‘May be war crimes’: HRW slams Saudi-led coalition bombing of civilian businesses in Yemen
The group urges Saudi Arabia to agree to independent international inquiry into the attacks and says the country should be suspended from membership on the UN Human Rights Council.
The 59-page report titled ‘Bombing Businesses: Saudi Coalition Airstrikes on Yemen’s Civilian Economic Structures’ studies in detail 17 airstrikes on 13 civilian economic sites: factories, warehouses, a farm and two power facilities.
These facilities employed some 2,500 people, and after the strikes, many of them ceased operations, with hundreds losing their jobs.
The strikes killed 130 people and injured 171 others.
All of the attacks involved breaches of international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, and some of them could amount to war crimes, the report said.
In particular, the laws of war ban intentional attacks on civilian sites, attacks that don’t distinguish between military and civilian targets, and strikes that inflict disproportionate damage as compared with the military gain. Plus, attacks on civilian structures which are carried out intentionally are deemed war crimes.
In March 2016, victims and witnesses of the attacks in Yemen were interviewed by Human Rights Watch, with many telling horrifying accounts of the events.
“I heard the bang and came …to look for the other [injured] workers…. One worker was stuck under the rubble. The manager had to call his phone so that we knew where he was to rescue him. The last person we rescued from inside [the wreckage] was the [16-year-old] boy…. his legs got stuck between these two large blocks… his body was charred,” 25-year-old Raouf Mohammed al-Sayideh, who worked at a sewing and embroidery workshop, said.
Ahmed Tahir Mabkhout, 43, a salesman for the Coca-Cola factory in Sanaa, spoke to HRW about a strike on the facility in December 2015.
“I didn’t hear the first bomb, because the generator was very loud. But I saw the fire. When the second hit, I was by the [factory] exit, and when the third hit, I was already in the street. The second and third bombs landed inside the factory hanger.”
What’s more, the report said, there are 20 million people – 80 percent of the population – in need of humanitarian aid, experiencing food, medicine shortages in Yemen, and the attacks add to the dire situation that the country is in.
At the end of June, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that Yemen’s economy is “in precarious condition,” and pointed to “an alarming scarcity of basic food items.”
“The repeated coalition airstrikes on civilian factories appear intended to damage Yemen’s shattered economy long into the future. Saudi Arabia and other coalition members have shown no interest in investigating unlawful attacks, or even compensating the victims for lives and property lost,” Priyanka Motaparthy, senior emergencies researcher and author of the report, said.
The Saudi Arabia-led coalition includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan, and is backed by the US and Britain.
The HRW report examined attacks from the beginning of the aerial campaign in March 2015, until February 2016.
In April, the coalition declared ceasefire, but the attacks went on, although on a smaller scale. For example, on May 25, a strike hit a water bottling factory in Lahj, injuring two workers.
Two days later, Saudi Arabia made a formal statement regarding the strikes, saying that the coalition has “fully complied with international humanitarian law and international human rights law in their military operations.”
The statement added that, “where claims about targeting of civilians [or] civilian facilities…are made, investigations are conducted by a separate and distinct investigation team established at Coalition Air Force [headquarters].”
However, Saudi Arabia provided no sound public evidence to support the claims, and failed to respond to any requests for data about the strikes’ targets, or the progress of any probes.
The UK and the US have also been party in the conflict, assisting the coalition with munitions, technical and intelligence support.
“The US and UK have largely deferred to the Saudis to investigate unlawful strikes despite little reason for confidence these investigations will be diligently carried out or the results made public,” Motaparthy said. “These governments are benefitting from billions in arms sales and even claim their support is helping Yemeni civilians, but have done nothing to back up those claims.”