‘I don’t want to live any more’ said the man standing in the rubble of his destroyed home. His teenage daughter beside him burst into tears and the younger daughter looked up at him, not understanding. The airstrike, in the UNESCO World heritage old city of Sana’a, had come without warning in the middle of the night killing all other members of the man’s family, leaving them homeless. They had no connection to any of the warring parties to the conflict in Yemen but were among its tens of thousands of civilian victims.
‘What is his name?’ I asked the mother sitting on the bed at the hospital in Sana’a next to the emaciated body of her child. ‘Her name is Amal’ corrected the mother softly, ‘it means hope’. Heartbreakingly, this tiny girl is among the 8 and a half million Yemenis on the brink of famine arising from the severe naval and air restrictions placed on Yemen by the Saudi-led Coalition.
‘Please help us to find our sons and husbands’, pleaded the Abductees’ Mothers Association, describing the arrest and disappearances of their loved ones. One mother recounted having received her son’s lifeless tortured body back, without explanation, after his disappearance two years earlier. The Mothers have been bravely holding public demonstrations in Sana’a and Aden to demand answers, to demand due process and justice from parties to the conflict. These pleas have not only fallen on deaf ears, but worse, have led to violence, threats and intimidation from authorities.
Among those detained in Yemen by both sides of the conflict are journalists and human rights defenders for having the temerity to report the truth or express an opinion. In the North of the country, practitioners of the Baha’i faith have been targeted by the Houthis, one leader sentenced to death earlier this year in Sana’a after a trial that neither he nor his family were allowed to attend. In the South, consistent reports have emerged of serious human rights violations in detention facilities controlled by the UAE, including large scale sexual violence.
Women and children in Yemen are particularly vulnerable, due to displacement, poverty and an atmosphere of indiscriminate violence. Children have been recruited by both sides to participate in the conflict.
The conflict in Yemen, now in its fourth year, is a man-made disaster that has devastated the country’s health and water infrastructure and resulted in the deaths and maiming of countless people. Yet, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis is also one of the world’s most neglected. The Coalition’s air blockade of Sana’a international airport and the prohibition of international journalists and human rights organisations travelling on UN flights to Sana’a has contributed to the news vacuum.
Two weeks ago the UN-appointed Group of Eminent Experts released the report of their investigation, which found that serious human rights violations and war crimes had been committed by all sides of the conflict in Yemen. The report noted little attempt by the parties to minimise civilian casualties.
Among its recommendations, the Group of Experts called upon the international community to refrain from providing weapons that could be used in the Yemen conflict. It is the very least the world can do to prevent the further suffering of tens of millions of innocent Yemeni people.
The UN Experts’ report can be found here: OHCHR | Yemen: United Nations Experts point to possible war crimes by parties to the conflict
Melissa Parke was appointed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in December 2017 as a member of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen. The Group’s report will be considered by the UN Human Rights Council later this month.She was formerly the federal member for Fremantle.