In late 2014 Houthi-Saleh rebels took control of the capital and much of the functions and institutions of government, precipitating the exile of President Hadi and his government in March 2015. The ensuing conflict continued as of year’s end. The UN-led peace process included several attempts to maintain a cessation of hostilities at various intervals throughout the year, but little progress was made. Throughout the year the Saudi-led coalition also continued military operations against Houthi-Saleh rebels, although a cessation of hostilities coinciding with UN-led peace talks in Kuwait largely held between April and August. The cessation of hostilities broke down after the suspension of the talks in August, and all sides resumed military operations. During the year the United Arab Emirates (UAE) continued an active military role in Yemen as a part of the Saudi-led coalition, including conducting ground operations against AQAP in Mukalla.
The Hadi-led government re-established a presence in Aden as well as some other areas late in the year. Prime Minister Ahmed Bin Dagher and part of the cabinet remained in Aden as of October, with some of the cabinet also in Marib; President Hadi remained primarily in Aden since late in the year.
Throughout the year clashes occurred as the parties expanded control over, lost, and regained territory. The military’s loyalty was divided among numerous local actors. Armed clashes continued and expanded to several areas of the country among Houthi-Saleh rebels, supporters of both the Islah Party (Sunni Islamist) and the Rashad Party (Salafi), armed separatists affiliated with the southern separatist movement Hirak tribal forces, progovernment resistance forces, and some Saudi-led coalition ground forces, with participation by elements of the Hadi-led government’s armed forces. Terrorist groups, including AQAP and Da’esh, carried out many deadly attacks against government representatives and installations, Houthi combatants, members of Hirak, and other actors accused of behavior violating sharia law.
Yemeni and international observers criticized all parties to the conflict for civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure resulting from shelling and airstrikes.
As a result of the fighting, the humanitarian situation in the country deteriorated significantly, with 14.1 million food insecure persons and a reported 69 percent of the country’s population requiring humanitarian assistance by the end of the year, according to the United Nations. In January the United Nations reported that 500,000 children face life-threatening malnutrition. According to the World Bank, “chronic drug shortages, unpaid salaries, and conflict-related destruction restricted around 14 million Yemenis, including 8.3 million children, from accessing health-care services.”
Killings: Civilians died from Saudi-led coalition airstrikes and reportedly indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas. While information on civilian casualties was incomplete, especially with the closure of many health facilities during the year due to insecurity and the lack of supplies, NGOs, media outlets, and humanitarian and international organizations reported on what they characterized as disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by all parties to the continuing conflict.
The OHCHR estimated that, between March 2015 and August 23, some 3,799 civilians were killed and 6,711 injured as a result of the conflict, with more than three million displaced. The OHCHR further estimated that approximately one-third of these deaths were attributable to Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, with civilian casualties also resulting from shelling by Houthi-Saleh rebels and their affiliated popular committees. Other deaths resulted from attacks and killings by armed groups, including Al Qaeda and Da’esh.
According to the government’s NCIAVHR, Houthi rebels fired two projectiles in June 2015 that struck a college dorm building and a residential area in Al Sha’b, killing six civilians and injuring 38 others.
Between June 3 and 8, rocket and mortar attacks originating from an area of Ta’iz controlled by the popular committees and forces loyal to Saleh killed 18 civilians and injured 68 others, according to OHCHR reports.
Houthi militias and forces allied with Saleh fired long-range missiles into or towards Saudi Arabia nearly 30 times between January 1 and September 21, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies and media reports. Saudi media reported that more than 370 Saudi civilians were killed along the Saudi-Yemen border since March 2015.
The Saudi-led coalition airstrikes resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure on multiple occasions. The United Nations and NGOs, including HRW and AI, voiced concerns regarding Saudi-led coalition activities, claiming some coalition airstrikes were disproportionate or indiscriminate and appeared not to sufficiently minimize collateral impact on civilians. Coalition sources sometimes reported that damage in a given explosive incident resulted not from airstrikes but from shelling by Houthi-Saleh rebel forces; there were often contrary claims by pro-Houthi media. Due to continuing fighting, there was limited opportunity for post-incident forensic investigations.
On January 24, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike destroyed nine houses and killed a judge and seven members of his family in the Nahdah neighborhood outside Sana’a, according to OHCHR reports.
