Geneva - The Houthi group must open all roads and crossings in and around Taiz and lift the unlawful siege that it has imposed on the city for over eight years, said Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor in a statement.
Nearly three million Yemenis in Taiz face a severe lack of basic humanitarian necessities, including food, water, and health care. Moreover, the population is at risk as a result of bombings, frequent clashes, and extreme difficulty in moving between city neighbourhoods.
Although the conflict in Yemen has seen a noticeable cooling, this has not resulted in the easing or lifting of restrictions imposed by the Houthi group on the movement of civilians and goods in Taiz. The group still imposes a siege on the city’s main roads, including al-Sitteen Street in the north, Hodeidah Road in the west, and al-Hawban Street in the south and east. It also controls the city’s most important economic and commercial centres, obstructing the flow of basic goods and humanitarian aid.
The siege of Taiz is a form of collective punishment against civilians that may amount to a war crime under relevant international laws, as international humanitarian law prohibits warring parties from using military sieges except in a few specific cases that do not apply to the situation in Taiz. According to several testimonies gathered by the Euro-Med Monitor team from Taiz residents, obtaining food is a struggle due to scarcity and high prices. Furthermore, the siege has shattered families and exacerbated the suffering of people with health issues, many of whom have been forced to travel on rugged mountain roads to reach medical facilities.
“Our suffering continues, and nothing has changed since the siege was [first] imposed. Personally, I was deprived of normal contact with my daughter for about three years after my family was displaced to a neighbouring village,” said Taiz resident Moeen al-Obeidi, a lawyer, in a statement to Euro-Med Monitor.
She stayed in the city because of work, she said, and had to travel long and rough roads to visit the village to see her daughter. “As I passed through the patrolled roads with the other travellers, we were humiliated, insulted, detained, and frequently shot at by snipers,” she added. “There are no exceptions. Even people suffering from critical diseases such as cancer and kidney failure were forced to endure this difficult journey to reach hospitals and health centres for treatment.”
In one case documented by Euro-Med Monitor, a patient died while being transported to a hospital, due to delays caused by the busy and rugged alternative mountain roads that residents have been forced to take to reach health facilities. “Two people boarded the bus I rode on the Hayjat al-Abed road, which connects Taiz and Aden, one of whom was showing signs of fatigue and illness,” Tasneem Hamed, a young Yemeni woman from Taiz, told the Euro-Med Monitor team.
While attempting to overcome her nausea and dizziness—caused by the road’s sharp turns and steep slopes—the bus ride erupted in chaos due to the deterioration of the sick individual’s condition. “He had a respiratory arrest and appeared extremely ill…the bus stopped near the edge of a cliff, and passengers attempted to treat the patient in primitive ways, but his condition kept getting worse,” Hamed continued.
“The driver decided to go to the nearest hospital, but it was impossible given the long line of vehicles in front of us and the long distance we had to travel due to official road closures,” she added. “Shortly after, the sick man stopped breathing and died. It took us a few hours before we could transport his body to the nearest hospital.”
Vehicles normally take about two hours to travel between Taiz and Aden, but with the roads closed, the trip now takes a minimum of seven hours due to the presence of approximately 50 checkpoints. Goods are inspected at about five of these checkpoints, which are frequented by vehicles, and particularly by cargo trucks. The inspections delay the arrival of goods and merchandise to Taiz from Aden, as well as significantly increase in their prices due to the high transportation costs.
The pause in bombing should not divert attention away from the plight of millions of civilians who are slowly dying as a result of the years-long siege imposed on Taiz. Ending the siege must be the top priority in any talks between conflict parties. The lengthy siege has harmed the population in unprecedented ways, particularly as each delay in lifting the arbitrary measures imposed on Taiz exacerbates civilian suffering and adds more victims to the long list of people who have died as a result of the siege’s direct and indirect consequences.
According to data from local Yemeni authorities in Taiz, the siege has resulted in a sharp deterioration in the humanitarian situation. The amount of water reaching the tanks of the Taiz Water and Sanitation Local Corporation prior to the siege was 6.12 million cubic metres per year, but decreased to 648,000 cubic metres after the siege started, resulting in a major water crisis.
According to those statistics, the closure measures increased food prices in Taiz by approximately 35% when compared to other Yemeni cities, and 31 schools closed, affecting the right to education of over 32,000 students. Furthermore, approximately half of the road system connecting Taiz to neighbouring cities and governorates has been damaged, doubling the cost of transporting people and goods to and from the city. Because of the dangerous mountain roads people are being forced to take, more than 370 civilians have died in traffic accidents.
The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, should work with all parties, particularly the Houthi group, to lift all restrictions imposed on Taiz, including the opening of all its entry, exit, and internal roads, and allow the unconditional entry of goods and humanitarian aid to the city.
Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor urges parties to the conflict to spare civilians from military and political conflict, abide by the rules of international humanitarian law, and rescind all measures that may exacerbate the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen.