The United Nations’s delegate in Yemen condemned an airstrike at a prison run by Houthi rebels, one that could be considered the deadliest done this year by the Saudi-UAE coalition, according to the Yemen Data Project and Al Jazeera.
Martin Griffiths, who was elected as the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General in 2018, released a statement on Sunday calling for some form of accountability in these continuously devastating airstrikes. “The human cost of this war is unbearable,” Griffiths said in an official statement. “Yemenis deserve a peaceful future.”
An airstrike led by a Saudi-UAE coalition working for the Hadi government hit a former community college compound outside of Dhamar city where an estimated 170 prisoners were held in a make-shift detention center there, according to the Envoy’s statement.
This strike in Dhamar is not the first airstrike that has gotten the UN and other human rights groups’ attention. According to an article by CNN, Yemen’s government is accusing the UAE of launching airstrikes that have resulted in the deaths of dozens of its troops in both Aden and the neighboring Abyan province. Al Jazeera reports that this coalition has faced a lot of international criticism for air strikes that have targeted civilian buildings like schools and hospitals, killing thousands.
The conflict in Yemen began in 2011 after an Arab Spring uprising led to a political transition from the authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, BBC reports. The new President Hadi was left with an unstable Yemen that was suffering from jihadist attacks, a southern separatist movement, and intergovernmental corruption and disloyal security personnel.
The Houthi movement, a largely Sunni Muslim led movement that has fought for and against the previous Saleh regime, saw an ample opportunity within the Hadi government’s weaknesses and took control of the northern Saada province; it has since continued in an attempt to take the whole country, forcing Hadi into exile in 2015, BBC reports.
Because of fear that the Houthi movement was being militarily aided by regional Shia power in Iran, Saudi Arabia and other mostly Sunni Arab states formed a coalition and commenced an airstrike campaign in hopes of bringing the Hadi government back to power, according to BBC. The conflict has since become more complex, with al-Qaeda and ISIS taking advantage of the instability, the emergence of a southern separatist movement who has been playing both sides of the conflict, and now an uncertain future for Hadi’s regional allies in Saudi-Arabi and especially the UAE—a country with the strongest anti-terrorist capabilities in the region (having been trained extensively by the US military), according to a CNN report. According to CNN, UAE forces are considering withdrawing from Yemen completely.
BBC has called the situation in Yemen “the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster.” According to data from the UN, more than 7,000 civilians have been killed and more than 11,000 have been injured since the fighting began in March 2015. A striking 65% of those deaths have been attributed to Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, with other international organizations estimating these numbers to be much higher. Non-military related deaths with direct correlation to the conflict have been largely due to malnutrition, food insecurity, disease, and overall poor health due to a failure of the unstable Yemeni government to provide services like healthcare, and due to many citizens (BBC has estimated 3.3 million) having been displaced from their homes. On top of the bloodshed, displacement, and food insecurity, BBC has reported the “largest cholera outbreak ever recorded.”
Amidst the most recent coalition airstrike in Dhamar this last Sunday, motivation for this attack is largely ambiguous. Al Jazeera reports that the coalition stated on Monday that they were unaware of the detention of prisoners at the compound, and blame the Houthis for making this location—a dangerous location targeted in the past—the site for prisoners. Al Jazeera reports that the coalition spokesperson Turki al-Maliki told a press conference that the compound was thought to have been used as a weapon store by the rebels and explained that the facility was not on the “no strike list.” A Houthi official rejected claims that the compound was used to store weapons and told Al Jazeera that the coordinates were clearly shared with the Red Cross. However, human rights groups and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch condemn the Houthi rebels not only for putting prisoners in such a vulnerable position, but for claims that Houthi prisons are tortuous and inhumane.
This confusion as to who is to blame comes as the death toll reaches close to 100 persons, and teams continue to search the rubble for bodies. Though the UN is calling for accountability for the deaths of those prisoners not even involved in the conflict, it is clear that in the Yemeni conflict—one that involves different nations, regions, and sub-groups with different motivations and affiliations—accountability is far from black and white. This most recent airstrike is only one of many that has resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians and defenseless prisoners, and it seems that all involved parties are pointing the finger at the other and perhaps view these tragic deaths as just the cruel and inevitable cost of war.
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