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Saudi-Led Coalition and Houthis ‘Likely Committed War Crimes’ Using Starvation in Yemen

Report comes as the World Food Programme warns of ‘biggest famine the world has seen in modern history’

A Yemeni woman holds a malnourished child at a clinic in the war-ravaged western province of Hodeida (2021)

The Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis have likely committed war crimes in Yemen by using starvation as a method of warfare, a new report has found.

The World Food Programme has repeatedly warned that the “biggest famine the world has seen in modern history” is now looming in Yemen, where more than half the country’s population of 29 million is going hungry.

In a 275-page document, the Yemeni rights group Mwatana and the Hague-based Global Rights Compliance (GRC) organisation said that a “specific pattern” of attacks targeting water and food by both sides was contributing to that crisis.

The joint work documented hundreds of Gulf-led coalition airstrikes on water, fishing and farming facilities as well as fishermen during fighting with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

It also followed the obstruction of humanitarian relief by the Houthis whose “widespread and indiscriminate” use of landmines in civilian areas killed and maimed shepherds and their livestock, preventing farmers from accessing their fields and further contributing to the chronic food insecurity.

The report concluded that these actions likely amounted to war crimes and it urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court so the crimes could be investigated.

“[We] conclude that members of the Saudi/UAE-led coalition and Ansar Allah [the Houthis] used starvation as a method of warfare.”

“Their conduct severely impeded civilians’ access to food and water, and they acted in spite of the widespread knowledge of the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen, where people, including children, were dying from starvation,” the report read.

“Members of the Saudi/UAE-led coalition and Ansar Allah were aware of the virtual certainty that, following their conduct, starvation would occur in the ordinary course of events – that is, without humanitarian intervention – or intended to use starvation as a method of warfare.”

Houthi-allied tribesmen hold weapons as they visit the graves of late Houthis a day after a missile attack on a military base in southern Yemen (EPA) 2021

Yemen has been in the grip of civil war since 2014, when the Houthis took control of swathes of the country, forcing the internationally recognised government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi into exile. The following year, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states formed a coalition and launched a bombing campaign to reinstate their ally President Hadi.

Seven years on there is little hope of an end to the conflict that has killed more than 130,000 people and sparked the world’s largest humanitarian crisis in terms of numbers of people affected.

In February, the UN warned that five million people were “just one step away from famine”.

Spokespeople for the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis did not answer to requests for comment but both sides have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the past and allegations of war crimes.

The report focused on attacks and other conduct by the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis in the provinces of Hajjah, Saada, Hodeida and Taiz between 2015 and 2021 that affected access to food and water.

Saudi-backed government troops repel a Houthi rebel offensive on oil-rich Marib, some 120km east of Yemen’s rebel-held capital Sana’a, in February. (AFP/Getty)

The Mwatana rights group said it documented 579 airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition up until August 2021 that killed and injured thousands of civilians and damaged and destroyed civilian property in 19 of Yemen’s 22 provinces. Ninety of these airstrikes hit farms, livestock, agricultural land, tools and equipment, food stores, and vehicles since 2015, it said.

The report accused the Houthis of “arresting and intimidating humanitarian workers, blocking aid convoys and illegally seizing the property of humanitarian organisations and workers”. Those actions forced the UN food agency in 2019 and 2020 to suspend its operations in Houthi-held areas, affecting some 850,000 people.


(c) 2021 The Independent

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