Last Thursday, 22 children and four women in the Ad Durayhimi district of war-stricken Yemen lost their lives in their attempt to flee the fighting. Another four children were killed that same day from an additional airstrike. The United Nations has confirmed that the attacks were Saudi-led in this three-year long war officially termed the ‘world’s worst humanitarian crisis.’
Two major Saudi-led airstrikes have killed dozens of Yemeni civilians in just the last two weeks. At least 51 people, most of whom were children, were killed on August 9th in Saada governorate in Yemen’s north when a bus in the busy marketplace was hit by airstrikes. Henrietta Fore, the Executive Director of UNICEF, had expressed her hope that the Saada attack would “be a turning point in the conflict.”
Sadly, last Thursday’s airstrikes demonstrated that this was not the case. Neither did it foster faith in the Saudi coalition’s claims that they endeavour to avoid civilians in their attacks. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for “an impartial, independent and prompt investigation” into the recent attack on civilians. The Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, echoed Mr. Guterres’ request and expressed his condemnation of the coalition’s airstrikes on civilians – a far too familiar tale.
A recently released Human Rights Watch report also accused Saudi Arabia, among others, of failing to conduct proper investigations into war crimes and not addressing the death of innocent civilians in the Yemen conflict. The United States, an ally of the Saudi-backed coalition and a main provider of their weapons, has also been concerned by the number of civilian casualties resulting from coalition airstrikes. On August 20th, President Donald Trump signed a defense policy bill including a provision that Saudi-Arabia and the United Arab Emirates take measures to prevent civilian deaths in Yemen.
The lack of regard shown by coalition forces for their own civilians is certainly alarming and does not particularly inspire hope for the outcome of this war. A prospective government should be a body of reason and justice. It should strive for the semblance of some functionality and order, not endangering the lives of the people it claims to represent. It is reassuring to see that the international response to the suffering of the Yemeni people has prompted the implementation of some structures to curtail the damage of this brutal feud, such as the United States’ provisions on the recent defense policy bill, but to what extent will these be upheld? And is this enough to simply ask that civilian lives try to be spared?
It’s Yemen’s civilians who have been dealt the full blow from this hostile government takeover and the resulting warfare. Over 10,000 people have been killed because of it. More attacks like these threaten the potential for progress to be made in the upcoming peace negotiations scheduled to start on September 6th between Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government, who have blamed each other for the recent airstrikes. Given the devastating effects of this ongoing war, and the death toll of innocent people, a ceasefire must be called, at least until the conclusion of the peace negotiations in Geneva this September.