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Yemen’s Warring Parties Attacked At Least 120 Health Facilities and Personnel: PHR/Mwatana Report

New investigation documents how the Saudi-Emirati-led Coalition, Yemeni government, and Houthi armed group have decimated Yemen’s health system, inflicted widespread death, and likely committed war crimes

SANA’A/NEW YORK – Warring parties in Yemen have carried out at least 120 violent attacks on medical facilities and health workers, exposed by a joint investigation published today by Mwatana for Human Rights (Mwatana) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).  The attacks by the Saudi-Emirati-led coalition, internationally recognized government of Yemen, and Ansar Allah armed group (Houthi) forces have decimated Yemen’s health system, inflicted widespread death and suffering on Yemeni civilians, and likely constitute war crimes.

The report “I Ripped the IV Out and Started Running”: Attacks on Health Care in Yemen is the result of documentation and analysis of almost four years of such attacks across 20 of Yemen’s 22 governorates, spanning from March 2015 until December 2018. The analysis reveals four main categories of violent attacks on health facilities: aerial strikes (35), ground attacks (46), military occupation (9), assaults on health workers (23), and other violations (7), such as looting and restrictions on humanitarian aid.  

The attacks detailed in the report killed at least 96 civilians and health workers, including 10 children, and wounded 230 others, including 28 children. Taiz governorate, home to Yemen’s third-largest city, was the most affected by attacks on medical facilities, with at least 65 documented incidents. Saada governorate, which shares a border with Saudi Arabia, was also significantly affected by attacks on health care facilities, with 25 documented incidents, 22 of them airstrikes.

The PHR-Mwatana investigation is the most comprehensive analysis of the impact from warring parties’ conduct on the Yemeni health system since the conflict escalated in early 2015. The report illustrates patterns of attacks on health, their impact, and specific violations committed in their execution.

The warring parties’ failure to comply with international law has contributed to the disastrous humanitarian situation in the country, the report finds. The routine destruction of health care facilities, the repeated occupation of health care facilities, and the killing and wounding of medical workers both directly and indirectly contribute to the denial of health care in Yemen. 

The report finds that the Saudi-Emirati-led coalition – which has been armed by the United States, United Kingdom, and members of the European Union – has primarily destroyed and damaged health facilities through aerial attacks. The Houthis, who have received support from Iran, and other armed groups loyal to the Yemeni government have damaged and destroyed health facilities with indiscriminate land-based weapons. The Houthi forces and other armed groups have also occupied medical facilities. Both sides to the conflict have killed medical workers.

“Each attack on a health facility reverberates far beyond its walls. The killings of doctors, nurses, and other health workers deprive communities of desperately-needed health care,” said Rayan Koteiche, Physicians for Human Rights Middle East and North Africa researcher. “Collectively, these attacks have decimated Yemen’s health care system and caused untold suffering and death.”

“The breakdown in the rule of law in Yemen – furthered by the parties to the conflict – has created a human rights catastrophe with few parallels, in which the protected status of medical facilities and personnel has lost meaning,” said Koteiche.

The warring parties in Yemen – including the Saudi-Emirati-led coalition, the Houthi armed group, and the Yemeni government – have over the course of the conflict perpetrated serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Again and again, parties to the conflict have violated the fundamental international humanitarian law principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution. In Mwatana’s and PHR’s assessment, many of these violations may amount to war crimes. Accountability and redress have been woefully lacking.

“Yemenis are starving, dying of disease, and getting caught in the crossfire of this unnecessary war,” said Radhya al-Mutawakel, Chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights. “Beyond any particular attack, the ways the Saudi-Emirati-led coalition, Houthi armed group, and Yemeni government are fighting makes it infinitely harder for civilians to survive.”

“The only way to end this horrific cycle in Yemen is through credible accountability efforts that address the gravity and scope of violations and crimes committed,” said al-Mutawakel.

The new report provides a new level of detail and insight into these egregious abuses in the Yemen conflict. Twenty-four Mwatana researchers collected data through semi-structured interviews with more than 194 witnesses and survivors. Researchers visited the scenes of attacks when conditions permitted and gathered multiple testimonies and photographic evidence to document and verify the details of each incident. Researchers aimed to corroborate each incident with a minimum of three independent witness statements. PHR and Mwatana experts collaborated to provide an in-depth analysis of individual attacks as well as to document the patterns and impact of attacks on health.

In analyzing this data, PHR and Mwatana found compelling evidence of widespread abuses in Yemen by the Saudi-Emirati-led coalition, the Houthi armed group, and the Yemeni government. Their strategies and methods of war reflect a disregard for international legal obligations, human rights norms, and the survival of Yemeni civilians.

“The humanitarian situation in Yemen – the worst in the world – will not improve without a significant behavioral shift by the warring parties,” said Koteiche of PHR. “The combatants must respect the protected status of medical and civilian infrastructure, and abide by the international humanitarian law principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution.”

“Those supplying weapons and other forms of support to the warring parties – be they in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Iran, or other states – prolong Yemen’s misery and are complicit in the pervasive abuses documented in this report,” said al-Mutawakel of Mwatana.

See here for the full report and an annex of all documented attacks on health facilities, broken down by date, location, type, and description. This report is available in English and Arabic.

Mwatana for Human Rights (Mwatana) is an independent Yemeni organization involved in defending human rights through documenting and verifying violations, providing legal support, lobbying, raising awareness and building capacity.   

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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