UN condemns ‘virtual silence’ on civilian casualties in Yemeni conflict

© Khaled Abdullah
UN officials have openly criticized the “the virtual silence” with regards to civilian suffering in the Yemeni conflict from the world community, warning that unless violence on the ground is stopped via political compromise more people will suffer.

Adama Dieng, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and Jennifer Welsh, the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, “expressed concern at the ever increasing impact on civilians of the ongoing conflict in Yemen, and the virtual silence of the international community about the threat to populations.”

The joint statement by the senior officials comes a day after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein told the UN Human Rights Council that over 2,000 civilians have been killed in Yemen. Since the conflict escalated in late March, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has documented some 6,631 civilian casualties, including 2,112 civilian deaths, and 4,519 injuries.

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However, the UN officials believe the actual numbers could be much higher. According to local media, Saudi-led coalition strikes killed at least 54 people across Yemen on Tuesday alone, including four children.

The civilian death-toll is on the rise in recent weeks, after the coalition stepped up air strikes on Houthi positions following rebels’ missile attack in Marib province on September 4 which killed more than 60 Gulf Arab troops.

“Recent developments are likely to lead to escalation of the violence in central Yemen, particularly if Sana’a becomes the scene of confrontations between the Saudi-led military coalition and the Houthi forces, and civilians will bear the brunt of this violence,” warned Dieng and Welsh.

The special advisers also raised concerns about “serious violations” of international law throughout the country, committed by both sides in the conflict. The officials also denounced the use of sectarian language to fuel divide and justify violations of international law, as they urged local leaders to refrain from “manipulating religious identities for political purposes.”

The UN heavyweights warned that unless a serious commitment to find a political solution to the conflict is reached, the situation is likely to degenerate further. To aid reconciliation, Dieng and Welsh, reminded that the international community has a responsibility to protect civilians from war crimes.

Tensions in Yemen escalated after Shia President Saleh was deposed in 2012 and his Houthi supporters, reportedly aided by Iran, eventually seized the capital city Sana’a last year. Houthi forces then advanced from Sana’a towards the south, seizing large parts of Yemen, and sending the current Sunni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile.

In late March, a Saudi Arabian-led coalition responded with airstrikes in order to stop Houthi advances and reinstate Hadi back in power. By late summer, the Saudi-led forces had started a ground operation, which so far is stuck in a stalemate.

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In a move to seize hostilities, Yemen’s exiled government said it was ready to join UN-sponsored talks if the Houthi rebels yielded to the demands of the UN resolution.

“If the Houthis are serious about sitting down for negotiations about implementing (U.N. Security Council) resolution 2216, they must publicly announce their recognition of this resolution,” Yemeni government spokesman Rajeh Badi told Reuters by telephone from Riyadh.

Resolution 2216 calls on the rebels to vacate all cities seized within the last year and to recognize Hadi's legitimacy to rule.