News / Middle East

    Rights Group: Houthis, Saudi Coalition Put Blind Students at Risk

    Houthis and Saudi Coalition Put Students at Risk, Rights Group Saysi
    January 14, 2016 7:54 PM
    After a center for the blind was hit by airstrikes in Yemen, Human Rights Watch says Houthi militants are partially to blame for using civilian sites for military purposes. Yemenis say the war has taken the greatest toll on vulnerable groups like the disabled — and, with no end in sight, their numbers are growing. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Cairo with Almigdad Mojalli in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a.
    Heather Murdock

    A blind child carried a white dove in his hand at a protest outside his school this past Saturday in the Yemeni capital, Sana'a.

    The school was bombed last week.

    "The center only houses students," says Mohammad al-Junaid, a dormitory supervisor. "It is an educational center with no weapons and no political ties. What was the objective?"

    Human Rights Watch blames both the Saudi-led coalition for hitting civilian targets and the Houthi militants battling the coalition. The group says armed Houthis were stationed near the center, putting the students at risk.

    Houthi leaders have repeatedly denied having any operations in the area, and school officials said they had not seen soldiers nearby.

    All parties, however, agree the war has taken the greatest toll on vulnerable groups like the disabled — and, with no end to the fighting in sight, their numbers are growing.

    Nearly 6,000 people have been disabled in nine months of airstrikes, according to Human Rights Watch.

    • A blind child carries a dove at a protest against the attack on the al-Nour Center for the Blind in Sana'a, Yemen, Jan. 10, 2016. Students say neither the school, nor themselves, have taken any side in the war. (A. Mojalli/VOA)
    • Five people were injured in the airstrike in January 2016 at the center in Sana'a, Yemen, and Human Rights Watch says the bomb didn’t explode, preventing a greater tragedy. (A. Mojalli/VOA)
    • Human Rights Watch says nearly 6,000 people have been disabled since the Saudi-led coalition began airstrikes nine months ago. (A. Mojalli/VOA)
    • The al-Nour center is Sana’a’s only school for the blind, serving roughly 250 people and housing more than 100. (A. Mojalli/VOA)
    • Human Rights Watch says Houthi militants are partially to blame for putting the center in danger by stationing militiamen near the school. Houthi leaders and school workers deny soldiers were stationed nearby. (A. Mojalli/VOA)
    • An outraged Yemeni public says the attack on Yemen’s most vulnerable children is an attack on humanity. (A. Mojalli/VOA)

    "After nine months of fighting, there has been no letup in coalition air attacks striking homes, hospitals, markets, and now a school for people with visual disabilities," said Shantha Rau Barriga, HRW disability rights director. "Making clear that none of Yemen's civilians is safe."

    Attack on humanity

    The al-Nour Center was attacked on January 5 around 1:15 a.m., and five people were injured. If the bomb had exploded, it would have been much worse.

    "I was in bed asleep, and I tried to get up but the fumes and dust knocked me over," said al-Junaid, the dorm manager. "I tried a second time and fell again. On the third try, I broke through the fumes after hearing the screams of the children."

    School officials say the center serves 250 blind students, mostly children, and 130 people were in the building at the time of the bombing.

    "The third floor was destroyed and the rest of the center was damaged badly," said Jamil el-Hemyari, the center's director. "On the two lower levels, the doors and the windows were blown out and the furniture was destroyed."

    The public was enraged by the attack and protests continued for a week after the bombing.

    "We are calling on whatever is left of humanity's conscience for help," called out one protester into several microphones. "We are appealing to any human rights organizations that still exist here in Yemen, or anywhere else."

    Protesters said an attack on the country's most at-risk children it is an attack on humanity. In Yemen, they said, humanity is being attacked "over and over again."

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