UN rights chief urges end to Yemen hostilities amid ‘disturbing and distressing’ civilian casualties

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Yemenis flee the capital Sana’a with their families and few possessions. Photo: Almigdad Mojalli/IRIN

14 April 2015 – With hundreds of civilians casualties in the past four weeks, and widespread destruction of public buildings and infrastructure, the United Nations human rights chief today reminded all parties to the conflict in Yemen to ensure the prompt investigation of any attacks resulting in civilian casualties and to ensure the scrupulous respect of international human rights and international humanitarian law.

“Every hour we are receiving and documenting deeply disturbing and distressing reports of the toll that this conflict is taking on civilian lives and infrastructure,” said United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “Such a heavy civilian death toll ought to be a clear indication to all parties to this conflict that there may be serious problems in the conduct of hostilities.”

In addition to hundreds of fighters, at least 364 civilians are reported to have lost their lives since March 26, including at least 84 children and 25 women. Another 681 civilians – possibly more – have been injured. Dozens of public buildings, including hospitals, schools, airports and mosques have been destroyed in airstrikes, through shelling and other attacks.

Over the past week, street fighting also intensified in densely populated areas, particularly in Aden between armed groups affiliated with President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi on one side, and those affiliated with the Houthis and the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh on the other. There have also been accounts of recruitment of children as fighters in Aden, Dhale and Mareb.

“The parties to the conflict are obliged to ensure that international humanitarian law and international human rights law are scrupulously respected and that the civilian population is protected,” said Mr. Zeid. “Any suspected breach of international law must be urgently investigated with a view to ensuring victims’ right to justice and redress and to ensure that such incidents do not recur.”

Several recent airstrikes by coalition forces have hit residential areas and civilian homes in Amran, Taiz, Ibb, Aljawf and Sa’da, with one, on a military base in Taiz on Saturday, hitting a residential area about 500 metres away, killing ten civilians and injuring seven.

He stressed that parties to the conflict should take all feasible measures to avoid locating military objectives in populated residential areas and must exercise maximum care to ensure that civilians and civilian objects are protected against dangers arising from military operations, and he called for the thorough and transparent investigation of such incidents by coalition forces.

Among 52 public buildings either partially or completely destroyed in the past three weeks, eight hospitals were hit in Sana’a, Sa’da, Dhale and Aden, with 17 schools and educational institutions in Aden, Dhale, Hajjah, Ibb and Sana’a also destroyed. The country’s three main national airports and its main power station have also been damaged, as well as bridges, factories, farmland and mosques.

“Hospitals and ambulances must be safe from attacks and allowed to function at all times. Intentional attacks on hospitals or ambulances being exclusively used for medical purposes would amount to war crimes,” Zeid said.

He also warned that the intentional targeting of civilians not taking direct part in hostilities would amount to a war crime, citing particular reports of the killing of civilians by snipers located on rooftops in Dhale, and he also pointed to arbitrary arrests, indiscriminate firing at protesters and attacks against media premises by Houthi-affiliated forces.

Underlining the important role of civil society, particularly in the midst of an armed conflict, he urged all sides to negotiate a swift end to the bloodshed and devastation in Yemen.

“The people of Yemen have already suffered for too long and the calamitous effects of the conflict are already going to take years, if not decades, to reverse,” the High Commissioner said. “Most of the country is now suffering from the effects of armed conflict, with the situation particularly devastating in Sana’a, Aden, Dhale, Sa’da, Hudayda, Lahj, Ibb, Taiz, Amran and Hajjah. The humanitarian situation is appallingly bad, compounded by wanton violence, lawlessness and serious human rights violations.”

Source: United Nations


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