UN rights office warns over violent escalation in Yemen and beyond


Escalating conflict in Yemen has seen an alarming number of air and drone strikes already this year, notably against civilians and non-military targets, the UN rights office, OHCHR, said on Tuesday.

“We are deeply concerned by the continuing escalation of the conflict in Yemen. Overnight, air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition on the capital, Sana’a, are reported to have left at least five civilians dead,” said OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani.

“According to preliminary information, those killed were five members of the same family, including two women and a child, when a house was hit in Ma’in district of the city at around 9.25pm.”

The air attacks on Yemen’s capital city followed missile and drone strikes on coalition partner the United Arab Emirates targets on Monday. Claimed by Ansar Allah rebel forces – more commonly known as Houthis – the attacks hit Abu Dhabi’s International airport and a nearby industrial area, reportedly leaving three civilians dead.

Expanding war zone

Latest data from OHCHR indicates that the level of violence this month could soon surpass that witnessed in December, judging by the number of airstrikes, drones and rockets employed by all sides to the long-running war.

“Figures collected by our office indicate that, so far in January, there were 839 airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, compared with 1,074 for the whole of December,” explained Ms. Shamdasani, speaking in Geneva.

“There were some 16 drone strikes, and 12 ballistic missiles and three other projectiles fired by Ansar Allah forces towards Saudi territory in December. To date in January, reports indicate there have been 10 drone strikes towards Saudi Arabia.”

In a statement on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, condemned the violent escalation and stressed that attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure are prohibited by international humanitarian law.

Retaliatory attacks

Ms. Shamdasani explained that the year’s hostilities began with a large counter-offensive by Government forces against Houthis in Shabwah Governorate to the south-west of oil-rich Marib.

The fighting is now pushing further into Marib and Al Baydah Governorates, the OHCHR spokesperson said, with “dozens of airstrikes and artillery strikes launched by the parties with seemingly little regard for civilians” in recent days.

“On 13 January, airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition injured four civilians and partially damaged the emergency and in-patient departments of a hospital in Al Sawad area, Sanhan district, in Sana’a Governorate”, Ms. Shamdasani continued. “It was reported that the airstrikes targeted a military camp, which is located close to the hospital.”

Civilians are not a target

All parties must ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects, in line with their obligations under international law, the OHCHR spokesperson insisted.

“Parties to the conflict must take all feasible measure 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.”