In a development revealing just how dire the situation is for Yemeni civilians and threatening to compound the catastrophe, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Thursday announced it is pulling 71 of its staffers out of Yemen—a move the organization admits will cripple its humanitarian efforts.
In response, Amnesty International said it marked a "bleak" new low in the ongoing conflict.
In a statement released Thursday, the ICRC cited "a series of incidents and threats," including a gunman killing one of its staff members in April. Security for its staff, the group said, is "a non-negotiable prerequisite."
ICRC director of operations Dominik Stillhart said the group's activities, including surgical services, clean water initiatives, and food assistance, "have been blocked, threatened, and directly targeted in recent weeks, and we see a vigorous attempt to instrumentalize our organization as a pawn in the conflict."
We've pulled 71 staff members out of #Yemen.— ICRC (@ICRC) June 8, 2018
In recent weeks, our activities have been:
The security of our staff is a non-negotiable prerequisite for our work in the country: https://t.co/LeZwt5czv6#notatarget pic.twitter.com/jqFBg7Bol4
Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Campaigns, said such targeting "is a violation of international humanitarian law. In fact, deliberate attacks on humanitarian relief personnel amount to war crimes."
"If the conflict has proven too dangerous for humanitarian personnel, it is certainly too dangerous for civilians in need of urgent protection," Hadid stressed. "We repeat the call we've made countless times in the past three years of Yemen's conflict: all sides must respect and protect humanitarian personnel and facilities, and take every precaution to protect civilians caught up in the conflict."
The shakeup comes as a spokesperson for United Nations humanitarian office warns that any assault on the key Yemeni port city of Hodeidah "will impact hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians" and in a worst case scenario means that "as many as 250,000 people may lose everything—even their lives."
The U. N. estimates that over 6,400 civilians have already been killed and more than 10,000 have been injured since the conflict in the impoverished country broke out in 2015. The U.S. has played a key role in fueling the conflict through its backing of the Saudi-led coalition, and recent reporting indicates that role could deepen.
Legislative efforts to stop the U.S.-backed carnage, however, have thus far failed.