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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."


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