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UN Warns of War Crimes in Yemen

FILE - A Houthi Shi'ite rebel with Yemen's flag painted on his face chants slogans during a rally in the capital, Sana'a, Yemen.
FILE - A Houthi Shi'ite rebel with Yemen's flag painted on his face chants slogans during a rally in the capital, Sana'a, Yemen.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is warning that some attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Yemen may amount to war crimes.

The World Health Organization reports 736 deaths and 2,719 wounded during the past three weeks in Yemen. The U.N. Human Rights Office estimates nearly half of these deaths and one-quarter of the injuries are among civilians.

The United Nations reports the war between the Houthis and armed groups affiliated with Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi also has displaced more than 120,000 people since Saudi-led air strikes began on March 26.

The Battle for Yemen
The Battle for Yemen

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights' spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, said street fighting has intensified. She said children reportedly are being recruited as fighters in the conflict-ridden cities of Aden, Dhale, and Mareb.

“Every hour, we are receiving and documenting deeply disturbing and distressing reports of the toll that this conflict is taking on civilian lives and infrastructure," said Shamdasani. "The high commissioner warns that such a heavy civilian death toll ought to be a clear indication to all parties to this conflict that there may be serious problems in the conduct of hostilities.”

Shamdasani noted that parties involved in the conflict must respect international humanitarian and human-rights law, and protect the civilian population. She said actions during the past few days indicate these laws may have been violated.

She noted several airstrikes by coalition forces have hit residential areas and civilian homes. She said during the past three weeks at least 52 public buildings have been damaged or destroyed by airstrikes, shelling and other forms of ground fire.

“The high commissioner stresses that hospitals and ambulances must be safe from attacks and be allowed to function at all times," said Shamdasani.

"Intentional attacks on hospitals or ambulances being exclusively used for medical purposes would amount to war crimes," she said. "The high commissioner also warns that the intentional targeting of civilians not taking direct part in hostilities would amount to a war crime. He cites, in particular, reports of the killing of civilians by snipers located on rooftops in Dhale.”

The U.N. office also has received reports of arbitrary arrests, indiscriminate firing at protesters and attacks against media premises by Houthi-affiliated forces. The high commissioner said any suspected breach of international law must be urgently investigated.