Actions by Yemen’s pro-Houthi forces in the embattled southern seaport city of Aden may amount to war crimes, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Thursday.
The rights group cited instances in which pro-Houthi forces shot and killed two women and held aid workers hostage in the port. It added that the “dire” humanitarian situation in Aden – where the rebels are locked in battle with troops loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi – was exacerbated by a Saudi air and sea blockade.
“Aden’s civilians are already in dire straits, without being attacked, detained, and held hostage,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa program. “Leaders of the Houthis and other forces need to protect civilians, not abuse and terrorize them.”
The two women civilians were fatally struck by gunfire in separate incidents on April 17 and 18, HRW said. Sabreen al-Aboos, 22, was shot by a man in a military uniform on April 17, her uncle Hussain al-Elbi told HRW. A second woman, Neveen al-Taib, 42, was shot and killed on April 18, apparently from the direction of a nearby hill where Houthi forces were deployed.
In another possible war crime, pro-Houthi forces unlawfully detained 10 local aid workers for six to 14 days in April, HRW said. Two of them were released after ransoms were paid, HRW said, adding that deliberate attacks on civilians and taking hostages were war crimes.
Yemen has teetered on the brink of civil war since Houthi forces swept through the Yemeni capital Sanaa in September and seized the presidential palace and dissolved parliament in February. President Hadi first fled to Aden, where he attempted to reestablished his government, however fled again to Saudi Arabia after Houthis and their allies laid siege to the city.
The Houthis, who are Shia, seek a greater role in Yemen’s government, which is dominated by Sunnis. They also complain of discrimination and political marginalization.
Saudi Arabia and its regional allies, all of whom are Sunni-majority states, began launching airstrikes against the Houthis in March and have since threatened to send in ground troops. The coalition has charged Shia-majority Iran with supporting the Houthis in order to exert more influence in the region. Though Tehran has admitted to providing medical and food aid to the rebels, it denies any military involvement in the conflict.
The U.N. said earlier this week that at least 646 civilians, including more than 130 children, have been killed in Yemen since coalition airstrikes began. At least 1,364 civilians have also been injured, the U.N. added.
Saudi Arabia on Thursday offered Houthis a renewable, five-day cease-fire to allow aid workers to meet the needs of civilians caught in the conflict. However, it’s not clear if the rebels will accept.
HRW has also accused the Saudi-led coalition of using banned weapons as part of its airstrikes campaign against the Houthi rebels.
On Sunday, the rights group said the coalition had probably used cluster bombs, which are banned by over 100 countries. Cluster bombs indiscriminately scatter smaller submunitions — often called bombies or bomblets — across a wide area, and can remain buried, unexploded, for decades after a bombing campaign ends.
With wire services