• Press Release

UN: Hodeidah’s embattled civilians on a knife-edge as Security Council discusses Yemen

November 16, 2018

A Yemeni woman sits next to blankets and upholstery distributed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to those affected by the conflict in the country, in the coastal town of Hodeida, on April 11, 2018. (Photo by ABDO HYDER / AFP) (Photo credit should read ABDO HYDER/AFP/Getty Images)

Petrified civilians in Hodeidah face a likely onslaught unless the UN Security Council acts today to press the warring parties in Yemen to protect them and ensure full humanitarian access, Amnesty International said.

The Security Council will discuss Yemen’s conflict and humanitarian crisis at 3PM EST.

“Even with the lull in fighting in recent days, Hodeidah remains on a knife-edge, and the ominous fear of mortal danger looms large. Hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped near frontlines must be protected amid the fighting and granted safe passage out of the city,” said Sherine Tadros, Head of Amnesty International’s UN Office in New York.

“Bombs and bullets have killed thousands of civilians across Yemen, while the crushing descent into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis has placed many millions of already food-insecure people at imminent risk of famine. The Security Council must demand that all sides protect civilians by respecting international humanitarian law. They must ensure the unimpeded flow of aid and essential goods, including via Hodeidah port.

“This is not the time for discussion and words of support. All states, including permanent members of the Security Council like the USA, UK and France, should halt the flow of arms for use in the conflict and do everything in their power to prevent further violations – otherwise they are just part of the problem. And they should make clear that those responsible for war crimes in Yemen will be held to account.”

On November 9, Yemeni forces – backed by the Saudi Arabia and UAE-led coalition – announced a “vast offensive” to capture Hodeidah from Huthi control. Amnesty International has documented serious threats to the hundreds of thousands of civilians believed to remain in the city, unable to leave due to the currency collapse, vastly increased fuel prices and exorbitant rents elsewhere.

The Saudi Arabia and UAE-led Coalition has not made good on assurances it made in September that it would establish humanitarian corridors for civilians fleeing from the city. Only one passable route remains, to the north. If this is cut off, civilians will be fully encircled in a conflict zone.

Those who have managed to flee the city have joined 445,000 civilians from across Hodeidah governorate who have been displaced by violence since June 2018, according to UN figures.

Huthi forces have militarized at least one hospital in Hodeidah city and have mined several routes out. Increasingly, they are embedding themselves in civilian homes in heavily populated areas, a tactic which looks likely to draw Coalition fire into civilian neighborhoods, with disastrous consequences.

Outside Hodeidah, Saudi Arabian and UAE-led attacks have struck people displaced by violence, while Coalition attacks have impacted downtown areas of the city, including around al-Thawra hospital on November 11, prompting hundreds of patients and staff to flee in terror. Al-Thawra hospital was struck again later this week, by shells of unknown origin.

Thousands of civilians are at grave risk from both sides’ use of indirect explosive weapons such as mortars and artillery. These weapons are indiscriminate when used in populated areas due to their imprecise nature and wide-area effects.

The fighting in Hodeidah is blocking access to aid warehouses and other humanitarian facilities, further exacerbating the already dire humanitarian situation for millions of Yemeni civilians. According to the World Food Programme, clashes near Kilo 10 on Hodeidah’s outskirts have prevented it from accessing the Red Sea Mills, where 51,000 metric tons of wheat grain is stored – enough to feed 3.5 million people for a month.

Hodeidah’s port is crucial to a country that depends on imports to meet 80% of its basic needs. Amnesty International has previously warned that cutting off this supply line would further exacerbate what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 14 million people – half the population – teetering on the brink of famine.