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Human rights abuses in Yemen continued on a large scale in the first six months of 2015, including severe conflict affecting civilian populations; use of child soldiers; attacks on protestors; attacks on journalists; arbitrary detentions; religious persecution; and damage to Yemen’s cultural heritage. The political, security and humanitarian situation seriously deteriorated following the take-over of the state by the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Saleh. The conflict has further impeded the legitimate Yemeni authority’s and civil society’s capacity to protect human rights.
Despite UN-led negotiations in January towards a political settlement, the Houthis and forces loyal to former president Saleh continued their military expansion; a further signal of their disregard for the political process. On 22 January, the President, Prime Minister and Cabinet submitted their resignations and were placed under house arrest by the Houthis in Sana’a. On 6 February, the Houthis announced the dissolution of parliament and the creation of a Supreme Revolutionary Committee and subsidiaries to run the government. These actions have no basis in Yemeni law. On 20 February, President Hadi fled house arrest and travelled to Aden. On 19 March, the Houthis and forces loyal to former President Saleh attacked the Presidential Palace in Aden. Following this attack, President Hadi travelled to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, where he established a government-in-exile. On 16 March, the Prime Minister and other cabinet ministers were released from house arrest.
President Hadi – in his capacity as legitimate President – subsequently made a request to the UN Security Council for support by “all means and measures to protect Yemen and deter Houthi aggression”. President Hadi also made the same request – including military intervention – to the Gulf Co-operation Council and Arab League. Subsequently, on 25 March, a Saudi Arabian-led coalition began military action in support of President Hadi and to deter Houthi aggression. The UK gave a statement of support for the Saudi Arabian-led military action, which has a clear and lawful basis in response to President Hadi’s request. The UK has been clear with all parties throughout the conflict that military action should be undertaken in accordance with international law. The conflict has had a significant impact on civilians and, since military action began, the UN report that over 2,800 people have been killed, 13,000 injured and over 1 million people displaced. Over 80 per cent of Yemen’s population – 21 million people – is now in need of some form of humanitarian assistance. The Houthis have continued to use schools and hospitals in Sana’a, Aden, Taiz and Sa’ada for military purposes. Anti-Houthi forces are also using schools for military purposes.
There continue to be reports about civilian deaths resulting from airstrikes and fighting on the ground. Human Rights Watch (HRW) report that an airstrike destroyed an Oxfam humanitarian aid warehouse in Sa’ada on April 18, killing at least one person, and that at least 11 civilians were killed and up to 34 injured during airstrikes in the cities of Sa’ada, Hodaida, Taiz, and Aden on 26 and 27 March. On 30 March, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that an airstrike on the Al-Mazrak Internally Displaced Peoples Camp in Hajjah governorate killed 29 civilians and injured 41. On 31 March, there were reports of an airstrike on a dairy factory killing 35 civilians. Amnesty International report that dozens of civilians were killed and injured in an attack on a port in Tawahi in Aden governorate on 6 May, and that medical workers and facilities were also targeted in Aden.
The UK has emphasised to all parties the importance of complying with international humanitarian law (IHL) to protect civilians, and urged the Saudi Arabian government to investigate incidents impartially where alleged violations of IHL have occurred. HRW also report that the Houthis have intensified their recruitment, training, and deployment of children in armed conflict. Since September 2014, it is reported that the Houthis have used children as scouts, guards, runners, and fighters.
The conflict has inhibited humanitarian access to those in need, particularly in the southern governorates. The International Committee of the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières expressed concern over damage to airports in Sana’a and Hodeida caused by airstrikes, as well as the obstruction to the delivery of humanitarian assistance and movement of humanitarian personnel on the ground. A five-day humanitarian pause by the Saudi-led coalition in May allowed some aid to enter the country, though parties on the ground breached the pause and used it to consolidate their military positions.
The Ministry of Human Rights remained open following the Houthi take-over of Sana’a in September 2014. However, its work was constrained due to concerns by staff over their safety and the Minister for Human Rights, Hooria Manshour, re-located to Aden. A new Minister for Human Rights, Ezzedine al-Asbahi, was appointed by President Hadi earlier this year.
The conflict has led to a shortage of fuel, electricity, and civil service salaries which has affected the work of many state institutions, including the courts. Judges and court officials have complained of non-payment of salaries, particularly in areas outside Sana’a. Many courts are closed, with court proceedings postponed until a later date.
Bomb attacks at a Police Academy in Sana’a on 7 January killed at least 30 police cadets and recruits and injured many more, and attacks at two mosques in Sana’a and a mosque in Sa’ada on 20 March reportedly killed at least 126 people and seriously injured many more. Since 1 March, ISIL-Yemen has claimed responsibility for eight attacks on Shia Muslims, killing around 200 people in total, and injuring many more. The UK condemned these attacks and made clear that such violence against civilians cannot be justified.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights also report that conditions in prisons and rehabilitation facilities have further deteriorated, with shortages of food and fuel meaning prisoners lack access to sufficient food, electricity water, sanitation and healthcare. The government of Yemen appointed a minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Nadia Al-Sakkaf, in March 2015; she was replaced by Abdul Raqib al-Aswadi in June 2015. The UK has urged all parties to allow full and unfettered access for humanitarian agencies to enable aid to reach all those in need.
There have been continued reports of attacks against protesters and journalists. HRW report that Yemeni security forces and Houthi militias beat peaceful protesters with sticks and rifle butts, and arbitrarily detained and then released at least 46 protesters between 25 January and 11 February. On 24 March, HRW report that at least 7 people were killed and over 83 injured when the Houthis used lethal force against demonstrators in Taiz and al-Turbba. Between January and March, HRW report an increase in arbitrary arrests and violence against journalists and other media workers, as well as the storming of three media outlets by the Houthis. On 18 March, unidentified gunmen in Sana’a killed Abdul Karim Mohammed al-Khaiwani, a Houthi supporter and critic of the former Saleh government. The Houthis also continue to hold a number of political actors and journalists, including the Yemeni Minister of Defence, in arbitrary detention.
Religious persecution has continued, demonstrated by cases such as the ongoing detainment of a member of the Baha’i faith. The UK urged those holding people in arbitrary detention to treat their detainees in accordance with the Yemeni law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
UNESCO have expressed concern over damage to Yemen’s cultural heritage following reports that buildings in Sana’a Old City and elsewhere have either been damaged by airstrikes, or used for military purposes. IHL requires all parties to protect cultural heritage, in particular the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.