Yemen in Focus: UN's lax approach 'emboldens Houthi violence'

Yemen in Focus: UN's lax approach 'emboldens Houthi violence'
This week we focus on the response to an uptick in Houthi violence, the release of hundreds of prisoners, and more.
6 min read
08 April, 2020
The Houthis captured the capital Sanaa in 2014 [Getty]
Yemen's internationally-recognised government slammed the Houthi rebels this week for an uptick in violence witnessed across the country after a period of relative calm.

Prime Minister Moeen Abdulmalek condemned the rebel's "ugly massacres" and continued "terrorist crimes", which saw an attack on a prison and oil facility.

At least five women and a child were killed after Houthi rebels launched an attack on a prison in Yemen's third largest city on Sunday.

Around 28 more people were injured in the shelling which struck the women's section of Taiz's main prison, local reports confirmed.

The child was reportedly visiting the prison at the time of the attack.

Graphic images that surfaced online showed the dead bodies sprawled across the floor at the facility.

"Taiz citizens continue to suffer from the ongoing violence in the sixth year of the protracted conflict in Yemen," Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said.

"These attacks on civilians, whether indiscriminate or targeted, are unjustifiable breaches of international humanitarian law."

The UN and the international community are not doing enough to hold the Houthis accountable or even pressure them to stop escalating the conflict

The International Committee of the Red Cross said attacks on prisons were banned under international law.

"The ICRC deplores yesterday's attack on Taez central prison that left women and children dead and injured," the ICRC said on Twitter.

"Prisons and their inmates are protected under international humanitarian law and cannot be a target".

The rebel attack on Sunday came just days after similar attacks, including on an oil facility in Yemen's eastern Marib that was blamed on the Houthis.

The attack struck the state-owned Safer oil company pipeline, the ministry said, triggering a fire at the facillity.

Read also: Yemen in Focus: Houthi attack on Riyadh a 'bargaining chip' amid ongoing talks

However, Hussein al-Ezzi, an official in the Houthi-controlled government blamed the "dangerous escalation" in Marib on the Saudi-led coalition.

Yemen's parliament condemned the attacks and called on the international community to take "clear and frank deterrent measures" against the rebels, which it said was not being held accountable for its violence and violations.

The Marib assault followed days after the rebels launched their biggest attack on the neighbouring Saudi kingdom since the September assault on Aramco oil facilities, leaving two civilians wounded in Riyadh.

A Houthi spokesman said the rebels struck "sensitive targets" in Riyadh with long-range Zulfiqar missiles and Sammad-3 drones. The rebels also claimed to have hit "economic and military targets" in the border regions of Jizan, Najran and Asir.

Saudi Arabia responded to the strikes with its own bombardment on the rebel-held Yemeni capital on Monday, which killed one civilian and some 70 Arabian horses that were stationed at a military college.

The Houthi-run Al-Masirah television reported at least 19 air strikes on a number of targets in Sanaa, including military bases and the military academy, where the horses were sheltered.

The escalation in violence comes despite efforts by the UN to secure a nationwide ceasefire to help counter the threat of the coronavirus.

Martin Griffiths' office last week said he was discussing "concrete steps" in daily consultations aimed at bringing the warring sides together in "virtual" negotiations as soon as possible, a statement from his office said.

"I hope that these consultations can be soon completed and deliver what Yemenis expect, demand and deserve," it quoted the envoy as saying.

The United Nations has issued a global call for armed groups to stand down during the pandemic.

The Yemen government, its Saudi-led coalition ally and the Houthis allegedly responded positively to the appeal, although the latest attacks have cast doubts on the rebels' commitment to peace.

"The UN and the international community are not doing enough to hold the Houthis accountable or even pressure them to stop escalating the conflict," Nadwa Dawsari, Yemen expert and non-Resident Scholar at Middle East Institute, told The New Arab.

"This is not the first time, it has been the case and pattern since 2015. The Houthis shell cities, invade areas, commit mass atrocities and nobody is calling them out. If they do, it's usually very shy statements that don't really point at the Houthis - this is what emboldens the Houthis to continue their violence," she added.

Smuggling intercepted

Meanwhile, two shipments of contraband were seized by Saudi-backed government forces along Yemen's Red Sea coast on Monday, the fourth such interception in just ten days, local Almasdar Online reported.

The shipment, which was seized in Tahita district en route to Houthi-controlled Hodeida, contained 6.5 million Yemeni Riyals (£8,900) in cash as well as cigarettes and motorcycles, a military official revealed.

That came just days after 340 bags of fertiliser - a vital ingredient used by the Houthis to create explosives - were seized in Mocha, western Taiz governorate.

In February, the US military accused Iran of continuing to deliver weapons to Yemen's Houthis following a second interception in less than three months of what Washington claimed were Iranian arms destined for the Tehran-backed rebels.

The escalation in violence comes despite efforts by the UN to secure a nationwide ceasefire to help counter the threat of the coronavirus

"The seizure is consistent with a historical pattern of Iranian smuggling of advanced weapons to the Houthis in Yemen," said Captain Bill Urban of US Central Command, which is responsible for US forces in the Middle East, during a briefing at the Pentagon on the latest interdiction.

This comes after a report released on Thursday suggesting drones used by the Houthis are becoming deadlier and more accurate over long ranges.

The interceptions were in the Gulf region and involved dhow vessels that were sailing without a flag, the first occurring on 25 November and the second on 9 February.

Read also: Trump's aid cut is a death sentence for Yemenis facing coronavirus and war

The United States assessed "with high confidence" that the weapons "were being illicitly smuggled to the Houthis in Yemen in contravention of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions," Urban said.

The crew arrested in the latest shipment were Yemeni and were delivered to the Yemen coast guard, he added.

Iran has repeatedly denied providing military assistance to the Houthi rebels, who have seized much of the country's north and took control of Sanaa in 2014.


Separately, hundreds of prisoners across Yemen were released following a campaign to #SaveYemeniPrisoners amid fears of a coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Some 391 prisoners have been released by Yemen's internationally-recognised government since 28 March while the rebels freed 406 prisoners in Hodeida on Thursday.

"[We took] this step [to] ease the overcrowding of [prisons] as part of precautionary measures taken to deal with the coronavirus," a local official in Al-Mahra told Almasdar Online. 

The move came after activists across the country launched a campaign calling for the release of prisoners held in jails, replicating similar actions taken in multiple countries battling with the coronavirus outbreak.

The campaign follows calls by United Nations chief Antonio Guterres for an end to fighting in Yemen after the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned of an impending explosion of coronavirus cases in the country.

Despite thousands of rumours floating around the country, numerous sources have confirmed Yemen has not to date announced any cases of the Covid-19 illness, but the poor state of the country's health infrastructure after five years of war would mean that such an outbreak could be catastrophic.

Yemen is already one of the most impoverished states in the Middle East, but its infrastructure has further deteriorated in the last five-years because of the ongoing conflict that pits the Houthi rebels against the government-backed Saudi-led coalition.

Yemen's devastating nearly-five-year war has introduced air strikes, death and poverty to a nation that was already listed as one of the most impoverished in the world. Throughout the conflict, hundreds have died by a range of diseases that spread across the country, including cholera, malaria and dengue fever. 

Yemen In Focus is a regular feature from The New Arab.

Sana Uqba is a journalist at The New Arab. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Sanasiino