Yemen: Relentless airstrikes that have left hundreds of civilians dead must be investigated

April 24, 2015

Yemen: Relentless airstrikes that have left hundreds of civilians dead must be investigated

The killing of hundreds of civilians, including scores of children, and the injury of thousands during the relentless Saudi Arabian-led campaign of airstrikes across Yemen must be urgently investigated, said Amnesty International, one month after the strikes began.

“The month-long campaign of air strikes carried out by Saudi Arabia and its allies has transformed many parts of Yemen into a dangerous place for civilians,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

“Millions of people have been forced to live in a state of utter terror, afraid of being killed at home. Many feel they are left with no choice but to move away from their destroyed villages to an uncertain future.”

According to the UN more than 550 civilians have been killed including more than 100 children since the military campaign began on 25 March.

Amnesty International has documented eight strikes in five densely populated areas (Sa'dah, Sana'a, Hodeidah, Hajjah and Ibb). Several of these strikes raise concerns about compliance with the rules of international humanitarian law.

According to Amnesty International’s research, at least 139 people, including at least 97 civilians (33 of whom were children) were killed during these strikes, and 460 individuals were injured (at least 157 whom are civilians).

“The mounting civilian toll in some of the cases we have researched are deeply concerning. Some of the Saudi Arabian –led air strikes appear to have failed to take necessary precautions to minimize harm to civilians and damage to civilian objects. It is crucial that independent and impartial investigations are carried out to ascertain whether violations of international humanitarian law have been committed,” said Said Boumedouha.

One of the survivors of an airstrike that took place on Faj ‘Attan, on the outskirts of Sana’a on 20 April, told Amnesty International that his relatives, a couple and their eight-year-old son died after their apartment block collapsed under heavy rocks that fell from a nearby mountain struck by a rocket. The rocket had targeted the Republican Guard military base on the top of Faj ‘Attan Mountain. The couple’s 12-year-old daughter, who was standing outside of the house at the time, survived.

Airstrikes and shelling have also destroyed or damaged hospitals, schools, universities, airports, mosques, food transport vehicles, factories, petrol stations, telephone networks, electricity power stations and stadiums.

This has left thousands of people without power and suffering from food and petrol shortages.

A 23-year-old man injured in a strike that struck a factory in Hodeidah on 31 March was left paraplegic after a piece of shrapnel became lodged in his vertebrae. The director of the hospital inside the factory complex said the hospital was overwhelmed with casualties after the attack. The nearest military target, an army base, was more than 300 metres away.

Internally displaced

The vast majority of the country has now been affected by the conflict and between 120,000 and 150,000 civilians have fled their homes in the last month alone (according to the United Nations). This adds to the 100,000 people who were already internally displaced from previous conflicts in Yemen.

While some have fled as a result of airstrikes, others are displaced because of the dangers posed by Huthi fighters in civilian areas.

Jihad Farouq Abdelraheem , recently told Amnesty International that he had to leave his district of Ma’llah in the first week of April after artillery shelling destroyed his house and Huthi fighters took over empty buildings in the surrounding areas. He said he escaped the city in a car with 12 children, 15 women and eight men and fled to the district of Mansoura, where his brother lives.

Another resident from ‘Aydarous district in Aden told Amnesty International that Huthi bombardments and mortar attacks on his neighbourhood had forced him to flee with his entire family including a one-year-old child. They crossed over the mountain and made the journey to the other side of Aden on foot.
A resident of the Mansoura district of Aden compared intense Huthi tank shelling that struck the street behind her house to "an earthquake”.

Even those trying to help people fleeing the fighting are being targeted, with scores of paramedics and those carrying medical supplies being abducted by the Huthis and loyalists of former President Ali ‘Abdallah Saleh.

On 3 April two brothers working for the Yemen Red Crescent society were shot and killed in Aden while evacuating wounded people to a waiting ambulance, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

On 18 April the aid agency Oxfam said that an airstrike hit a warehouse in Saada containing humanitarian supplies. No clear military targets appear to have been identified in the vicinity.

Attacks on humanitarian relief personnel and objects used for humanitarian relief operations would amount to violations of international humanitarian law.