Press briefing notes on Yemen

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 28 January 2022

On 18 January, the UN Human Rights Office warned about the escalating conflict in Yemen and its devastating impact on civilians. On 21 January, three airstrikes in quick succession by the Saudi-led Coalition hit a detention facility run by Ansar Allah (also known as ‘Houthis’) in the northern city of Sa’ada, causing dozens of deaths.

Colleagues from our Yemen office were in Sa’ada this week as part of an inter-agency mission. The information they have collected paints a chaotic and desperate picture after the remand prison, which was believed to be holding 1,300 pre-trial detainees as well as 700 migrants, was struck.  
We are working to verify the civilian casualties but so far, we understand that some 91 detainees were killed, many when the upper floor of one building collapsed, and 236 others were injured. The most severely injured were taken to Al Jomhori Hospital in the city, which colleagues said was struggling to deal with the number of patients in need of urgent and life-saving treatment.   

The Saudi-led Coalition reiterated this morning that it is investigating the airstrikes. We urge them to ensure that the investigation is in line with international standards and is transparent, independent and impartial, to establish why the prison was hit, to ensure individual accountability for any breaches of international humanitarian law, and to identify measures and procedures required to prevent such incidents in the future. During our recent visit, we saw no signs indicating that this site, formerly a barracks, continues to have a military function. In light of this, we have asked the coalition to share their information with us. 

With regard to the escalating conflict, in 2021, the UN recorded just under 600 airstrikes a month by the Saudi-led Coalition across Yemen. Also in 2021, there were 340 missile and drone attacks by Ansar Allah on the territory of Saudi Arabia.

So far this year up to 26 January, there have been 1,403 coalition airstrikes, and 39 cross-border attacks by Ansar Allah, most on Saudi Arabia but some on UAE.

As the fighting intensifies throughout Yemen, we remind parties to the conflict that international humanitarian law must be scrupulously respected during theconduct of hostilities. This includes taking all feasible measures to verify that targets are indeed military objectives at the time they intend to strike.

Violence also continues to be reported in the strategic city of Marib and the adjacent Governorate of Shabwa, as Yemeni Government forces carry out a major counter-offensive against Ansar Allah.  Among incidents this week, Ansar Allah forces launched a missile on Wednesday evening, hitting a multi-lane road across from a military camp in Marib, causing a number of casualties among a crowded group of soldiers who were gathered at the roadside at the time. The attack also caused casualties amongst civilians who were on the road at the time. So far, we have verified that three civilians were killed and nine others injured.

On a further note, we renew our demand that Ansar Allah immediately release two UN staff members who work for the UN Human Rights Office and UNESCO respectively. Our colleagues have been unacceptably detained since early November in Sana’a without any information provided as to the grounds or legal basis for their detention, or any communication with their families. We also recall the privileges and immunities accorded to staff of the UN system under international law, which are essential to the proper discharge of their official functions.