Recent indiscriminate air attacks by Saudi Arabia on civilians in Harez (northwest of Yemen) have resulted in 33 civilian deaths, and left 67 people with serious injuries. Those numbers add up to what is increasingly becoming a national tragedy, as coalition forces continue their attacks on Houthi fighters. Cities on the northern border with Saudi Arabia are emptying of inhabitants, whose displacement is saturating the villages further south.
Since the war began, more than 3,000 people have been killed and 14,300 have been wounded, plunging Yemen into a humanitarian crisis of great proportion. The limited success of the brutal air campaign against Yemeni rebels reminds one of the verses of the famous Yemeni poet Al-Baradouni, “They come with iron and fire, but they are weaker than straw”.
Saudi Arabia has been the leading member of the coalition fighting Houthi rebels.
The coalition it leads has been accused by Human Rights Watch of using cluster munitions supplied by the US. Although this kind of munitions is not banned by the US, Yemen or Saudi Arabia, its use is banned by 116 countries throughout the world. They are considered imprecise weapons that pose a long-term danger to civilians because of the unexploded remnants they leave behind.
“International humanitarian law is clear that belligerents must take all possible steps to prevent or minimise civilian casualties. But the cases we have analysed point to a pattern of attacks destroying civilian homes and resulting in scores of civilian deaths and injuries. There is no indication that the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition has done anything to prevent and redress such violations,” stated Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Advisor to Amnesty International, on 2 July.
Amnesty International findings were confirmed by Human Rights Watch, which had documented a series of unlawful air strikes on residential houses, markets, a school and a petrol station in Sa’ada.
“The coalition’s aerial bombing of Sa’ada killed dozens of civilians, devastating entire families. These attacks appear to be serious laws-of-war violations that need to be properly investigated,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa Director at Human Rights Watch last week.
“This war is tearing the social texture in a way that makes it impossible to repair. The double aggression we are under from the outside and the inside is creating cracks. I can see my loved ones watching in pain knowing that things will never be the same even if this war ends, if it ever does. We have survived so many wars. We have been stripped of jobs, security and basic services before; however, this time we are being stripped of home,” Jamal, a Yemeni sociologist, told The Guardian.
What Yemenis desperately need now is for the fighting parties to allow the entry of humanitarian supplies and avoid targeting civilians and medical and paramedical personnel. “We have nothing to do with the conflict and who is right or wrong, but every wounded person deserves to get medical care,” said Hisham Abdulaziz, a doctor who treated dozens of wounded people by an air strike in a refugee camp.
According to the UN, more than 80% of Yemen’s 25 million people need some form of humanitarian aid. “It’s more than one million people displaced, 3,000 killed, shortage of fuel, basic public services – health, water, sanitation – that are collapsing, one city after another they are collapsing.” said Antoine Grand, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen, at a UN briefing in Geneva.
Increasingly, it is becoming evident that the conflict in Yemen should be solved by Yemenis themselves, without any outside interference. As stated by a group of Yemeni scholars, residents and nationals of the UK and the US: “Rather than contributing to the destruction of the country, the USA and UK should support a UN Security Council resolution demanding and immediate, unconditional ceasefire and use of their diplomatic influence to strengthen the sovereignty and self-government of Yemen. As specialists we are more than aware of the internal divisions within Yemeni society, but we consider that it is for the Yemenis themselves to be allowed to negotiate a political settlement.”
Dr Cesar Chelala is a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and a national award on journalism from Argentina. He recently received the Chaski Award from the Latin American Workshop in New York City.