Yemen on the Verge of Collapse: Civilians among casualties after Saudi air raids

Yemeni mourners gather beside the coffins of the victims of recent suicide attacks during a funeral in Sana'a, Yemen, March 25. (CNS photo/Yahya Arhab, EPA)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights today expressed his concern about the fast deteriorating situation in Yemen. “The situation in Yemen is extremely alarming, with dozens of civilians killed over the past four days. The country seems to be on the verge of total collapse,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the High Commissioner.

He called on all sides to protect civilians from harm, and to resolve their differences through dialogue rather than through the use of military force, as at least 93 civilians were reported to have been killed since 27 March and a further 364 injured in Sana’a, Sa’da, Dhale, Hudayda and Lahj.

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“The killing of so many innocent civilians is simply unacceptable,” the High Commissioner said. “The principles of proportionality, distinction, and precaution fully apply in this context. International human rights law and humanitarian law should be fully respected.”

Among those killed were at least 29 who died in an airstrike on the Al-Mazraq camp for internally displaced persons that was established by the UN in 2009. At least another 41 were injured in the raid, including 14 children.

The High Commissioner, who said he was “shocked” by the attack on the camp, was joined by Johannes Van Der Klaauw, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, who said he “deplored” the airstrike in the strongest terms.

“Confirmed reports state that the strikes destroyed a camp management office and a bridge adjacent to one camp, as well as damaging the local market and a health facility,” said Mr. Van Der Klaauw. “These sites constitute civilian infrastructure.”

Mr. Van Der Klaauw said around 1,100 families were living in the camp, having fled a series of conflicts in Sa’ada between 2004 and 2010. The families, who Mr. Van Der Klaauw described as being “among the most vulnerable people in Yemen” were relying entirely on external assistance to meet basic needs.

“With many camp residents now fleeing, they are again forced to seek refuge elsewhere, adding trauma to their already vulnerable state,” he said. “In mid-March, humanitarian partners had initiated a voluntary return programme for camp-based IDPs. Unfortunately, these efforts have now come to a halt.”

The High Commissioner for Human Rights said violence has also displaced many others, with hundreds reported to have fled their homes in Sana’a, Sa’da and Dhale. Heavy fighting has also been reported in the streets of Aden, resulting in casualties and making the humanitarian situation extremely difficult.

“Private homes, hospitals, education facilities and infrastructure in several locations have been destroyed, making life even more difficult for the people in this war-torn country,” said Zeid, pointing to attacks on civilian airports and electricity supplies in Sa’da, Sanaá and Hudayda. Meanwhile, in Dhale, hospitals were attacked, causing an unknown number of casualties.

“I roundly condemn all attacks on hospitals and other medical facilities, which have a special protected status under international law,” he said.

Fighting has been ongoing in Yemen since 22 January, when the legitimate government under President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi was removed by force, provoking the recent military campaign by a coalition of ten countries lead by Saudi Arabia.

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