For Immediate Release
Saudi Arabia/Yemen: Protect Civilians in Conflict with Rebels
Aerial Bombings Reportedly Cause Civilian Casualties, Displacement
NEW YORK - Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Huthi rebel forces involved in the armed
conflict in northern Yemen should take all necessary measures to spare
civilians from the fighting and ensure that they receive humanitarian
assistance, Human Rights Watch said today.
Since early November 2009, Saudi warplanes have bombed Yemeni
villages in areas controlled by Huthi rebels. Yemeni armed forces and
Huthi rebels have been involved in renewed fighting since August, which
has resulted in civilian casualties and displaced thousands of people.
"The escalating conflict in northern Yemen risks escalating civilian
casualties," said James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights
Watch. "All sides must avoid harming civilians and ensure that aid
reaches them quickly."
On November 3, a cross-border raid by Huthi rebels, who have
been fighting the Yemeni government intermittently since 2004, set off
Saudi aerial bombing raids on November 5 that continue to the present.
The Saudi deputy defense minister, Prince Khalid bin Sultan, said on
November 10 that Saudi forces were seeking to establish a 10-kilometer
corridor inside Yemeni territory free of Huthi rebel positions.
Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the parties to the
conflict take all feasible precautions to protect the civilian
population from attack as is required by the laws of war. A recently
displaced person told London's Guardian newspaper that Saudi
loudspeakers warned residents to evacuate their homes but may have
conducted attacks without regard to whether civilians remained in the
"We heard the sounds of planes and heavy shelling," the person was
quoted as saying. "The Saudis were bombarding the Huthi positions and
our village was hit."
On November 16, Huthi rebels posted videos on the internet showing
the bodies of children who they said died in a Saudi bombing raid on a
Yemeni village. This information could not be independently confirmed.
The laws of war require the parties to a conflict to take constant
care during military operations to spare the civilian population and to
"take all feasible precautions" to minimize the loss of civilian life
and damage to civilian property. These precautions include doing
everything feasible to verify that the objects of attack are military
objectives, and giving "effective advance warning" of attacks when
circumstances permit. Forces must avoid locating military objectives
near densely populated areas and endeavor to remove civilians from the
vicinity of military objectives.
In late October, Human Rights Watch visited Mazraq refugee camp and
the town of Haradh, in northwestern Yemen. Fighting since August in the
mountainous Malahizh and Razih districts on the Saudi-Yemeni border had
already caused over 20,000 persons to flee to safer coastal areas.
Thousands more had arrived in Mazraq camp within five days after Saudi
Arabia entered the war on November 5, according to United Nations
On November 14, the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, reported
that 600 children were being treated for acute malnutrition in Mazraq
camp. The camp cannot accommodate new arrivals and has "exceeded its
capacity," the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on November 14. UNICEF
also reported that 240 Saudi villages had been evacuated when fighting
between Huthi rebels and Saudi forces spilled over the border from
Aid agencies have called on all parties to the conflict to allow
them access to all civilians in need of assistance, but security
problems and restrictive Yemeni government policies have prevented the
aid groups from reaching the vast majority of displaced persons who
have taken refuge with host families in other towns and villages rather
than in camps.
Despite ongoing fighting and the desperate humanitarian situation in Yemen, Saudi Arabia continues to forcibly return (refouler)
Yemenis who had fled to Saudi Arabia, in violation of its obligations
under international law. On November 19, UN agencies reported that
Saudi Arabia had deported more than a thousand Yemenis. The World Food
Program reports that 15,000 Yemeni civilians are "trapped near the
border" with Saudi Arabia.
"Saudi Arabia should not be forcibly returning Yemenis to a war
zone," Ross said. "Saudi Arabia and Yemen need to be working more
closely with aid agencies to assist civilians at risk on both sides of
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