US-backed Saudi-led Airstrikes Have Killed 500 Children in Yemen: UN Report

January 23rd, 2016 - by admin

The Associated Press & Al Jazeera America – 2016-01-23 22:12:20

Saudi-led Airstrikes Kill Dozens in Yemen
At least 59 people killed across Yemen, including ambulance driver for hospital supported by MSF

The Associated Press & Al Jazeera America

(January 22, 2016) — The Saudi-led military coalition carried out a series of airstrikes across Yemen Friday, killing dozens and striking an ambulance for a hospital supported by the international medical charity Doctors Without Borders, according to Yemeni officials, rebel media and a statement by the charity.

The charity, also known by its French acronym MSF, said the ambulance driver was killed in an airstrike on the northern town of Dahyan. Dahyan is part of Saada province, the stronghold of Shia rebels who control much of the country including the capital, Sanaa. The rebels, known as Houthis, announced that airstrikes in Dahyan killed 26 people.

In Sanaa, officials said that 22 people were killed in strikes that targeted the mountain of Nahdeen believed to house weapon caches. In Dhamar, Taiz and Jawf, similar airstrikes targeted gatherings of Houthis and allied army units. In the port city of Hodeida, at least 10 civilians were killed when airstrikes targeted trucks carrying smuggled oil from the port, according to officials.

The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

Yemen’s civil war began when the Houthi rebels, allied with a former Yemeni president, overran the capital in September 2014. In March 2015, a coalition of countries led by Saudi Arabia began airstrikes and later, a ground operation to retake the country. More than 5,800 people have been killed and over 80 percent of Yemen’s population is in dire need of food, water and other aid, according to the United Nations.

UN Blames Saudi-led Coalition for Most Attacks on Yemen Civilians
Human rights chief voices concern over coalition’s shelling of civilian areas and destruction of infrastructure

Reuters & Al Jazeera America

(December 22, 2015) — The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that a Saudi-led coalition’s military campaign in Yemen appeared to be responsible for a “disproportionate amount” of attacks on civilian areas.

Speaking at the council’s first public meeting on Yemen since the Saudi-led bombing campaign began nine months ago, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said he had “observed with extreme concern” heavy shelling from the ground and air in areas of Yemen with a high concentration of civilians and the destruction of civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools. He said all parties to the conflict were responsible, “although a disproportionate amount appeared to be the result of airstrikes carried out by coalition forces.”

A Saudi-led coalition — which includes the United Arab Emirates and Qatar —intervened in Yemen’s civil war in March to try to restore the government after it was toppled by Iran-allied Houthi forces. But a mounting civilian death toll and dire humanitarian situation has alarmed human rights groups.

Western nations have been quietly increasing pressure on Saudi Arabia to seek a political deal to end the conflict, UN diplomats have said. Diplomats said Tuesday’s session was convened to shine a spotlight on the conflict and pressure all sides to seek a negotiated end to the bloodshed.

“I further call on the council to do everything within its power to help restrain the use of force by all parties and to urge all sides to abide by the basic principles of international humanitarian law,” Hussein said.

Warring parties in Yemen agreed to a renewable seven-day cease-fire under UN auspices that started Dec. 15, but it has been repeatedly violated.

The UN says the conflict has killed nearly 6,000 people, almost half of them civilians. Hussein said more than 600 children had been killed and some 900 injured — a five-fold increase compared to 2014.

A first round of peace talks adjourned on Sunday and the UN’s envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said the two sides would meet again on Jan. 14. Ahmed told the council there were still deep divisions and “trust between the parties remains weak.”

The UN has designated Yemen as one of its highest-level humanitarian crises, alongside emergencies in South Sudan, Syria and Iraq. It says more than 21 million people in Yemen need help, or about 80 percent of the population.

“The potential ramifications of a failed state in Yemen would almost inevitably create safe havens for radical and confessional groups such as the so-called (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant),” Zeid told the 15-member council. “This, in turn, could expand the conflict beyond Yemen’s borders, potentially shattering regional stability,” he said.

Rights groups have criticized the United States, Britain and other Western countries for supplying arms to the Saudis that have been used in the war.

US May Be Complicit in War Crimes in Yemen
Providing weapons and logistical and intelligence support to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies taints Washington’s hands

Lauren Carasik / Al Jazeera America

(November 2, 2015) — The conflict in Yemen has been overshadowed by the crisis in Syria, though the former accounted for more deaths by explosions than any other conflict during the first seven months of this year.

Eight months after Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies began an aerial campaign against the Houthi rebels, the civilian death toll continues to mount. More than 5,600 people, including 2,615 civilians and 500 children, have been killed since March. The vast majority of civilian deaths are attributable to coalition airstrikes.

