August has been the bloodiest month this year for civilians in Yemen due to a combination of the warring parties’ reckless disregard for civilian lives and the failure of their political backers to offer any action to prevent the carnage said Oxfam today.
The grim warning comes as the first talks in two years take place in Geneva to try to secure peace between the Saudi-backed forces and Houthi rebels.
Reports collated by the UN’s civilian impact monitoring department show in the first nine days of August there were more than 450 civilian casualties including 131 children. By 31 August 981 civilians had been killed or injured, including over 300 children. It is likely that these reports, gleaned from open sources, are not capturing all civilian casualties.
Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam’s Country Director in Yemen said: “Yemen is now a free-fire zone where people gathering for weddings, burying their loved ones or going to market are risking their lives. The suffering of the people of Yemen is an affront to our shared humanity and a failure of powerful countries to uphold any sense of the values they are fond of espousing.
“It is a shameful chapter of diplomatic double speak, underhand dealings and downright hypocrisy. How many more children will be killed before the backers of this war will face up to their complicity? War crimes are being committed regularly. The perpetrators and those who are actively involved need to be brought to account. The carnage has to end.”
Ending the killing of civilians needs to be a priority for all parties and communities in Yemen. Today’s talks in Geneva offer them an opportunity to draw a line in the sand and stop the attacks on civilians.
Despite assurances that there was a ‘pause’ in the fighting around the port city of Hudaydah the beginning of August saw deadly mortar attacks on a busy market killing 41 civilians including six children and four women and injuring another 111 civilians. There was also a mortar attack on a hospital in the city causing many civilian casualties.
On 9 August, a market and a bus full of school children was bombed killing 46 people and leaving 100 casualties. Most of the dead were boys under the age of 13 years old. Later in the month at least 22 children and four women were killed by an airstrike as they fled a previous attack the day before.
The UN civilian impact monitoring reports list numerous other attacks and makes for grisly reading: 16 fishermen killed and four missing following an airstrike, a woman killed by sniper fire, two children killed by cluster bombs, schools, homes, farms attacked and many more instances of innocent families hit.
There appears to be no let-up in the fighting which continues towards the south of Hudaydah with the current focus in Ad Durayhimi city. There is fighting in residential neighbourhoods in the city, air strikes, mounting civilian casualties and people trapped inside the city unable to flee or get medical assistance.
Aid agencies are finding it difficult to help people because of the fighting and blocked roads. Damage to water and sanitation infrastructure in Hudaydah and other parts of the country is denying thousands of people access to water, and increasing the threat of a third cholera wave. While the focus is on Hudyadah, fighting is also reported in other parts of the country including Lahj, Al Baydah, Sa’daa, Hajaah, Taiz and elsewhere.
All warring parties have committed, and continue to commit, violations of the rules of war. According to the UN between 26 March 2015 and 9 August 2018 there were a total of 17,062 civilian casualties. The majority of these casualties, 10,471, were as a result of Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.
Meanwhile the Houthis and other armed groups continue their stranglehold in Taiz and other areas where street fighting and the use of landmines is leading to civilian casualties, and lack of access means people are denied humanitarian assistance.
Siddiquey said: “Yemen is on the verge of collapse. The fighting has to end and the country put on the road to peace. The talks about talks due to start in Geneva this week are welcome. But the killings have to stop.”