“I have repeatedly called on the international community to take action – to set up an independent, international investigation into the allegations of very serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Yemen,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “An international investigation would go a long way in putting on notice the parties to the conflict that the international community is watching and determined to hold to account perpetrators of violations and abuses,”

Zeid also voiced serious concerns regarding the rise of new armed groups affiliated with Al-Qaida that are exploiting the security vacuum in Yemen created by the escalating conflict.

“I appeal to all the parties to the conflict, those supporting them and those with influence over them to have mercy on the people of Yemen, and to take immediate measures to ensure humanitarian relief for civilians and justice for the victims of violations,” he added.

5 September 2017