Human rights groups have warned about war crimes and the continued humanitarian calamity in Yemen. “Yemen in five months is like Syria after five years,” Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said in August. “The humanitarian situation is nothing short of catastrophic. Every family in Yemen has been affected by this conflict.”

Complicit in the growing humanitarian disaster is the United States and its unchecked arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies. The Barack Obama administration agreed to transfer more than $64 billion in weapons and services to members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) during its first five years.

On Oct. 20, the US government approved an $11.25 billion deal to sell warships to Saudi Arabia, ignoring calls from human rights activists to refrain from selling certain military equipment in light of the civilian toll it is inflicting. In continuing to provide weapons, intelligence and logistical support to Riyadh, including precision rockets and internationally banned cluster munitions, the US is contributing to Yemen’s suffering.

Damning Evidence
Take the Sept. 28 coalition airstrike that hit a wedding party, killing dozens and wounding many more. Among the dead were women and children. The White House expressed concern about the incident, but its words ring hollow, given that the US supplied the planes used in the attack.

In a report on Oct. 6, London-based advocacy group Amnesty International investigated 13 coalition airstrikes from May to July that killed an estimated 100 people, including 59 children.

The group found that some of the strikes hit civilian objects such as “homes, public buildings, schools, markets, shops, factories, bridges, roads and other civilian infrastructure,” as well as civilians fleeing in vehicles and those delivering humanitarian assistance.

Amnesty said the strikes violate international law and found “damning evidence of war crimes,” which warrant an international investigation and the suspension of certain arms transfers.

A United Nations panel has accused all sides of human rights abuses, but singled out coalition forces for committing “grave violations.” But international condemnation has done little to ease the devastation wrought by the strikes.

The simmering conflict escalated after Houthi rebels ousted Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in January. Saudi Arabia, who views the Shiite Houthis as Iran’s proxies, led aggressive aerial bombardments to push back the rebels.

On Oct. 26, the UN announced a new round of discussions between Yemen’s warring parties. Despite its verbal commitments to a negotiated settlement, Riyadh has been pursuing an outright military victory at any cost in part to limit Iran’s influence in the region, but that resolve may finally be crumbling in the wake of the escalating humanitarian crisis.

The Saudi-led intervention continues to compound untold human misery in an already impoverished country. The Saudi naval blockade of ports in Aden and al-Hudaydah, ostensibly meant to block weapons imports, is hampering the delivery of food and fuel, 90 percent of which come from abroad.

More than two million Yemenis have been displaced, 80 percent are in need of humanitarian assistance, and nearly 13 million Yemenis are without adequate food.

On Oct. 27, coalition airstrikes destroyed a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) medical clinic, one of the few still functioning in the northern Yemeni province of Saada. Inflicting widespread civilian hardship amounts to collective punishment, fueling the devastation that the MSF says has claimed as many lives as the bombings.

Despite the carnage, Washington has been reluctant to criticize Saudi Arabia, or make any move that would alienate its key regional ally, who is already jittery over the Iran nuclear deal and its potential to alter the balance of power in the Middle East. Washington has long been muted about Riyadh’s dismal human rights record.

Enabled by the US
Its callousness about its role in Yemen is not new either. “Providing direct support to military operations, such as information on targets, would make the US and the UK parties to the armed conflict,” Human Rights Watch, said in a July report.

Two days later, Washington approved two separate sales to Saudi Arabia amounting to $500 million and $5.4 billion. The US has sold weapons and military equipment worth more than $90 billion to Saudi Arabia from 2010 to 2014.

To make matters worse, the US supports Riyadh’s efforts to block transparency and accountability for the conflict in Yemen. On Sept. 30, the US reportedly helped defeat a Dutch proposal for an independent UN inquiry through its belated and tepid support.

Instead, the UN capitulated to demands from the Saudi-led Arab group for a domestic process, though Yemen and coalition forces have shown little willingness to investigate and prosecute abuses.

Fortunately, US domestic political support for the coalition strikes in Yemen is starting to crack, however slightly. There are reports of divisions within the Obama administration, and rising unease in Congress.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has raised concerns that US support for Saudi airstrikes may violate the law he authored, which bars military assistance to foreign forces that commit human rights violations. And on Oct. 14, 13 members of congress sent a letter to President Obama expressing dismay over the civilian toll of the airstrikes.

Washington should heed these concerns; stop sending weapons that are causing incalculable civilian suffering; and support growing calls for an international investigation and accountability for violations of international law in Yemen, including its own role.

Lauren Carasik is a clinical professor of law and the director of the international human rights clinic at the Western New England University School of Law. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America’s editorial policy.

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