Geneva – Fighting operations in Yemen have escalated in January, coinciding with the significant deterioration in the humanitarian situation and the noticeable decline in humanitarian response operations, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said in a statement expressing grave concern.
The January violence spike was the most violent in years. Clashes escalated between government forces and their allies on one side and the Houthi group on the other side in Shabwa and Marib governorates. The Arab coalition intensified its air raids on several Yemeni governorates, while the Houthi group intensified launching ballistic missiles and booby-trapped drones towards Yemeni and Saudi cities. And for the first time in years, the Houthi group targeted the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi with missiles.
Heavy material and human losses were reported. Hundreds of civilians were killed or wounded in several attacks. Most notably, the Arab coalition bombed a prison in Saada, northern Yemen, on 21 January, killing more than 90 people and wounding many others. A few days before that, three civilians were killed by the Houthi group's bombing of Abu Dhabi with ballistic missiles, according to the UAE official authorities.
In addition, the parties to the conflict said that hundreds of fighters were killed or wounded in the ongoing clashes in the governorates of Shabwa and Marib, not to mention the destruction and damage of a number of homes and civilian facilities.
The Arab coalition carried out 1,041 air-targeting operations in various Yemeni governorates throughout January. At the same time, the Houthi group announced targeting Abu Dhabi three times during the month (on 17, 24, and 31), with an unspecified number of booby-trapped drones and ballistic missiles. The Houthis also announced firing more than 15 ballistic missiles on the governorates of Shabwa and Marib.
The fighting escalation coincided with an additional deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Yemen. The World Food Program was forced to reduce the food rations of more than 8 million Yemenis due to a lack of funding. Other vital programmes, including water, protection, and reproductive health services, have also been scaled back or closed in recent weeks for the same reason.
According to the United Nations, the humanitarian response plan for Yemen for 2021 received only 58 percent of the funding requirements, with a deficit of about $1.6 billion, at a time when 80 percent of Yemenis need protection and humanitarian assistance services, and 5 million Yemenis are on the brink of famine.
Euro-Med Monitor's Chief Operation Officer, Anas Aljerjawi, said: “The escalation of fighting in Yemen only deepens the humanitarian crisis, increases the number of those who are facing the risk of death, and are on the brink of starvation, in light of a noticeable decline in humanitarian response operations as a result of lack of funding and the intensification of fighting.”
“The military operations forced thousands of Yemenis to flee from their homes to other areas, which means exacerbating the situation on those areas. It also means that there is a growing need to intensify relief operations, which are facing great challenges at the present time.”
The parties to the conflict have been turning a blind eye to the basic rules of international humanitarian law during the past weeks, targeting civilians and civilian facilities and causing hundreds of deaths and injuries of civilians, in addition to the widespread destruction of civilian property and objects.
Besieging the population and cutting off relief supplies for them is illegal. Protocol I additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions prohibits the use of starvation as a method of warfare. The statute of the International Criminal Court classifies "Intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare" as a war crime.
The parties to the conflict should immediately end the escalation, prioritize humanitarian response efforts to save millions of Yemenis, and stop seeking political and military gains while ignoring the dire consequences caused by the continuation of the fighting on civilians.
The United Nations should form a committee to investigate all attacks that affected civilians and civilian facilities, identify those responsible and hold them liable, and activate all possible tools to end the state of impunity enjoyed by the parties to the conflict in Yemen.