So, the word is out but is anyone going to do anything about it? Advocacy group Amnesty International says its findings show Saudi Arabia-led forces killed scores of civilians with powerful bombs. Apparently this isn’t news in Europe, well, not the right sort anyway, or there’d be bigger headlines at least in the broadsheets. There has been little European or western response to the killings, certainly not a single one that’s audible to mere mortals. Europe currently has the perfect distraction, a godsend for some: the Greek eurozone crisis rages on and Yemen isn’t a fashionable crisis; no, not right now.
Amnesty said its new research and weapons analysis in Yemen “bring into sharp focus the high price civilians continue to pay amid the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition’s airstrikes all over the country and demonstrate a failure to abide by the requirements of international humanitarian law.”
AI researchers investigated eight airstrikes in different parts of the country, including multiple strikes in the capital, Sana’a, on 12 and 13 June and in Tai’z on 16 June. In total, the eight incidents killed 54 civilians (27 children, 16 women and 11 men) including a one-day-old infant, and injured 55 (19 children, 19 women and 17 men).
“International humanitarian law is clear that belligerents must take all possible steps to prevent or minimize civilian casualties. But the cases we have analysed point to a pattern of attacks destroying civilian homes and resulting in scores of civilian deaths and injuries. There is no indication that the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition has done anything to prevent and redress such violations,” said Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response advisor at Amnesty International, who is currently in Yemen.
“These eight cases investigated by Amnesty International must be independently and impartially investigated as possible disproportionate or indiscriminate attacks. The findings of any investigation must be made public, and those suspected of responsibility for serious violations of the laws of war must be brought to justice in fair trials. All victims of unlawful attacks and their families should receive full reparation.”
A triple strike launched by the coalition against Beit Me’yad, a residential suburb of the capital Sana’a, on 13 June killed 10 civilians – including three children and five women, and injured 28, including 11 children and 10 women – who lived near the intended targets of the strikes.
In one of these strikes a 2,000 lb (900 kg) bomb killed an 11-year-old boy, two of his sisters, his brother, and his 10-year-old cousin, and injured five other members of the al-‘Amiri family. The bomb, identified from the markings on fragments found at the site by Amnesty International, pulverized the house of Yahya Mohamed ‘Abdullah Saleh, a nephew of the former President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh who has been living abroad for years, and caused extensive damage to the surrounding houses.
Most of the neighbours had fled minutes before the strike – the third in the neighbourhood in less than 10 minutes – but the al-‘Amiri family did not manage to escape on time. “We did not move fast enough,” Mohamed al-‘Amiri, who lost four of his children in the strike, told Amnesty International.
A double strike launched minutes earlier a few streets away destroyed the home of the al-Akwa family, killing 40-year-old Fatma, her two children Malek and Reem, and two of her relatives, and injuring 18 other family members and five neighbours.
Amnesty International spoke to a 12-year-old girl who suffered third-degree burns and shrapnel wounds all over her body as well as a deep cut across her face. She writhed in pain on her hospital bed as she told Amnesty International: “We were all in one room, my mum and my siblings, and the explosion happened and were all hurt. Now my mum, little brother and sister are in another hospital.” Hospital staff told Amnesty International that in fact the child’s family were killed in the strike and they would tell her imminently.
The strike missed its apparent target – Tareq Mohamed ‘Abdullah Saleh, another nephew of the former President, who owns but does not live in a nearby house which was bombed later that night. Media reports citing the Saudi-based Yemeni government’s statement that the strike had targeted and killed Tareq Mohamed ‘Abdullah Saleh turned out to be unfounded.
On 12 June, five members of the ‘Abdelqader family were killed in another bombardment which destroyed four adjacent houses in the Old City in Sana’a. The strike would have likely caused many more casualties had many of the neighbours not left the area after a powerful airstrike targeted the nearby Defence Ministry compound (200 metres to the south) two days earlier.