During the year that ended on June 30, the OHCHR documented five attacks on markets by the Saudi-led coalition. On March 15, Saudi-led coalition airstrikes reportedly killed 107 civilians, injured 37, and destroyed 16 shops in a market in Mustaba District of Hajjah Governorate.
On August 20, the OHCHR reported that a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in a residential area near the residence of Saleh in Ta’iz killed 53 civilians, including 28 children, and injured 11 others.
On October 8, media and human rights organizations reported that a Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit a crowded funeral hall in Sana’a, killing at least 140 persons and wounding more than 500 others, including children.
The NCIAVHR investigated and documented some incidents of airstrikes and shelling in its August report, which contained general recommendations on civilian protection, the nonuse of residential areas as bases and launch points for military operations, and the nonuse of land mines. The NCIAVHR’s report did not lead to any prosecutions.
The Saudi-led coalition’s JIAT, based in Riyadh and consisting of 14 military and civilian members from coalition member states, investigated some incidents of airstrikes that reportedly resulted in civilian casualties and claims by international organizations that humanitarian aid convoys and infrastructure were targeted by the coalition. On December 7, JIAT released summaries of reports of five incidents, including the August 15 attack against a Doctors without Borders (MSF) facility in the Abs District of Hajjah Governorate. In August JIAT released a press statement with summary findings of eight investigations. JIAT also issued a press statement on its initial investigation of the October 8 funeral-hall airstrike, claiming that a Yemeni source passed the coalition information that inaccurately reported the funeral hall was a military target. JIAT recommended that action be taken against those who caused the incident. It also recommended that the coalition review its rules of engagement and that families of the victims receive compensation. In addition, JIAT recommended in two separate incidents an investigation into potential violations of the rules of engagement and that individuals involved in two other incidents be held accountable. JIAT’s investigations did not lead to any prosecutions as of year’s end.
Abductions: In its August report, the OHCHR stated that it verified 491 cases of abduction and “deprivation of liberty” since July 2015. Of these, 89 percent were allegedly committed by the Popular Committees, 6 percent by AQAP affiliates, and 5 percent by the Popular Resistance Committees. The OHCHR reported that, as of March 24, some 249 individuals, including 18 journalists, were reportedly detained without cause in detention facilities throughout the country. Tribal groups were also responsible for kidnappings for ransom, as were other nonstate actors, such as AQAP (see section 1.b.).
On October 30, three Saudi-led coalition airstrikes damaged a Houthi-held detention facility and military base in Hudaydah, reportedly killing 63 persons, many of whom were detained by Houthi rebels, according to HRW.
Local press reports and activists have also alleged that coalition and local Yemeni forces have abducted, arbitrarily detained, and mistreated individuals, including those without apparent ties to terrorist organizations, as part of their counterterrorism efforts in the Mukalla area.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: The NCIAVHR claimed to have received 132 reports of torture since 2015 (see section 1.c.).
Media and NGOs reported that Houthi-Saleh forces used land mines in civilian areas in the governorates of Abyan, Aden, Marib, Lahij, and Ta’iz. On August 9, an antivehicle mine killed 11 civilians in Ta’iz, according to HRW. HRW reported that land mines killed at least 18 and wounded more than 39 persons in Ta’iz between May 2015 and April 2016. In May AI reported several incidents in which children were injured or killed playing with unexploded ordinance that they mistook for toys.
In August the Yemen Executive Mine Action Center told HRW that its staff had cleared 32 antipersonnel mines and 25 antivehicle mines in Ta’iz since March. The Ta’iz National Association for Demining began work in early March and cleared land mines from at least 16 locations and destroyed 24 improvised explosive devices between March and April. The Hadi-led government and the Saudi-led coalition brought in an antimine team from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to clear land mines.
Child Soldiers: Although law and government policy expressly forbid the practice, children under the age of 18 directly participated in armed conflict for government, tribal, and militant forces, primarily as guards and couriers. Nearly one-third of the combatants in the country were younger than 18, by some estimates. The lack of a consistent system for birth registration compounded difficulties in proving age, which at times contributed to the recruitment of minors into the military. During the year the Houthis and other armed groups, including tribal and Islamist militias and AQAP, increased their recruitment, training, and deployment of children as participants in the conflict. In April the United Nations reported 762 verified cases of recruitment of boy soldiers, with 72 percent of incidents attributed to Houthi-Saleh rebel forces, 15 percent to the Popular Committees, and 9 percent to AQAP.
