An airstrike by the Saudi Arabian military killed at least 22 Civilians in a market near the fishing town of Khoukha on Friday, March 10th. According to Hashim Azazi, deputy governor of Hodeidah province, where the airstrike occurred, “All of those killed were civilians, none were holding weapons.”
Rescue workers dispatched to the remains of the market recovered a number of bodies, some of which were burnt beyond recognition. According to the state government, emergency workers were delayed by the threat of Saudi jets, which continued flying over the site of the bombing, spreading fear among locals and stalling the Yemeni’s attempted rescue mission.
Another attack in Hodeidah on Friday wounded 8 civilians. These attacks are just the latest in a long line of airstrikes by the U.S.-supported, Saudi-led coalition since Yemen’s civil war began in March of 2015. In recent weeks, fighting in Yemen’s western provinces has escalated, and it is estimated that 50,000 civilians have been displaced in the last six weeks alone. Fighting between Houthis and Saudi-backed forces has blocked a number of main roads, making it impossible for humanitarian organizations to access certain areas, and exacerbating the chaos brought on by Yemen’s civil war.
Friday’s market bombing has become characteristic of a broader refusal by Saudi Arabia to distinguish between civilians and combatants in its attack on Yemen. An estimated 10,000 civilians have been killed so far in bombing campaigns that have targeted schools, funerals, and other public places. Though Saudi Arabia agreed to refrain from targeting “no strike zones” dictated by the U.S., this agreement has routinely been violated, and U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in the form of military aid and mid-air refuelling technology has largely continued.
Friday’s news acts as another reminder of the morally hazardous nature of agreements signed by the Canadian, British, and American governments, which will be instrumental in providing the Saudi Arabian government with high-tech weaponry needed to continue the war in Yemen. Former President Obama’s surprise halting of a large shipment of smart bombs in December of last year raised hopes for responsibility, but at the dawn of the Trump Administration, the future of America’s role in Yemen is unclear.
While the particular brutality inflicted on pro-Houthi forces, and civilians in Houthi-controlled areas is noteworthy, abuses have occurred on both sides. Since they took Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September 2014, the Houthis have been accused of responsibility or complicity in the detaining and disappearance of many of their perceived political opponents. The rebels have also fired indiscriminately into southern Saudi Arabia, and areas in Yemen beyond their control, killing nearly 500 civilians between 2015 and 2016. Therefore, Houthi forces have shown themselves to be capable of committing similar atrocities, though the scale of these actions are restrained by their more limited military strength.
The direct targeting of civilians is classified as a war crime, and consequently, international condemnation of violence in Yemen has been widespread.
Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director for Human Rights Watch remarked, “None of the forces in Yemen’s conflict seem to fear being held to account for violating the laws of war.”
On August 25th of 2016, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called on the international community to create an independent body for the purpose of investigating human rights in Yemen. A UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) report also claimed that at least 7.6 million people were currently suffering malnutrition as a result of the conflict in Yemen.
Ultimately, events like Friday’s bombing are a reminder of the Western-sanctioned brutality that has characterized Yemen’s civil war. Both sides must be held accountable for the reckless cruelty of their actions. Similarly, Western civilians should recognize their own complicity in perpetuating these wars, and hold their governments accountable.