Yemen – “A nation abandoned”

Independent Experts call for an end to Yemen’s suffering

Geneva (9 September 2021) The Yemen conflict is moving into its seventh year against the backdrop of an « intolerable » lack of political will towards a peaceful resolution, says the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts’ report to the UN Human Rights Council. The Group expresses concern about the failure of third States to stop transfers of arms or the provision of other military support to the parties to the conflict.

Annegret Mathari, Geneva

As the war in Yemen moves into its seventh year, the conflicting parties continue engaging in serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. These are causing intolerable suffering to civilians, said the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts (GEE) in its fourth report on the human rights situation in Yemen published on Thursday. The report titled “A nation abandoned: A call to humanity to end Yemen’s suffering” covers the period from July 2020 until June 2021.

« Amid the current intolerable situation, only genuine political will on the part of the parties to the conflict and their backers, but also on the part of the international community, can end Yemen’s suffering, » said Kamel Jendoubi, the Chairperson of the Group of Eminent Experts.

« Arms flow must stop now »

The Group regrets that third States continue providing arms and military support to parties to the conflict, with little regard for the immense suffering caused to the people of Yemen.

« Notwithstanding the strong recommendations by the Group of Eminent Experts in its previous reports, third States, including Canada, France, Iran, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America, continued their support of parties to the conflict, including through arms transfers, » the report says.  Some other States, such as Italy, have loosened previous restrictions.

As the Group previously noted, arms sales are the fuel that perpetuates the conflict. Chairperson Kamel Jendoubi states: « Given the horrific toll the war continues to take on the people of Yemen, it does not stand to reason that third States continue to supply the parties to the conflict with the tools of war. The flow of arms must stop now. »

According to the report, in February 2021, the new United States administration announced changes in US policy towards Yemen. The changes included ending the designation of the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and declaring an end to its support for what the US calls the coalition’s « offensive operations » in the conflict. « It remains unclear what this terminology means in practical terms, » the report says.

Millions in need of assistance

Protracted conflict, disease outbreaks, the COVID-19 pandemic, flooding, import restrictions, an economic and fuel crisis, and limited humanitarian aid have made everyday life in Yemen unbearable for many. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), around 20.7 million people in Yemen currently require some form of humanitarian and protection assistance, the report states. More than 16.2 million of them will face significant food insecurity this year. Additionally, international funding had fallen far short of the required levels to address the humanitarian crisis.

The Group of Experts stressed that all parties to the conflict are responsible for violations. It concluded that the Government of Yemen, the de facto authorities (the Houthis), the Southern Transitional Council, members of the Coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have committed violations. The Group found « no clean hands in this conflict ». Many of the violations identified by the Group may amount to international crimes.

The report includes the Group’s findings and patterns of violations during both the current reporting period over the last four years on airstrikes and shelling. They include the parties failing to abide by international law and humanitarian restrictions, creating obstacles to access to food and healthcare, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, torture, denial of fair trials rights, and violation of fundamental freedoms. The report also criticises persecution and violations against journalists, human rights defenders, minorities, migrants, internally displaced people, and violations of children’s rights.

Airstrikes and shelling attacks

Coalition airstrikes continue to take a heavy toll on the civilian population. The Group of Experts reiterated its concerns that the coalition fails to abide by the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precautions in attack to protect civilians and civilian objects.

The Group also regretted that the coalition appears not to take the Group’s findings and recommendations on the conduct of its military operations seriously. It concluded that indiscriminate shelling attacks had been carried out since the beginning of the conflict by the parties, particularly the Houthis, but also the Government of Yemen, and the Coalition.

« The climate of fear, lawlessness, and impunity for all those living in Yemen has worsened further despite political agreements and high-level discussions between key actors, including under the auspices of the former Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, » said Kamel Jendoubi.

The Group of Experts reiterated the urgency for the parties to the conflict to agree to a total cessation of hostilities and achieve sustainable and inclusive peace. The report urged the Human Rights Council to ensure that the situation of human rights in Yemen remains on its agenda by renewing the mandate of the Group beyond one year.

The Group also reiterated that the UN Security Council should integrate the human rights dimension of Yemen’s conflict more fully into its agenda. It should ensure there is no impunity for the most severe crimes by including referring Yemen’s situation to the International Criminal Court and expanding the list of persons subject to Security Council sanctions.