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HRW: Some Yemen strikes illegal

June 30, 2015

Human Rights Watch has reported that some Saudi-led airstrikes in northern Yemen may constitute war crimes. Airstrikes on Houthi-controlled Saada City killed at least 35 children in early May.

Image: Reuters/Str

Human Rights Watch has reported that Saudi-led airstrikes that destroyed houses, markets and a school and killed dozens in May could constitute war crimes. According to HRW, satellite images show more than 210 impact locations in built-up areas consistent with aerial bombings.

HRW reported that several airstrikes by the nine-nation coalition "appeared to violate international humanitarian law, also known as the laws of war, and resulted in numerous civilian deaths and injuries."

The group reported that Saudi Arabia did not respond to requests for information about the 13 airstrikes in question. HRW called on the coalition to follow the law, investigate alleged violations, and provide appropriate compensation to civilian victims. The group also called on the United States, which has provided logistical and intelligence support to the coalition, to press for an investigation.

The report comes as UNICEF estimates that millions of children are caught in conflicts globally. It also follows a call by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for an investigation into a coalition strike on a UN office in Yemen.

Several other deaths were reported in airstrikes in late May and early June. On Monday, a car bomb at a funeral left several people dead.

'A ghost city'

Yemen's fighting pits the Shiite Houthis and loyalists of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh against separatists, tribal alliances, Sunni militants and followers of current President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who has fled to Saudi Arabia. The US-backed coalition began launching airstrikes against the rebel forces on March 26. The air raids and clashes have killed more than 2,800 people without reversing the Houthis' gains.

According to HRW, the laws applicable to Yemen's conflict prohibit attacks that fail to discriminate between combatants and civilians, and legitimate targets and "civilian objects" such as markets and schools. The rights group reported that a May 8 coalition announcement declaring the entire city of Saada a military target not only violated the laws of war, but possibly also "the prohibition against making threats of violence whose purpose is to instill terror in the civilian population."

On Tuesday, HRW researcher Belkis Wille told a news conference that "the city itself is a shell of what it once was," with bombed out homes, market places and government buildings. She said she and a colleague had interviewed 28 people - among the few left in "a ghost city" - including a man named Walid al-Ibbi who lost 27 members of his family, including 17 children.

Just before the bomb struck his home on May 5, al-Ibbi said in a video shown to reporters that "a family had come to our house to ask for my daughter's hand in marriage for their son. Now I have lost my wife and all four of my daughters."

mkg/jr (Reuters, AFP, AP)