Yemen conflict is taking ‘dreadful toll’ on civilians – UN top relief official

Children and livestock shelter in a northern Yemen camp after being displaced by fighting. Photo: UNHCR/H.Macleod

10 May 2015 – The conflict in Yemen is taking a dreadful toll on civilians, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the country has warned, as he also expressed deep concern over yesterday's airstrikes on the city of Sa'ada, where scores of civilians were reportedly killed.

“Many civilians are effectively trapped in Sa'ada as they are unable to access transport because of the fuel shortage,” Johannes van der Klaauw said in a statement released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Mr. van der Klaauw said that thousands of more civilians were forced to flee their homes after the coalition declared the entire governorate in Sa'ada a military target.

“The targeting of an entire governorate will put countless civilians at risk,” the humanitarian coordinator warned, saying that the indiscriminate bombing of populated areas, with or without prior warning, is in contravention of international humanitarian law (IHL).

Communities across Yemen are being impacted by the conflict and shortage of basic commodities, he said, urging the international community to “redouble our efforts to stop the fighting and to save lives.”

“The impact on civilian infrastructure across Yemen has been devastating. Many Yemenis are now deprived of access to basic services, including medical treatment, food, water and other necessities. Conflict continues to rage across the country, putting men, women and children from all of Yemen's communities at risk,” Mr. van der Klaauw said.

Since the Yemen conflict erupted in mid-March 2015, over 1,400 people have been killed and close to 6,000 people injured, roughly half of whom have been civilians. Civilians across the border in Saudi Arabia's frontier towns have been caught up in the fighting as well.

He reiterated that under international law, all parties to the conflict must strive to avoid inflicting harm upon civilians, and must comply with the fundamental principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution. These obligations are binding on all those taking part in the hostilities, including coalition forces, the Yemeni armed forces and non-state armed groups. Issuing warnings of impeding attacks does not absolve the parties of their IHL obligations to protect civilians from harm.

“I call upon all parties to the conflict to observe their duty to protect civilians. I further call on parties to the conflict to avoid locating military personnel and assets in densely populated areas, thereby endangering civilians,” Mr. van der Klaauw said.

All parties must avoid using populated areas as launching grounds for attacks, he added.

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