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Restrictions on the delivery of vital humanitarian aid to civilians in Yemen are exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis and endangering lives, said Amnesty International calling on all parties to the conflict to allow full and unfettered access to organizations providing crucial supplies.

A delegation from the organization visited Huthi-controlled parts of Yemen in May 2016 and spoke to 11 local and international humanitarian aid organizations who described unlawful restrictions on aid by both Huthi and Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces. The organization is urging that the removal of impediments to aid delivery is given top priority at the peace talks currently underway in Kuwait before they conclude this week. 

“Unlawful impediments to aid in Yemen are causing dreadful suffering, and depriving people of their basic needs in the midst of an active conflict. It is absolutely imperative that negotiators prioritize this issue and take steps to guarantee aid is getting to those who need it most and that aid workers and their operations are not targeted or harassed,” said Lama Fakih, Senior Crisis Advisor at Amnesty International.

“All parties to the armed conflict have an obligation to allow and facilitate delivery of impartial humanitarian assistance for civilians in need. Blocking such aid is a violation of international humanitarian law. Unfettered humanitarian assistance must be allowed to all those in Yemen desperately in need of food, water and sanitation and all parties need to let the aid workers do their jobs without interference or obstruction.”

During the post-Ramadan Eid period at the start of this month and leading up to the resumption of peace talks on July 15, airstrikes and ground hostilities in various parts of the country re-intensified, leading to further displacement and worsening a situation where half of Yemen’s children are chronically malnourished and less than one in 10 of those children live to reach the age of five.

Aid workers who spoke to Amnesty International consistently described ad-hoc and unlawful barriers hampering the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the country. These include the overly burdensome de-confliction procedures for humanitarian organizations put in place by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, which entail informing the coalition of all their movements and providing coordinates of their operations so that they are not targeted.

Other obstacles identified include threats, intimidation, and obstruction of humanitarian workers’ activities, interference by Huthi security branches in aid operations and the forcible closure of humanitarian programs as well as excessive and arbitrary restrictions on the movement of goods and staff into and around the country and interference which attempts to compromise the independence of aid operations.

Coalition failure to protect humanitarian relief personnel and operations

Humanitarian workers in Yemen face a multitude of threats and risks from the ongoing fighting and explosive remnants of war on a daily basis in order reach some of the population in need. Their struggles are compounded by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s lack of responsiveness and cooperation with them, which poses an unnecessary hindrance that is both costly and time consuming and delays the delivery of crucial aid.

“Humanitarian organizations are already struggling to cope with destroyed infrastructure and dangerous working conditions, and it is absurd that the delivery of aid is hinging on the coalition’s ad-hoc rules – people’s lives are on the line,” said Fakih.

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition demands excessively detailed maps, staff and vehicle information. These onerous requirements consume considerable time and resources. As a result, some NGOs are unable or choose not to provide this information, placing their staff and supplies in grave danger.

“The onus is on the coalition to ensure that they are not targeting civilians or civilian objects, including humanitarian workers and relief supplies. Humanitarian workers should be allowed unfettered access to distribute independent humanitarian assistance to the people caught in the middle of Yemen’s bloody conflict. The coalition and the Huthis should be doing all they can to facilitate relief operations – not make them more difficult,” said Fakih.

Harassment of humanitarian workers by Huthis

Humanitarian organizations also reported being verbally or physically threatened, detained and questioned by a variety of Huthi committees and Huthi-aligned entities. In some cases, staff were detained or intimidated at gunpoint and humanitarian organizations were forced to halt field activities if they did not agree to unreasonable demands such as handing over the names of beneficiaries receiving their aid.

Bureaucratic restrictions

Stifling layers of bureaucracy imposed by the Huthi-controlled ministries also slow down the approval process of aid delivery. For example, humanitarian organizations have been asked by the Ministry of Planning to submit travel plans for a three month period, which can be extremely challenging in the volatile context of an armed conflict where plans can change at short notice.

The de facto Huthi authorities have also imposed a number of restrictions on access for international humanitarian workers, arbitrarily denying them access or delaying issuing visas and imposing excessively onerous internal movement permits for both international and national staff. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in February the Ministry of Interior in Sana’a refused travel permission to three different UN-led missions from Sana’a to Ibb and Ta’iz – 79 percent of the population in Ta’iz, Yemen’s third largest city, are in need of humanitarian aid.

Interference with independence of aid operations

In some cases Huthi local authorities, including the Ministry of Planning, have stalled and in some cases stopped assessments of humanitarian needs and program monitoring from being carried out. They have also attempted to influence who humanitarian organizations hire or distribute aid to. This contravenes core humanitarian principles of independence and impartiality as well as internationally accepted best practice. It also impedes effective humanitarian operations, from planning to delivery.

The 2016 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan requests US $1.8 billion, but by end of June, only 25 percent of funding had been received.

"Yemen is facing a desperate humanitarian crisis and funding for aid organizations is crucial. It is imperative that proper needs assessments are carried out without interference,” said Fakih.

Under international humanitarian law, all parties to the conflict must grant humanitarian workers freedom of movement, and protect them from attack, harassment and arbitrary detention. They must also ensure rapid and unimpeded delivery of impartial humanitarian relief for civilians in need.