Saudi Coalition Airstrikes Target Civilian Factories in Yemen: Report
July 11, Beirut: Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes have unlawfully hit numerous factories, warehouses, and other civilian economic structures in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Monday. In the absence of credible and impartial investigations in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other coalition members should agree to an independent international inquiry into these and other allegedly unlawful attacks.
The 59-page report, “Bombing Businesses: Saudi Coalition Airstrikes on Yemen’s Civilian Economic Structures,” examines in detail 17 apparently unlawful airstrikes on 13 civilian economic sites, including factories, commercial warehouses, a farm, and two power facilities. These strikes killed 130 civilians and injured 171 more. Collectively, the facilities employed over 2,500 people; following the attacks, many of the factories ended their production and hundreds of workers lost their livelihoods. Further, with more than 20 million people in desperate need of humanitarian aid, the strikes on factories are contributing to the shortages of food, medicine, and other critical needs of Yemen’s civilians.
Taken together, the attacks on factories and other civilian economic structures raise serious concerns that the Saudi-led coalition has deliberately sought to inflict widespread damage to Yemen’s production capacity.
HRW interviewed victims and witnesses at the sites in the Sanaa and Hodaida governorates in March 2016, searched for possible military targets in the vicinity, and examined remnants of munitions found.
Until Saudi Arabia ceases unlawful strikes and either conducts investigations that meet international standards or agrees to an independent international inquiry, Saudi Arabia should be suspended from membership on the United Nations Human Rights Council. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any credible investigations by Saudi Arabia or other coalition members into these or other allegedly unlawful strikes, nor of any compensation for victims.
Each of the attacks appeared to violate international humanitarian law, or the laws of war. Some may amount to war crimes. The laws of war prohibit deliberate attacks on civilian objects, attacks that do not discriminate between military targets and civilian objects, and attacks that disproportionately harm civilian objects compared with the expected military gain. Civilian objects include factories, warehouses, and other commercial enterprises so long as they are not being used for military purposes or become a military objective. Attacks on civilian objects committed willfully – deliberately or recklessly – are war crimes.
Parties to the Yemen conflict declared a cessation of hostilities on April 10, and began peace talks in Kuwait later that month. Though the level of violence in the country diminished after the ceasefire formally went into effect, both airstrikes and fighting on the ground have continued. On May 25, a coalition airstrike hit a water bottling factory in Lahj, injuring two workers.
Negotiations to end the conflict continue. Arriving in Kuwait on June 26 to support peace talks, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that “the economy is in precarious condition,” pointing to “an alarming scarcity of basic food items” in Yemen. The airstrikes have compounded an already bleak situation in which more than 80 percent of Yemen’s population requires some form of assistance, Human Rights Watch said.
On May 27, the Saudi government issued a statement asserting that coalition forces “have fully complied with international humanitarian law and international human rights law in their military operations.” The statement noted that, “where claims about targeting of civilians [or] civilian facilities…are made, investigations are conducted by a separate and distinct investigation team established at Coalition Air Force [headquarters].” However, the government provided no public information to verify these claims, and Human Rights Watch has found no evidence to support them. Saudi officials did not respond to repeated requests for information regarding the intended target of airstrikes documented in this or prior reports, or the progress of any investigations.
The US also has a responsibility to investigate any strikes in which they took part. The US has been a party to the conflict since the first months of the fighting. In June 2015, a US military spokesperson stated that the US was helping the coalition with “intelligence support and intelligence sharing, targeting assistance, advisory support, and logistical support, to include aerial refueling with up to two tanker sorties a day.”
In March 2016, a US official stated, “The things we are doing, providing intelligence and precision guided munitions, those are things that prevent civilian casualties.” Human Rights Watch found remnants of US laser-guided or satellite-guided munitions used at three strike sites, two of which involved civilian casualties.
The United Kingdom also assisted the Saudi-led coalition by “providing technical support, precision-guided weapons and exchanging information with the Saudi Arabian armed forces,” the Defence Ministry said. Human Rights Watch found remnants of UK-manufactured guided munitions at two strike sites – including one munition produced in May 2015 after the start of the aerial campaign – and the remnants of a UK-manufactured cruise missile that killed or injured civilians at a third site.
HRW and other international and Yemeni groups have called for foreign governments to halt sales and transfers of all weapons and military-related equipment to parties to the conflict in Yemen if “there is a substantial risk of these arms being used…to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law.”
“The US and UK have largely deferred to the Saudis to investigate unlawful strikes despite little reason for confidence these investigations will be diligently carried out or the results made public,” Motaparthy said. “These governments are benefitting from billions in arms sales and even claim their support is helping Yemeni civilians, but have done nothing to back up those claims.”
The Oslo Times International News Network/HRW