A recent report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that Saudi Arabia may have committed acts during the ongoing war in Yemen that amount to war crimes. During the conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels, HRW has documented 87 apparently unlawful attacks by the coalition, killing nearly 1,000 Yemeni civilians. HRW also documented how the Saudi-led coalition repeatedly attacked civilian factories, warehouses, and other protected sites, in violation of the laws of war.
The ongoing war has affected the health of Yemen’s population, causing the collapse of public health care and a breakdown in sanitation. Yemen has been suffering from a cholera epidemic and there has also been an outbreak of diphtheria in the region. Now it is thought that Yemenis are at a heightened risk of catching malaria. “A failing sewage system, inadequate healthcare facilities and shortages in health workers and medical supplies, as well as restrictions on imports further compound the healthcare crisis,” said Mirella Hodeib of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Not only is disease rapidly spreading, but millions are also facing famine in Yemen.
Famine is becoming a political weapon for Saudi Arabia in the ongoing conflict in Yemen. According to Alex de Waal, a British writer and researcher, “Yemen is the greatest famine atrocity of our lifetimes. The Saudis are deliberately destroying the country’s food-producing infrastructure.” Saudi Arabia has destroyed over 250 fishing boats and killed 152 fishermen according to Mohammed Hassani, the head of the fishermen’s union in Hodeida. Data on coalition airstrikes collected by the Yemen Data Project have recorded 356 air raids targeting farms, 174 targeting market places and 61 air raids targeting food storage sites from March 2015 to the end of September 2017.
Saudi Arabia has also devastated Yemen by imposing a naval blockade of almost all of Yemen’s ports including Hodeida. In addition to the blockade, coalition airstrikes have disabled Hodeida’s cranes used for the unloading of necessary food, medicine and fuel.
Hodeida is Yemen’s northern port, which is responsible for receiving 80 percent of the country’s imported goods. For a country that relies heavily on imported goods – with 90-95 percent of its essential food being imported – the blockade’s effect has been overwhelming. It has triggered a catastrophic deterioration in a country that was already experiencing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
In response to growing international pressure, Saudi Arabia agreed to temporarily re-open Hodeida last month for a period of no more than 30 days. Last Friday, 19 January 2018, marked the 30th day. Despite the blockade being briefly lifted, only a fraction of the needed food, fuel, and other necessities were received. Saudi Arabia must permanently end the blockade and allow Yemen full access to much needed humanitarian aid.
Monica Zuraw, ADHRB Advocacy Intern