The Ongoing Conflict in Yemen: Impunity and Collective Punishment
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, condemned the recent attack by the Saudi-led coalition in Sa’ada, Yemen. The Secretary-General reminded all parties to the conflict that attacks on civilians were prohibited by international humanitarian law and called for prompt, effective and transparent investigations into these incidents to ensure accountability.
In a conflict that has lasted for more than six years, seen over 100,000 deaths, 4 million displaced and 25 million in need of humanitarian assistance, the words of the UN Secretary-General are likely to be meaningless.
What is needed is action, not words of regret or sadness. What is needed is a commitment to justice, not endless inquiries that result in no action. What is needed is accountability, not collective punishment and the entrenchment of impunity.
Since the Saudi-led coalition joined the conflict in 2015, civilians have been subjected to widespread and indiscriminate attacks, leading to the ‘world’s worst humanitarian crisis’. There have been repeated and well-documented incidents of aerial bombardment, deliberate and indiscriminate targeting of civilians and civilian neighbourhoods, targeting of protected sites such as schools and hospitals, and the use of prohibited weapons. Not a single person has been held accountable and the conflict rages on.
The urgent need to hold perpetrators accountable has been Guernica 37’s primary objective in its quest for truth, justice and accountability. On 30 August 2021, we submitted an Article 15 Communication to the ICC Prosecutor calling for the opening of a preliminary examination into War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity committed in the Republic of Yemen on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition. This Communication sets out evidence in relation a number of attacks including an attack on a school bus in August 2018; a double missile attack launched in October 2016 at a funeral gathering; and the torture and murder of civilians in Aden by mercenaries believed to be under the command of a U.S. private military company contracted to the UAE.
On 21 October 2021, we submitted a legal complaint with the War Crimes Unit of the Metropolitan Police Service Counter-Terrorism Command (SO15) to open a formal investigation into 22 leading military and political figures in the Saudi-led coalition. Neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE are parties to the ICC, therefore Guernica 37 is relying on the principle of universal jurisdiction in order to hold those perpetrators accountable.
Guernica 37 is deeply concerned by the incidents that occurred on 21 January 2022. A Saudi-led airstrike targeted a detention centre holding migrants in the city of Sa’ada, where at least 70 people are believed to have been killed and more than 130 injured. A further airstrike hit a telecommunications building in the strategic port of Hodeidah, which caused a nationwide internet outage. According to Save the Children, at least three children were killed in that attack whilst playing on a football field. Needless to say, this tragic event appears to be a retaliatory response by for the recent attack that is believed to have been carried out Houthi rebels that deployed cruise and ballistic missiles, as well as drones on Abu Dhabi. Both sets of attacks must be condemned in the strongest terms. The attack on Abu Dhabi resulted in three civilian deaths whereas the attack in the city of Sa’ada resulted in 70 civilian deaths. However, the principal difference is that the Saudi-led airstrikes are believed to have been carried out with the intention of causing significant loss of life on a non-military target, completely disregarding the jus in bello principles, such as distinction, proportionality and unnecessary suffering. The Coalition has sought to justify the attacks claiming that they were “military targets” whereas the Houthi Government accused the Saudi-led coalition of deliberating targeting civilians.
This internet shutdown is deeply problematic and such collective punishment against the Yemeni people will impact upon what is already fractured communication systems necessary to ensure humanitarian assistance and aid to those most in need. It will also impede the ability of groups on the ground tracking and documenting the airstrikes for future accountability mechanisms. It may constitute a convenient warfare strategy at such a critical time. Further, this presents a grave threat to the safety of Yemeni civilians who are effectively being bereft of their communication tools essential to their ability to share information and contact emergency services.
Guernica 37 will continue to pursue justice for these deplorable acts committed by all parties to the conflict who callously persist in disregarding international humanitarian law and international human rights law in order to fulfil their self-serving interest above human life.