YEMEN: US and UK airstrikes on Yemen raise concern for civilians

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) is seriously concerned by the US and UK attacks on Yemen that started in the early hours of 12 January 2024. Under international human rights law and international humanitarian law, states are obliged to protect civilian lives and civilian infrastructure.

“Yemenis have been suffering for many years from the war between the Houthis and the Saudi led coalition, with indiscriminate attacks and major destruction to civilian infrastructures. The attacks launched by the US and UK must ensure that civilians are not harmed and that what remains of the infrastructure vital for their survival is not destroyed” said Amna Guellali, Research Director at CIHRS.

On 12 January 2024, US and UK forces launched a number of air strikes on targets they considered to be military bases for the Houthi in Sana’a and Hodeidah. According to a statement by the Houthis’ spokesperson, five were killed and six injured in the attacks, all from the Houthi armed forces.

US President, Joe Biden, said “These strikes are in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against maritime vessels in the Red Sea.” The Houthis have targeted many commercial vessels transiting the Red Sea in what they describe as a response to Israel’s war on Gaza, stating that their aim is to “prevent Israeli ships from navigating the Arab and Red Sea in support of the oppressed Palestinian people.” The attacks launched by the group over the past three months have disrupted international commercial shipping and threatened vessel’s crews. In addition, Houthis have taken hostage members of ships’ crews. This deliberate targeting of civilian ships and their crews is in violation of international humanitarian law and should be ceased immediately. On 10 January 2024, the United Nations Security Council passed resolution 2722 that demands the group to immediately stop their maritime attacks.

The nearly decade long conflict in Yemen has ravaged the country with one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world, with the population in dire need of humanitarian aid. All parties involved in the Yemen conflict have extensively violated international human rights and international humanitarian law. Civilians have been targeted amid arbitrary arrests and crackdowns on freedoms of speech, religion and association by the warring Saudi-led coalition and Houthis, as well as other governing authorities in Yemen.

In April 2022, the warring parties declared a two-month truce that was renewed and then ended in October the same year. More recently, the UN declared that significant steps are being taken to ensure a permanent ceasefire with a clear roadmap.

While Yemen is still reeling from the scourges of war, these attacks risk worsening the situation for a vulnerable population. The US and the UK have a shameful record from their involvement in past conflicts, which has resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties and severe damage to civilian infrastructure. Damning evidence also shows that US weapons have been extensively used in the war in Yemen, causing thousands of civilian casualties.

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