A boy washes a cooking pot in a rain water pool outside a slum area for the Muhamasheen (marginalized) community in Sanaa, Yemen July 26, 2020. Picture taken July 26, 2020. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters Archive)
Recent data shows the war in Yemen has created a catastrophe for children at the hands of the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis.
As the world continues to struggle with one of the most brutal pandemics in human history, there has been no break in the fighting across the Middle East from Israel to Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Conflicts in the Middle East have done unthinkable damage to civilians, especially to the elderly and children.
But in Yemen, the Saudi-led Gulf coalition and its enemy, the Houthis, are both guilty of violating the country’s children in the continuing civil war, a comprehensive UN report finds.
“A generation of children in Yemen has been immeasurably damaged through child recruitment, abuse and deprivation of the most basic human rights, including education,” says the report, which is drafted by the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts appointed by the UN.
According to the report, during the conflict, which began in 2014, nearly 112,000 people have died while more than 10 percent of the total deaths were civilians. But more shockingly, approximately one-third of the civilian deaths are children.
“These figures do not include the many thousands of people who have died as a result of the worsening socioeconomic, health and humanitarian conditions,” the report added.
“These horrific violations show how vulnerable children are during armed conflict. One in three of all casualties is a child – these are horrifying numbers. It must stop and perpetrators should be held accountable,” reacted Xavier Joubert, Country Director for Save the Children in Yemen, to the report’s findings.
Both sides are guilty
In the UN report, there are numerous examples of how opposing military forces have treated the civilian population, particularly children, for the sake of political interests.
In one specific example, the UN report recounted how the Yemeni government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition, acted without any care for children’s need for education when it came to its political interests.
“In early January 2020, the Special Security Forces of the Government of Yemen converted a secondary school near Khubar village, Habban District, Shabwah Governorate, into military barracks,” the report says.
“On 1 February, dozens of students demonstrated against the requisition of their school. In response, the Special Security Forces, referred to by witnesses as “Al-Islah militants”, raided Khubar, searching for the students, and arrested two boys, aged 14 and 16 years, detaining them on the basis of their alleged affiliation with the southern transitional council-affiliated Shabwani Elite Forces,” it continues.
Boys look as a worker uses a hose to put down fire at a a vehicle oil and tires store hit by Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen July 2, 2020. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters Archive)
The Southern Transitional Council (STC) is a secessionist organisation backed by the UAE, an ally of the Saudi kingdom. While both Gulf states are fiercely opposed to the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, they support different political groups.
The tense school disagreement did not end there.
“Later, when a group of civilian men from the village approached the school to negotiate their release, members of the Special Security Forces guarding the facility opened fire with AK-47 assault rifles, killing two of the men,” it concludes.
The report carefully crafted how the Saudi-led coalition and its Yemeni allies have created conditions in the poor Arab country to make lives unbearable for civilians.
“Individuals in the Government of Yemen and the coalition (in particular from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) and the southern transitional council have committed, as applicable to each party, acts that may amount to war crimes, including murder of civilians, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, rape and other forms of sexual violence, outrages upon personal dignity, denial of fair trial, and enlisting children under the age of 15 or using them to participate actively in hostilities,”it goes on.
Despite the war crimes of the Saudi-led coalition, whose airstrikes and military actions have appeared to be the main driver behind many atrocities in Yemen, the Houthis, which the report defines as “de facto authorities”, have also carried out various human rights violations across the country, according to the UN experts.
Houthi followers stand by bills of Yemeni currency during a ceremony held by Houthis to collect supplies for their fighters battling government forces in various frontlines, in Sanaa, Yemen September 24, 2020. (Khaled Abdullah / Reuters Archive)
“Between June 2015 and February 2020, in all governorates under their control, the Houthis recruited boys as young as 7 years old. The Group of Eminent Experts verified 11 individual cases and received allegations about the recruitment of a further 163 boys,” the report reads.
“They were recruited from schools, poor urban areas and detention centres through indoctrination, financial incentives, abduction and/or peer recruitment, with very high rates of boys being used in combat resulting in their death or injury.”
‘Cycle of impunity’
Xavier from the Save the Children rights group, thinks that the international community is long overdue in acting against the perpetrators of the Yemen war crimes.
“We must break the cycle of impunity – for too long people who have been targeting children in this terrible conflict have gotten away with it. In particular, we share the concern raised by the Group on the de-listing of parties to conflict from the UN Secretary’s annual ‘list of shame’ whilst this report shows that children continued to be killed or maimed by airstrikes,” says Xavier.
Beyond both sides’ alleged war crimes against children, the Yemen War has also created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
“According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, nearly 80 percent of the population remain in need of humanitarian aid and protection,” says the UN report.
“The World Food Programme estimates that over 20 million people are food insecure, with malnutrition disproportionately affecting marginalized and at-risk groups. Over 3.5 million internally displaced persons in Yemen, most of them women and children, face acute vulnerabilities, including 1.5 million in the Ma’rib Governorate alone, who lack access to basic necessities and education.”