Human Rights Violations during the Ongoing Yemeni Crisis and the Role of the OHCHR

Written By: A. Qasim Swati (Manchester, UK)

“Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. As the conflict enters its fourth year, more than 22 million people – three-quarters of the population – need humanitarian aid and protection. Some 18 million people are food insecure; one million more than when we convened last year. And a horrifying 8.4 million of these people do not know how they will obtain their next meal.” These were some of the alerting and cautionary remarks made, during the Opening Session of the High-Level Pledging Conference on Yemen, by the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Antonio Guterres, at Geneva, Switzerland, on April 03, 2018.

After the Tunisian Revolution of 2010, Yemen was hit by its political crisis, which started in 2011 and resulted from the advent of The Arab Spring, also referred to as Arab Revolutions, that began in the Middle East and North Africa on 18 December, 2010, in Tunisia, leading to the ousting of the Tunisian President, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in January, 2011.

Located on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia, Yemen is bordered on two sides by water – the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. It has Oman to the east and Saudi Arabia to the north. Being the poorest country in the Middle East, Yemen has a total population of 28,915,284 or 28.91 million, as estimated in 2018.

Unfortunately, Yemen is faced with various crises, some of which are ecological or environmental, while others are political, economic, health-related, social, educational and sectarian, among others. Poverty, food shortages, paucity of water, the lack of medical and educational facilities and, more significantly, the present ongoing civil war are some of the miseries, sufferings, problems, torments and hardships that have added to the current plight of the people of Yemen.

Since the commencement of the Yemeni Civil War in 2011 to present (2018), there have been so many human rights abuses and violations, perpetrated by different groups for achieving their own vested interests during the Yemeni Crisis. The country is torn apart and its people being subjected to inhuman, shameful, shocking, brutal, cruel, callous, barbaric and disgusting treatment and conditions by both internal and external forces involved in the tug-of-war of power politics and desire for achieving their personal designs.

On one hand, the innocent civilians of Yemen are targeted by Houthi forces and the forces loyal to the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. On the other hand, the same poor people of Yemen suffer, as a result, of the attacks carried out by the Saudi-led Coalition, backed and supported by the United States. The current Yemeni conflict is, generally, referred to as the ‘Yemeni Civil War’, which means that this is a war fought by different groups of people living in Yemen. However, like most modern civil wars, the war fought in Yemen, at present, involves intervention by outside powers, too, as there are several countries involved in waging this war. The different groups and parties, involved in the conflict, either directly or indirectly, include such forces, as the forces loyal to the current Yemeni President, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, and Houthis; other forces supporting Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former President of Yemen; Saudi Arabian-led coalition/intervention against the Houthi rebels and loyalists of the former President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, made up of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, , Egypt, Morocco, Sudan, Jordan and Qatar. However, Qatar withdrew in June. Besides, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Australia and Iran are also said to be involved in assisting the campaign, directly or indirectly.

The Yemeni civilians are killed in indiscriminate attacks made by the different antagonistic and hostile forces fighting in the country. The protesters are arbitrarily detained, tortured, attacked, and punished by these forces. Such rights of the people of Yemen, as the rights to life, the rights to security of people, the rights to keep their properties and the rights not to be detained illegally, are breached and violated, irrespective of being protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Human rights defenders and the supporters of the government are being abducted, detained and arrested arbitrarily by the Houthis and allied forces loyal to former President, Saleh, as mentioned in the annual 2015 -2016 report by Amnesty International. Houthis  are also being accused of controlling the freedom of speech, laying landmines, arresting innocent people, kidnapping journalists, using rockets launching missiles to kill pro-government worshippers in the mosques and killing Saudi Arabian civilians inside Saudi Arabia, etc.

Similarly, Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have been accused of killing the Yemeni civilians by indiscriminate attacks, unlawful airstrikes, undertaken by the coalition, the blockades of food, medicines and other such sources and supplies, necessary for the survival of human lives in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia and its allies have also been blamed for, intentionally, targeting civilians, as stated in a report, released in the beginning of 2016 by the United Nations. Not only this, but the Saudi-led coalition is also accused in the report, released by the UN panel, for targeting civilians, including such places, as markets, factories, food storage warehouses, mosques, schools, medical facilities, civilian residential areas, civilian gatherings, like weddings and also civilian vehicles, including buses, too. Saudi Arabia is also criticised for using white phosphorus (as an incendiary weapon) in Yemen in September 2016.