The Saudi Arabia-led coalition spokesman Brigadier-General Ahmed al-‘Assiri denied responsibility for the strike but a fragment of the bomb recovered from the rubble of the houses shows that it comes from a 2,000 lb (900 kg) bomb, the same type which has been widely used by the coalition in various parts of Yemen.
In an earlier attack investigated by Amnesty International the same type of bomb dropped by the coalition destroyed a cluster of three houses in al-Akma village (Ta’iz governorate) on 14 April. That strike killed 10 members of the al-Hujairi family, including seven children, a woman and an elderly man, and injured 14 other relatives, most of them children and women.
Rabi’ Mohamed al-Haddadi, a neighbour who helped rescue the dead and wounded, told Amnesty International: “We gathered the body parts, the bodies were torn to pieces.”
The bomb, identified from the markings on fragments found at the site by Amnesty International as a US-designed General Purpose Mark 84 (MK84, also known as BLU-117), manufactured in 1983 and contains over 400 kg of high explosive. Field investigations showed that the bomb failed to detonate on impact, limiting potentially greater destruction and more civilian casualties.
The same type of bomb killed 17 civilians and injured 17 others in an airstrike north-east of the capital on 1 May. According to expert analysis of fragments and craters found at the location of two other airstrikes which hit Hajr Ukaish and al-‘Erra villages in the suburbs of Sana’a, similar types of 500-1,000 lb bombs were deployed.
Eyewitness testimonies from the aftermath of these and other strikes provide yet more damning evidence that coalition forces are failing to take necessary precautions to minimize civilian deaths and injuries when they target military installations in areas controlled by the Huthi rebels and forces loyal to the former President. In fact, some of the apparent intended targets, such as homes owned by relatives of former President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh, do not appear to be military objectives or at least do not appear to be of sufficient importance to warrant the risk attacking them poses to civilians and civilian objects in the immediate vicinity.
The sites of most of these strikes have a common trait: they are close – between several hundred metres and a few kilometres – to Huthi/Saleh-loyalist-controlled military bases or other military objectives which have been repeatedly targeted by coalition airstrikes.
For example, al-Akma village residents told Amnesty International that a Huthi/Saleh loyalist-controlled air force base and airport, 1.5 km west of the village, was targeted by several airstrikes shortly before and after the 14 April strike on their village. The bomb which hit the village completely destroyed the al-Hujairi family home and partially destroyed two other adjacent homes – poor dwellings made of corrugated iron and cardboard. Wadhha, a neighbour of the victims, told Amnesty International: “I heard the explosion. I thought that the house was going to collapse on my head.”
In the case of Hajr Ukaish village, more than three kilometres north of a Huthi/Saleh-loyalist-controlled Jabal Nabi Shu’aib military base, coalition forces apparently claimed that three adjacent homes reduced to rubble in an airstrike, which killed 11 and injured six members of the al-Ukaishi family, had been used to store weapons. The surviving relatives deny this claim, saying they are farmers. An Amnesty International researcher who visited the site found no evidence to support the claim that the target was a weapons store. The coalition forces have so far failed to provide any evidence to substantiate their allegation.
“Even if the intended target had in fact been an arms cache this would not justify such a deadly attack on homes full of civilians without prior warning. Those planning the airstrike must have known it was likely to result in high civilian casualties and failed to take the necessary steps under international humanitarian law,” said Donatella Rovera.
Since the beginning of the Saudi Arabian-led military intervention on 25 March 2015, Amnesty International has investigated 17 separate airstrikes in five areas of Yemen (Sa’da, Sana’a, Ta’iz, Hodeidah, Hajjah and Ibb). These incidents killed at least 223 people, including at least 197 civilians (32 women, 68 children) and injured 419, including at least 259 civilians. Amnesty has put ‘case studies’ of the victims on its website.
According to recent UN data, there have been more than 1,400 civilian deaths and 3,400 civilian injuries in three months of the armed conflict.