One year after Yemen's deadly funeral hall bombing, there's still no accountability

One year after Yemen's deadly funeral hall bombing, there's still no accountability
Comment: No action whatsoever was taken to hold those responsible for the funeral hall 'double-tap' airstrike accountable, writes Afrah Nasser.
4 min read
06 Oct, 2017
Many of the medical professionals attending the scene were hit in the second airstrike [Getty]
This Sunday 8 October, family members of 140 killed and 600 injured people will mark the first anniversary of the Saudi-led coalition strike that hit a funeral hall with about 1,000 mourners inside, in Yemen's capital, Sanaa. 

If there were to be a commemoration ceremony, it would have four minutes of silence: Two to mark the first casualties from the airstrike on the hall, then and another two for those who rushed to save lives, and in doing so became the second group of casualties seven minutes later, in whats is known as a 'double-tap' airstrike.

Over the course of Yemen's almost three-year long war, this was not the first deadly attack against non-combatant civilians, nor was it the last. But what made it different was the scale of it, the fact it occurred in broad daylight, in the capital, and that it was all caught on tape. 

Regardless of whether such "collateral damage" was intentional or unintentional, the funeral bombing became the face of the horror that civilians are subjected to in armed conflict. 

In an overwhelming atmosphere of atrocities, whether committed by the Saudi-led coalition or Houthi-Saleh's forces, or extremist groups, the anniversaries of these events serve as a reminder of civilian casualties, and the need for justice to be served. 

But in the fight for justice, Yemenis must work doubly hard, and only appear to be getting half of what they deserve.

For almost three years, rights groups have campaigned for the UNHCR to establish an international, independent inquiry commission into Yemen's war crimes. Finally, at the end of September, the council heeded these calls and will investigate war crimes. 

Will these UN mechanisms ever lead to justice for millions of Yemenis?

After Saudi Arabia managed to force the UN to withdraw its name from a UN "list of shame" last year, the UN finally - at least for now - has included the Saudi-led coalition in this year's list due its killing of children in Yemen.

Human rights groups see these procedures as long overdue but much needed. In light of the UN's lack of a sense of urgency, campaigners must work doubly hard for accountability and justice for Yemeni victims. Still, the question remains: Will these UN mechanisms ever lead to justice for millions of Yemenis?

Right after the funeral hall bombing last year – before the UN investigation mechanism had been established – UN sanctions monitors stated that the bombing was a clear violation of international humanitarian law. 

Read more: Saudi-led coalition back on UN blacklist for killing children in Yemen

No action whatsoever was taken to make those responsible of the funeral hall bombing accountable.

As Yemen is ravaged on multiple fronts by civil war and Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, Yemenis are thirsty for accountability. To achieve that, no death should go unmarked or unaccounted for. 

The UN appears confused over the real figures for casualties. Last year, a UN official revealed that 10,000 civilians have been killed in Yemen since March 2015, but a recent UN report claimed that only 5,000 civilians have been killed since March 2015.

Today, the world's largest humanitarian crisis exists in Yemen, but reported figures for casualties don't correspond with the gravity of the situation on the ground.

Deaths associated with the war also seem to be going unrecorded. Earlier this month, according to reports by his family, Yemeni patient Moayed Othman, took his last breath on the floor of a Jordanian airport, as security guards were reluctant to facilitate his transit travel to India, where he planned to be hospitalised. 

In Sanaa last month, according to the Mothers of the Abductees Association, the father of a young man jailed by the Houthis was assaulted and beaten to death in front of the prison after he went to ask about his son's whereabouts. 

In addition, the civilians dying as a result of the famine, cholera epidemic and growing suicide rate are of great concern. 

As we remember the funeral hall bombing, it's also an opportunity to remember that death in Yemen's war comes in many forms. Counting the number casualties in horrific bombings perhaps is an easy way to tally the dead, but what about the silent deaths? What about those dying with no bleeding? 

Yemenis believe that the number of casualties is much higher than we think, with current numbers revealing just a snapshot of the agony of millions of Yemenis inside and outside the country. 

Marking the first anniversary of the funeral hall bombing raises the paramount issue of accountability, for those impacted directly by the violence, and passive violence. Until that happens, and for now, it's the first anniversary of the funeral hall bombing with no justice yet.

Afrah Nasser is a multi-award winning independent freelance Yemeni journalist, and founder and editor-in-chief of Sana'a Review e-magazine.

Follow her on Twitter: @Afrahnasser

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.