Being a key member of the Saudi Arabia-led Coalition in Yemen, the United Arab Emirates has been accused by human rights groups for abuse, torture, sexual violence, use of electric shocks and ill-treatment of detainees in detention centres, operated by UAE-backed security forces. There is a strong condemnation by various human rights groups and organizations, like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other such bodies, against the illegal detentions, the forced disappearances and brutal torture of people, conducted by the United Arab Emirates, in regards to its role in the current Yemeni Crisis.

Some of the human rights violations and abuses, carried out and committed by various forces in Yemen since September 2014, have been highlighted in the Annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which gives a colossally shocking, horrific, terrible and distressing picture of the events taking place during the ongoing Yemeni Crisis. Such a continuous violation of human rights is a cheeky and shameful slap on the face of the nominal modern human civilization in the 21st century.

Approximately, 18.8 million people, out of the total 28.91 million of the Yemeni population are in need of humanitarian assistance, but 10.3 million of the 18.8 million are in critical, drastic and acute need of help. There are more than 5,00,000 suspected cases of cholera since April 2017, in Yemen. 1,930 deaths are only linked to cholera epidemic throughout the country. More than a third or over 33.3% of all suspected cases affect children.

About 50% of the health facilities available in the country are not operating or in working order, but are non-functional. 14.8 million people have no access to basic healthcare in Yemen. In other words, 14.8 million people do not have the required facilities of healthcare, at all. Similarly, 14.5 million people of Yemen, out of the 14.8 million, cannot enjoy the regular availability of sanitation and clean water.

7.3 million Yemenis are at the risk of having extreme scarcity or shortage of food, and, thus, are faced by a severe famine of its nature. Likewise, over 3 million people have been displaced, due to the present Civil War in Yemen after its start.

The different human rights violations and abuses, carried out by the perpetrators, involved in the current Yemeni Crisis, include such nasty and horrendous activities and things, as violations of economic and social rights, sexual and gender-based violence, violations of freedom of religion, violations of freedom of expression, violations of due process, arbitrary or illegal detention, child recruitment, use of restricted weapons, restrictions on humanitarian access, forced displacement, attacks against protected objects and attacks affecting civilians.

As a result of this report on the crisis in Yemen and, due to the existing humanitarian catastrophe in the country, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights clearly, urgently and repeatedly urges the global community to conduct a free, thorough, global and impartial investigation of all the international human rights laws and international humanitarian law’s abuses and violations that are taking place in Yemen during the current conflict in the country.

The Saudi-led coalition has carried out up to 4,583 airstrikes so far from July, 2016 to June, 2017 (in 11-month period), which have killed 933 civilians, at minimum, and wounded about 1,423 in such areas of Yemen, as Sana’a, Taizz and Aden. Child causalities and civilian casualties have, mainly, occurred, as a result of the continued airstrikes, carried out by the coalition.

In the same way, the Houthi/Saleh forces have taken the lives of, at least, 178 people and wounded 420 by bombing and shelling from July, 2016 to June, 2017, while carrying out 1,143 shelling, in total.

The real total civilian casualties are more possible to be higher than the verified civilian casualty statistics, but a civilian casualty monitoring report, conducted by the OHCHR, covering the period from March, 2015 – June, 2017, verifies the loss of 4,993 human lives during this period. The number of people injured in the fighting amounted to 8,553. Thus, the total of civilian casualties occurred are 13,536. 69% of these civilian casualties were male, as 3,235 men got killed and 6,094 injured in the battle. The number of boys killed in the fighting reached 722, while those injured came to 1,029. So, they make up 13% of the total civilian casualties, as a result of the Yemeni Crisis in the period of 2 years and 3 months. The female civilian casualties constitute 11% of the total victims, as 628 women were killed and 918 of them injured in the catastrophe. Similarly, the number of girls killed in the Civil War of Yemen, from March, 2015 to June, 2017, account for 389, while 512 of the same girl group were wounded, which makes up 7% of the total verified civilian casualties in the war. Thus, over 110 people were killed or wounded in the Yemeni conflict on a weekly basis, on average, during this period.

