UNOHCHR: Parties to the Conflict Commit Human Rights Abuses with Impunity in Yemen

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a report on the situation of human rights in Yemen. The report enumerates the violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen since September 2014, when the Houthi-Saleh coup against the legitimate government began. Civilians face indiscriminate and targeted military attacks, arbitrary and illegal arrest and detention, restricted access to humanitarian aid, and a devastating blockade that smothers the economy. Furthermore, violators throughout Yemen are committing such offenses with total impunity.


The perpetuation of the conflict and its consequences on the population in Yemen continue to be devastating, with Yemen currently the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. At least 4,980 civilians have been killed and more than 8,540 injured since the beginning of the conflict. Millions, particularly the most vulnerable, face threats of cholera, famine and displacement. The economy teeters on the brink of collapse. The conflict has given rise to unrelenting allegations of violations and abuses of international human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law.


The report describes the multitude of violations that have been documented and verified by the OHCHR. Every aspect of civilian life has been affected by the conflict; coalition airstrikes generate massive levels of casualties, destroy education facilities, health infrastructure, and livelihoods; the coalition’s blockade has “strangled imports” and prevented the distribution of vital humanitarian aid; both the coalition and the Houthi-Saleh alliance restrict free movement of people, goods, and aid. Additionally, the OHCHR documented instances of forced displacement of two villages by the Houthis, a blatant violation of IHL. Coalition and Houthi-Saleh forces restrict freedom of expression, intimidating civil society and journalists with arbitrary detention and raids. Houthi-Saleh authorities in San’a utilize mass detention as a tool of fear and upend the criminal justice system through abuse and repression.


The conflict has produced large numbers of casualties; since March 2015, 13,520 civilians have been injured or killed in conflict-related incidents, and the total is likely much higher. Coalition airstrikes are the leading cause of casualties, and often these airstrikes indiscriminately affect civilian areas or even target civilians in evident IHL violations. Civilians are caught in deadly violence in other instances as well: in al-Mukha, Houthi forces sniped fleeing civilians, killing 3 people, and the Houthi siege of Ta’iz has witnessed a strangulation of the local economy and brutal levels of violence against civilians at checkpoints. Coalition and Houthi-Saleh forces use weapons of an indiscriminate nature that likely violate IHL, such as cluster munitions, anti-personnel landmines, and victim-activated IEDS.


Women and children are particularly vulnerable to the violence. Girls have been increasingly forced into child marriages, and women--particularly those who are migrants, refugees, detainees, or internally displaced--are at an increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence. Children have been recruited by both coalition and Houthi-Saleh forces to be used for violent purposes. Over half of the schools in Yemen have been damaged by the conflict, and schools are sometimes used for military purposes.


The OHCHR recommends that, in addition to achieving a successful ceasefire, the international community create an independent investigative body that can conduct investigations into the violations of human rights and humanitarian law. An independent investigative body would resolve the problems of partiality that the Yemen National Commission, which investigates allegations of human rights violations, faces. Furthermore, the investigative body must be empowered to implement an accountability mechanism, ending the impunity of perpetrators and granting victims the justice they have long waited for. The Yemen Peace Project and other NGOs have called for the UN Human Rights Council to create such a mechanism, and YPP’s analysis points out that the Council has the capacity to do so.