Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The aftermath of a bombing that killed 13 civilians in Sanaa’s Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage site, pictured on September 18, 2015. (Photo: Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch)

Rights Group Says Disregard for Civilian Life by US and Saudi Arabia Is 'Appalling'

Human Rights Watch blasts Saudi-led coalition for apparent war crimes and failure to investigate

Sarah Lazare

The United States has been party to numerous apparent war crimes committed by the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen, yet—along with all nations responsible—is violating international requirements to investigate bombings of homes, schools, and refugee camps, Human Rights Watch (HRW) declared on Monday.

Coming just hours after peace talks concluded with no clear resolution to the nearly nine-month-old conflict, the report finds that the coalition launched six "apparently unlawful airstrikes" in residential areas of Sanaa, Yemen's capital, that killed a total of 60 civilians during September and October. One September 13 bombing of a home in Sanaa's old city, which is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, killed 18 civilians and wounded far more.

Abd al-Khalik Muhammad al-Khamisi, who was at home with his family 50 meters from where the bomb hit, told researchers, "I woke up to a loud noise, and felt the glass from all the windows in the room shatter on top of us. My wife and I asked each other why a bomb would drop here; there was no military target near here."

Such attacks are not isolated cases, but rather, reflect the coalition's overall approach and strategy—in which war planes indiscriminately drop bombs with "wide-area effect in populated areas," the rights group charged. As Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director for HRW put it, "Their disregard for the safety of civilians is appalling."

Indeed, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in late September that coalition bombings were responsible for two-thirds of all civilian deaths in Yemen. According to the global body's latest count, at least 2,500 civilians have been killed in the conflict since the coalition began its bombing campaign at the end of March.

The coalition stands accused of numerous other war crimes, including 10 unlawful bombings between April and August in Ibb, Amran, Hajja, Hodaida, Taizz, and Sanaa that were also documented by HRW. And earlier this month, Amnesty International investigated five coalition bombings of schools between August and October, calling them a "flagrant attack on [the] future of Yemen's children."

The coalition has also bombed medical facilities, markets, schools, power plants, refugee camps, factories, and warehouses storing humanitarian supplies. From the beginning, Yemenis have fastidiously documented the human impacts of the bombings and rising violence, including through the online campaign #KefayaWar, or "Enough War" in Arabic.

But despite the documentation of numerous apparent war crimes, HRW notes that it is "unaware of any investigations by Saudi Arabia or other members of the nine-nation coalition into these or other allegedly unlawful strikes, or of any compensation for victims." In fact, Saudi Arabia in October successfully lobbied United Nations countries to abandon their proposal for a human rights inquiry investigating both sides in the war.

HRW demanded an end to such impunity or every country officially participating in—or backing—the coalition. This includes the U.S., the rights group emphasizes, which by "coordinating and directly assisting coalition military operations, is a party to the conflict and as such is obligated to investigate allegedly unlawful attacks in which it took part."

What's more, U.S.-based companies are the number one supplier of arms to Saudi Arabia, with the State Department recently approving a $1.29 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia.

"The Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly struck houses, schools, and hospitals where no military target was in sight," declared Stork. "The countries best positioned to stop the coalition from carrying out such heinous violations, notably the U.S. and U.K., need to weigh in heavily or find themselves complicit in the abuses."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

ACLU Demands 'Truly Systemic Overhaul' of US Civilian Harm Policies

"While a serious Defense Department focus on civilian harm is long overdue and welcome, it's unclear that this directive will be enough," says director of the legal group's National Security Project.

Jessica Corbett ·


'This Is Not Over': Alaska Supreme Court Rejects Youth Climate Case

"With the state continuing to undermine their health, safety, and futures," said the plaintiffs' lead counsel, "we will evaluate our next steps and will continue to fight for climate justice."

Jessica Corbett ·


Analysis Finds 'Staggering' Rise in Voter Suppression After GOP Restrictions in Georgia

"This is why we are fighting this new law in court," said one voting rights advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·


'Egregious': Pennsylvania Court Strikes Down Mail-In Voting Law

The ruling was stayed pending an appeal to the state's Supreme Court and as one voting advocate put it: "The fight's not over yet, folks."

Julia Conley ·


Big Win for Open Internet as Court Upholds California Net Neutrality Law

One legal advocate called the Ninth Circuit's opinion "a great decision and a major victory for internet users in California and nationwide."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo