Since the occupation of the Yemen’s capital Sana’a by Houthi and Saleh militias in September 2014, and their further expansion to other regions, the forces have committed heinous crimes in violation of international humanitarian law through a series of war crimes. Most notably, they have targeted civilians by using them as human shields.
Armed rebels have also occupied many public services. In Sana’a, for example, rebel troops used civilian and public facilities as a refuge, using human shields as self-protection. This occurred in the Dar of Blind and also in Taiz where the Houthi militias bombed hospitals and schools.
Targeting the Vulnerable
Based on a report issued by Human Rights Watch, evidence shows that the Houthi militias in Yemen subjected al-Noor Center for the Blind in Sana’a to a dangerous situation by stationing troops within it. Reading through the report, you notice the scale of criminality directed against civilians, especially those with disabilities by al-Houthi and Saleh militias. It is difficult for those with special needs to flee from potential combat zones and to access to food and medicine, which in fact are available, but in very small quantities.
The testimony of the director of the al-Noor Center for the Blind describes that when the conflict began with the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, the Houthis armed group established an office on the ground floor of the school building and placed guards at the entrance of the compound and suspended school learning.
On the other hand, there are local human rights organisations that have reported cases of the abduction of Yemeni citizens with special needs, subjecting one of them to torture and then using him with other abductees as human shields. Reports revealed that the rebel militias proceeded in several areas of Yemen to store weapons in public health sectors, universities, schools and educational facilities. The militia then occupied these premises, utilising them as military headquarters in order to carry out the armed bombardment of civilians and troops.
In Taiz, which has been witnessing a suffocating siege for more than seven months, Houthi and Saleh militias used the areas which come under their control, including schools, universities, public and government systems and health facilities, as storerooms for weapons and military locations for their troops. This was the case of the International Yemen Hospital, Al-Hamd Hospital and the Faculty of Medicine and others. In addition to that, the militias have deployed arms and tanks in some schools and university courtyards to bomb residential neighbourhoods.
Reports also describe armed troops breaking into the homes of civilians and using them as human shields, making them vulnerable to bombing, murder and allowing the legitimate forces and the public resistance to respond to the source of the fire.
Notably in Haran Mount in the city of Dhamar, which was targeted by Airstrikes by the Arab coalition in May 2015, the militia deliberately put a number of hostages, including media workers, in a military location in order to prevent the coalition aircraft bombing it, and this incident is one of the bloody crimes committed by Houthis militias against Yemeni journalists. Other crimes include kidnapping, assault, closure of newspapers and media channels and the blocking of web sites.
Using the presence of civilians to protect the armed militias in order to make their areas safe from attack is a war crime. This requires referral of its leaders to be subjected to international justice. What the Houthi and Saleh militias have committed by the violent use of civilians in their war, is considered a “crime against humanity”. No statute of limitations for the fact that these acts are an obvious violation of the rules of international humanitarian law and all human rights charters.
International Silence on Yemen War
Unfortunately, Yemenis do not find any outright condemnation and there is surprise at the international silence over the suffering of the civilians in Yemen in general, and Taiz specifically, by putting civilians lives at risk. There must be punishment and denunciation for these war crimes and the armed factions who are committing them.
There is a big void in the preparation of some reports in Yemen by international human rights organisations: the magnitude of the crimes and abuses practiced by these militias against civilians, particularly in the stricken city Taiz, is not indicated. Incorrect accounts are also commonplace.
According to local reports, recent months have seen wider violations in Yemen by targeting political opponents, military and human rights activists, journalists, and even civilians who have not escaped the wrath of the militias. Many people are still under arrest, with citizens subjected to forced disappearances within the Houthi and Saleh’s militia prisons.
The humanitarian aid agencies are still located outside of Taiz city, while the Houthi and Saleh militias refuse to allow aid (food, medicine and oxygen cylinders) to enter the city without seeing any denouncement or serious movement by international human rights organisations.
In addition, Houthi militias in some areas are used kidnapping, forced disappearances and sometimes extortion as a means of acquiring money. This is where families are required to pay cash in order to release their abducted sons or just to find out their loved one’s fate.
As human rights activists, our responsibility is not only to document such violations, but strive to be on the inside of international court sessions that must address the dire situation in Yemen.
The kidnapping, the detainment, the torturing, murder – this abuse and horrifying use of citizens as war pawns must be stopped. The Houthi and Saleh armed groups must be punished for all of their acts which are crimes against humanity. Justice must be sought for the citizens of Yemen.