Tribes, including some armed and financed by the government to fight alongside the regular army, used underage recruits in combat zones, according to reports by international NGOs such as Save the Children. Houthi-Saleh rebels routinely used children to operate checkpoints and search vehicles. Combatants reportedly involved married boys between the ages 12 and 15 in armed conflicts in the northern tribal areas. Tribal custom considers married boys as adults who owe allegiance to the tribe. As a result, according to international and local human rights NGOs, half of tribal fighters were youths under 18. Other observers noted that tribes rarely placed boys in harm’s way but used them as guards rather than fighters.
The UN Security Council Panel of Experts on Yemen reported in January that young men and child combatants of all local fighting groups in Aden were reportedly subject to rape upon capture.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuses: There were reports of restrictions on the free passage of relief supplies and of humanitarian organizations’ access to those individuals most in need perpetrated by all sides in the conflict. Supply interruptions made it difficult for aid agencies to support vulnerable populations. Increasing food insecurity, fuel shortages, damage to local infrastructure, and lack of access for humanitarian organizations to vulnerable populations contributed to the deteriorating humanitarian situation. Some media outlets reported that the government, the coalition, or both delayed or denied clearance permits for humanitarian and commercial aid shipments bound for rebel-held Red Sea ports.
Other sources reported that the Houthi-Saleh militias’ forceful takeover and misadministration of government institutions led to dire economic consequences--the nonpayment of workers’ wages; unmaintained and unrepaired gantry cranes at ports where aid materiel was offloaded; and allegations of widespread corruption, including at checkpoints controlled by Houthi-Saleh militias--which severely impacted the distribution of food aid and exacerbated food insecurity. In April the United Nations reported 16 verified incidents of denial of humanitarian access, with 11 incidents attributed to Houthi forces.
Militias held trucks containing food, medical supplies, and aid equipment at checkpoints and prevented them from entering major cities. The humanitarian situation in the Ta’iz Governorate worsened as Houthi-affiliated forces prevented food, medical supplies, and fuel from entering the city. Without fuel to run generators, the State Water Foundation could not function, putting hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk of illness due to disruption to water and sanitation facilities.
According to an HRW report published in July, coalition airstrikes damaged many factories and structures used for humanitarian and economic purposes during the year. HRW reported that, on January 6, an airstrike damaged a hangar containing food products, including rice and sugar, at Hudaydah Port; on February 2 and 5, two airstrikes on a cement factory in Amran reportedly killed 15 civilians and damaged buildings around the factory; and, on August 11 and 12, airstrikes destroyed Aldarejh Bridge, used by the World Food Program to transport approximately 90 percent of its food deliveries for the northern governorates, forcing it to use alternate supply routes.
There were reports of attacks on health-care facilities. The UN Secretary-General’s report, Children and Armed Conflict Report, released in April reported 59 verified incidents of attacks on 34 hospitals in 2015, with some facilities attacked multiple times, especially in Aden and Ta’iz. The majority of repeated attacks were attributed to Houthi rebels. According to the report, the Saudi-led coalition destroyed 15 health facilities in the governorate of Sa’ada. On August 15, a coalition airstrike destroyed a MSF hospital in Hajjah governorate, which MSF reported killed 19 persons, including one MSF staff member, and injured 24 individuals. Later that month, MSF announced it would evacuate its staff from six hospitals in northern Yemen because it could not receive assurances that its hospitals would not be bombed again.
There were reports of deliberate attacks on health-care workers. In January the UN Security Council Panel of Experts reported at least 29 documented attacks on hospitals by all sides of the conflict, one attack on an ambulance, and nine cases in which humanitarian organizations and aid agencies were targets between March 26 and December 20, 2015.
There were reports of use of civilians to shield combatants. Houthi-Saleh forces reportedly used captives as human shields at military encampments and ammunition depots under threat of Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, extracted forced pledges and confessions, and demanded ransoms from family members. In January the UN Security Council Panel of Experts on Yemen identified reports of Houthi-Saleh forces using migrants and refugees as human shields in unused buildings in Aden that were previously targeted by airstrikes or where weapons caches were claimed to be stored. HRW claimed that Houthi militants had stationed armed men in the compound of the Noor Center for the Care and Rehabilitation of the Blind in Sana’a, which was damaged by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike that injured three civilians on January 5.