As reflected in the report, the coalition forces have played the role of the biggest perpetrators in causing civilian casualties in the ongoing Civil Crisis in Yemen, because they are responsible for 8,211 civil casualties, half of which are the killings or deaths of innocent people.

The Houthi and Saleh forces can be held accountable for 3,746 civilian casualties, as they have killed 1,191 innocent people and injured 2,555 of them for the sake of their own particular gains.

Likewise, the various fanatical groups or extremists have killed around 279 innocent civilians and wounded 325, and are, thus, responsible for 604 civilian casualties in total, so far.

Similarly, other pro-Government Forces have wounded about 61 civilians and killed 44, while fighting for defending their own selfish schemes and plans. In the same way, the other Foreign Forces, involved in the conflict, are responsible for causing 68 civilian casualties, as they have taken the lives of around 53 innocent civilians and injured 15 others in the war in order to gain and achieve their own greedy and self-centred objectives.

The latest figures show that the total civilians killed in the Yemeni Crisis amount to 5,144, while 8,749 innocent civilians have been wounded since March 2015 to August 2017. This comes up to a total of 13,893, of which 1,184 are children who have been killed and 1,592 of them have been injured, as well.

The report, given by the OHCHR, not only unfolds the civilian casualties, caused by various perpetrators during the Yemeni Crisis since March, 2015 to June, 2017, but it also discloses different verified cases of torture/ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and illegal detentions of such other people, as human rights defenders, religious persons, humanitarians, journalists and political opponents.

There are 1,019 verified cases of arbitrary or illegal detentions, 51 cases of enforced disappearances and 27 cases of ill-treatment or torture, the victims of which are the protectors and guardians of human rights, people linked to religions, philanthropists and social reformers, reporters, correspondents, writers and political rivals or dissidents.

In this way, so many people have been targeted by arbitrary or illegal detentions that include 29 human rights defenders, 38 religious people, 41 humanitarians, 55 journalists and 103 political opponents so far during the current Civil War of Yemen from March, 2015 to June, 2017. All these people have been kept illegally in deteriorating and inhuman conditions with damaged or no availability of basic human facilities, paucity or shortage of food and medicines and being over-crowded.

The current Civil Crisis in Yemen is a matter of a great concern for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which the OHCHR desires and endeavours to resolve on the basis of being its first priority, as an internationally-responsible entity. Right from the beginning of the conflict, the OHCHR has always urged all the combating groups, involved in the fighting, to minimise the potential destruction of their activities and save as many human lives and as much resources of the country as possible.

A UN human rights report, published in Geneva on September 05, 2017, called the situation in Yemen an ‘entirely man-made catastrophe’ and a ‘total violations of international human law’ and urged the international community to fully, independently and transparently investigate the abuses and violations against human rights in Yemen and bring, those to justice, responsible for the perpetration. Accordingly, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called for establishing an international investigation against such atrocities, conducted during the Civil War in Yemen. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights went on to save Yemen from further disaster and destruction in the conflict by calling on the warring forces, responsible for the present Yemeni Crisis, as “I appeal to all the parties to the conflict, those supporting them and those with influence over them, to have mercy on the people of Yemen, and to take immediate measures to ensure humanitarian relief for civilians and justice for the victims of violations.”

While issuing OHCHR Press briefing note on Yemen, on April 24, 2018, the spokesperson for the UN Human Commissioner for Human Rights, Liz Throssell, condemned the various airstrikes, carried out by the Saudi-led Coalition, that killed more than 45 civilians and injured many others in just a four-day period in Aril, 2018, during the ongoing Crisis of Yemen. The OHCHR has called these airstrikes, as disgraceful, shameful, completely unacceptable, and asked for investigating all similar wicked, evil and immoral attacks and airstrikes in a transparent, thorough and an independent way.

Similarly, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, Mr. Martin Griffiths, expressed his deep concern on August 09, 2018, on the tragic deaths of innocent people in Saada (the capital city of Saada Governorate in north-western Yemen) and urged all the warring parties, involved in the Yemeni Crisis, to sort this issue out politically, constructively and peacefully.

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