Yemen: A 'trail of civilian death and destruction'

Yemen: A 'trail of civilian death and destruction'
Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes and attacks by armed groups in Yemen have killed scores of civilians, including children, and could amount to war crimes, Amnesty International warned on Tuesday.
4 min read
18 August, 2015
A least 1,916 civilians, including children, have been killed in the conflict since March [Getty]

A leading international rights group said Tuesday that all sides fighting in Yemen have left a "trail of civilian death and destruction" in the conflict, killing scores of innocent people in what could amount to war crimes.

In its latest report on the fighting, Amnesty International accused both the Saudi-led coalition carrying out airstrikes in Yemen and the forces on the ground, supporting or opposing the Houthis.

"Civilians in southern Yemen have found themselves trapped in a deadly crossfire between Houthi loyalists and anti-Houthi groups on the ground, while facing the persistent threat of coalition airstrikes from the sky," said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty's senior crisis response adviser.

     All the parties to this conflict have displayed a ruthless and wanton disregard for the safety of civilians

"All the parties to this conflict have displayed a ruthless and wanton disregard for the safety of civilians," Rovera added.

The London-based rights group said the violence has been particularly deadly in the southern cities of Taiz and Aden, with dozens of children among those killed.

"The report depicts in harrowing detail the gruesome and bloody trail of death and destruction in Taiz and Aden from unlawful attacks, which may amount to war crimes, by all parties," Amnesty said.

Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have repeatedly expressed concern that both the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi-allied forces were violating the laws of war and not doing enough to prevent or minimise civilian casualties.

Amnesty has previously said that evidence suggested the Houthis carried out indiscriminate mortar attacks on civilians and repeatedly targeted medical workers and facilities in Aden.

'Pools of blood' 

In Tuesday's report, Amnesty catalogued a series of incidents involving both air and ground operations.

During its June-July research mission to Yemen, Amnesty investigated eight airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, which hit heavily populated areas mostly with no nearby military targets, killing at least 141 civilians and wounding 101 others, mostly women and children.

     Corpses and heads were scattered everywhere engulfed by fire and ashes

One resident describing the aftermath of an attack on a residential compound inhabited by power plant workers in Mokha on July 24 said “corpses and heads” were scattered everywhere “engulfed by fire and ashes”, comparing the sight to a scene from “judgement day”.

Another local resident told Amnesty International he continued to be haunted by the memories of walking through the “pools of blood and severed limbs” of more than 20 victims.

A coalition attack on July 9 killed 10 members of one family including four children who had sought shelter at a school in north Aden after being displaced from their home because of fighting.

“We came here to escape the war,” the father of three young women who were killed in the strike told Amnesty International, “we had nowhere else to go”.

The group said it also investigated dozens of incidents of ground combat, where both sides routinely used weapons such as Grad-type rockets, mortars and artillery shells in densely populated residential areas.

In Aden and Taiz, it said at least 68 civilians were killed and 99 wounded in such attacks.

One of the deadliest attacks was on July 19, when the Houthis and their allies shelled the Dar Saad neighbourhood of Aden, killing 45 people, mostly civilians, Amnesty said.

In several cases documented, children were killed or injured while playing in the streets or near their homes.

An eyewitness to one attack described a child running towards him with blood running down his neck and a hole in his head from shrapnel and “pieces of brains smeared on the walls and windows”.

UN Commission of Inquiry

Earlier this month, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that at least 1,916 civilians have died in the Yemen conflict since it escalated on March 26.

Furthermore, the global charity Oxfam warned that Yemen is struggling with the highest ever recorded number of people living in hunger, with nearly 13 million facing difficulties in finding enough to eat and half of them on the brink of starvation.

In its report, Amnesty also called on the UN Human Rights Council to create an international commission of inquiry to independently and impartially investigate alleged war crimes committed during the fighting.