January will ‘almost certainly’ shatter records for civilian casualties in Yemen

The United Nations

Violence in Yemen continues to escalate, raising casualties and spilling across the war-torn country’s borders, the Special Envoy for the country and the Humanitarian Coordinator warned on Tuesday.

In a joint statement, Hans Grundberg and David Gressley said they were alarmed by the situation and confirmed that January will “almost certainly” be a record-shattering month for civilian casualties in Yemen.

Mr. Grundberg and Mr. Gressley also reiterate the UN Secretary-General’s condemnation of air strikes carried out by the Saudi-led Coalition on 21 January against a prison facility in Sa’dah, where migrants were also held.

The airstrikes reportedly killed 91 detainees and injured 226, becoming the worst civilian-casualty incident in Yemen in three years.

Escalation

The Saudi-led coalition, supporting the internationally recognized Government, has been fighting Houthi militants who control much of the country, including the capital Sana’a, since 2015.

Over the past few weeks, air strikes and missile attacks have hit hospitals, telecommunication infrastructure, airports, a water facility and a school.

There has been an uptick in Houthi attacks against the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia that resulted in civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.

Humanitarian crisis

According to the Special Envoy and the Coordinator, the scale of the escalation is exacerbating an already severe humanitarian crisis, complicating efforts to provide relief, threatening regional security and undermining efforts to bring an end to the conflict.

In December, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned that it is running out of funds to continue to provide food assistance to 13 million people in the country.

Since the beginning of January,eight million Yemenis have been receiving reduced assistance.

“We remind the parties that being at war does not absolve them of their obligations under international humanitarian law, which strictly prohibits disproportionate attacks and requires that all feasible precautions be taken to avoid civilian harm”, the officials say.

Mr. Grundberg and Mr. Gressley also reiterate the importance of accountability for violations of international humanitarian law.

Negotiations

According to the two top officials, the UN has been in contact with all sides to explore options to achieve de-escalation. It has also begun an inclusive dialogue to reach a political settlement that ends the conflict.

“We urge all parties to engage with these efforts immediately and without preconditions”, Mr. Grundberg and Mr. Gressleyconclude, asking everyone to prioritize the needs and interests of the Yemeni people.

A classroom in Sa'ada, Yemen, was badly damaged in the recent conflict in April 2016. Photo: UNICEF/UN026956/Madhok
A classroom in Sa’ada, Yemen, was badly damaged in the recent conflict in April 2016. Photo: UNICEF/UN026956/Madhok

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