On the morning of August 9, the Saudi-UAE military alliance led an air strike targeting Houthi rebels in the north-western city of Yemen, Sa’dah. The air strike hit a school bus killing at least 26 children and wounding 19, all under the age of 15 years according to the local ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) supported hospital. Officials on the ground reported a total of 50 casualties and 77 people to have been injured.
Since the conflict between pro-government forces and Houthi rebels escalated in 2015, the UN Children’s Fund estimates 2,400 children to have been killed and 3,600 injured in Yemen.The international community condemned the attack including the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres emphasizing “that all parties must take constant care to spare civilians and civilian objects in the conduct of military operations.” The attacks have been widely criticized to be an effort to isolate the vulnerable population as the remote and primitive city of Sa’dah is not equipped to treat a large number of injuries. Lise Grande, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen, stated in an OCHA report that “parties to the conflict are obliged to do everything possible to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure” and that this is not a voluntary commitment, it is a mandate on all those engaged in conflict.
In the first two weeks of August alone, official reports estimate over 400 Yemenis lost their lives. The issue that inhibits any consequence for military attacks which harm civilians is the refusal to take responsibility and acknowledge any wrongdoing by those implicated. This was evident days after the attack as the Saudi-UAE alliance issued a statement saying the attacks on Sa’dah had targeted missile launchers and that the air strikes conformed to international and humanitarian laws. However, after growing pressure from the international community, including its allies, the Saudi-led coalition admitted on September 1 that the attack was unjustified and those held accountable for the error would be punished.The coalition also said that it would cooperate with the Yemeni government to compensate victims and would continue to review its rules of engagement to prevent the repeat of similar incidents.
The long-standing military tactic which targets civilian life and essential infrastructure has been periodically condemned by the international community. However, when a bus carrying children is among the “collateral damage,” there must be resilient demand for action and accountability. In many areas of conflict, these rules are being extensively neglected and the disregard for civilian life is seen to be systematically widespread.
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