As the fighting in Yemen heats up, the U.N. human rights office warns Yemen’s warring parties that wanton attacks against civilians and civilian targets could amount to war crimes.
Reciprocal attacks by Yemen’s warring parties have been escalating this month. They have intensified since Iranian-backed Houthi rebels carried out missile and bomb-laden drone attacks on the United Arab Emirates Monday, killing three people.
In retaliation for those attacks, the government-backed Saudi-led coalition bombed targets in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, reportedly killing at least five civilians from the same family. The U.N. human rights office says it fears more civilian casualties as wanton attacks continue to spiral in the nearly seven-year-long conflict.
U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani says the antagonists have launched dozens of air and artillery strikes in recent days with seemingly little regard for civilian welfare.
“The fighting has damaged civilian objects and critical infrastructure, including telecommunication towers and water reservoirs, as well as hospitals in Sanaa and Taizz. With frontlines shifting rapidly over large areas, civilians are also exposed to the constant threat of landmines,” she said.
Shamdasani cites a litany of destructive attacks and counterattacks by the Saudi-coalition and Houthi rebels since the start of the year. During this period, at least 11 civilians reportedly have been killed and 12 injured, and great damage has been done to civilian infrastructure.
Figures collected by human rights monitors indicate 839 airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition in January, compared with 1,074 for all of December. The Houthi rebels, they say, lobbed 10 drone strikes towards Saudi Arabia this month and fired 31 drones, missiles, and projectiles toward Saudi Arabia in December. Houthi rebels use inexpensive drones strapped with explosives and fly them into targets.
The U.N. rights office is calling on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects. Shamdasani says that is more than a request because under international law, they are obliged to do so.
“Parties to the conflict must take all feasible measures to verify that targets are indeed military objectives and suspend an attack if it becomes apparent that the target is not a military objective or that the attack would be disproportionate. Failure to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality could amount to war crimes,” she said.
Since Yemen’s civil conflict began in March 2015, the United Nations says more than 377,000 people have died, 60% by indirect causes, such as lack of safe drinking water, disease, and acute hunger.
Yemen continues to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with more than 20 million people, or two thirds of the population, in need of humanitarian aid.