Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes and attacks by pro and anti-Huthi armed groups in Ta’iz and Aden in Yemen have killed scores of civilians – including dozens of children – and could amount to war crimes, Amnesty International has revealed in a new briefing published today.
‘Nowhere safe for civilians’: Airstrikes and ground attacks in Yemen highlights the impact of unlawful coalition airstrikes in densely populated residential neighbourhoods, and attacks by Huthi loyalists and anti-Huthi armed groups operating on the ground, who have carried out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks in civilian areas.
“Civilians in southern Yemen have found themselves trapped in a deadly crossfire between Huthi loyalists and anti-Huthi groups on the ground, while facing the persistent threat of coalition airstrikes from the sky. All the parties to this conflict have displayed a ruthless and wanton disregard for the safety of civilians,” said Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Advisor at Amnesty International.
“The report depicts in harrowing detail the gruesome and bloody trail of death and destruction in Ta’iz and Aden from unlawful attacks, which may amount to war crimes, by all parties.”
Attacks by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition
Amnesty International has investigated eight airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition which killed at least 141 civilians and injured 101 others, mostly women and children, during a research mission to Yemen in June and July 2015. The evidence gathered reveals a pattern of strikes targeting heavily populated areas including civilian homes, a school, a market and a mosque. In the majority of cases no military target could be located nearby.
“Coalition forces have blatantly failed to take necessary precautions to minimize civilian casualties, an obligation under international humanitarian law. Indiscriminate attacks that result in death or injury to civilians amount to war crimes,” said Donatella Rovera.
One resident describing the aftermath of an attack on a residential compound inhabited by power plant workers in Mokha on 24 July said “corpses and heads” were scattered everywhere “engulfed by fire and ashes”, comparing the sight to a scene from “judgement day”. Another local resident told Amnesty International he continued to be haunted by the memories of walking through the “pools of blood and severed limbs” of more than 20 victims.
A coalition attack on 9 July killed 10 members of one family including four children who had sought shelter at a school in north Aden after being displaced from their home because of fighting. “We came here to escape the war,” the father of three young women who were killed in the strike told Amnesty International, “we had nowhere else to go”.
Another unlawful airstrike on 7 July also killed 11 worshipers at a mosque in Waht, north Aden. Witnesses to an airstrike a day earlier at a livestock market, also in north Aden, gave gruesome accounts of the bloodshed to Amnesty International. One survivor described how a piece of shrapnel slashed open his abdomen, causing damage to his internal organs. Another eyewitness described the scene as “a massacre”. “Body parts and blood of humans and animals were mixed together. It was a very painful sight,” he said.
Attacks by armed groups fighting on the ground
Amnesty International also investigated 30 attacks in Aden and Ta’iz by the Huthi armed group, supported by armed and security forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and anti-Huthi armed groups battling each other on the ground, killing at least 68 civilians and injured 99 others.
Fighters from both parties routinely used imprecise weapons including Grad-type rockets, mortars and artillery fire in densely populated residential areas, displacing utter disregard for the safety of civilians. Such indiscriminate attacks may amount to war crimes.
In one such attack, rockets fired into Aden’s al-Mansoura neighbourhood on 1 July struck two hotels where displaced families had been sheltering. Among the worst injured civilians were Amal Ali and her 18-month-old baby. “Shrapnel penetrated his head and went through to his left eye, causing internal damage,” she said of her child. “He lost his eye and is in a coma.” Four more of her family members including her three-month-old baby son were also injured. The same attack left a 55-year-old woman paralysed from the neck down.
One of the deadliest attacks on 19 July was carried out by the Huthis and their allies on Dar Saad, in Aden, where 45 people were killed, most of which were civilians.
Many attacks appeared to have been launched from within densely populated civilian neighbourhoods in violation of international humanitarian law. One resident described how civilians are caught up amidst the fighting: “They fight and we are caught in the middle, but we don’t have anywhere else to go.”
In several cases documented, children were killed or injured while playing in the streets or near their homes. The report also contains several disturbing and grisly accounts from eyewitnesses and survivors describing bodies being sliced open and severed body parts.
An eyewitness to one attack described a child running towards him with blood running down his neck and a hole in his head from shrapnel and “pieces of brains smeared on the walls and windows”.
“The utter failure of all parties to the conflict to minimize the risk to civilians during fighting has had truly devastating consequences for civilians. The gruesome nature of the casualties exposes the true horror and reality of war and the deadly and long-lasting impact of such attacks on civilians,” said Donatella Rovera.
UN Commission of Inquiry
Amnesty International is calling on the United Nations Human Rights Council to create an international commission of inquiry to independently and impartially investigate alleged war crimes committed during the conflict.
By 4 August, the fighting in Yemen had resulted in at least 1,916 civilian deaths according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. At least 207 civilian objects, including property and infrastructure, have been completely or partially destroyed as a result of the armed conflict.
“Perpetrators of the callous attacks against civilians in Yemen need to know that they will pay the price and will be held responsible for war crimes. If the international community fails to investigate and hold violators to account then such attacks and the rampant killing and injuring of civilians is only likely to continue,” said Donatella Rovera.
The suffering of civilians in southern Yemen has also been intensified by an acute humanitarian crisis. At least 80% of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance. Essential services including access to clean water and electricity are cut off and food prices have sky-rocketed.
Damage to key logistical infrastructure, including bridges, airports and seaports, has also severely hampered the movement of crucial humanitarian supplies. Access to health care is also limited with medical centres shut down, frequent attacks on medical staff and dwindling supplies of electricity, fuel, medication and surgical equipment.