Amid rising death toll in Yemen, UN urges humanitarian access, respect for international law

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Many Yemenis have fled cities for their home villages. © Almigdad Mojalli/IRIN

24 April 2015 – The United Nations human rights office said today that civilians are continuing to die in Yemen, with the total number killed between 26 March and 22 April now estimated at 551, including 31 women and at least 115 children.

“These are just the civilian casualties,” said Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). “The total number of people killed is considerably higher. Another 1,185 civilians have been injured, including 35 women and 67 children.”

Mr. Colville said that at least 64 public buildings were either partially or completely destroyed by fighting, adding that several airstrikes hit military and civilian positions in a number of cities, killing 58 civilians including seven children.

Mr. Colville pointed to specifically to an attack on a bridge by aircraft after the official end of the coalition’s ‘Operation Decisive Storm’ on 22 April, which killed 40 civilians, including seven children, and to an airstrike the previous day in the capital, Sana’a, which killed 20 civilians and injured 120 others, and damaged several UN offices, including the OHCHR in Yemen.

“Violence has persisted across southern governorates due to street battles between groups supporting members of the popular committees affiliated with the Houthis and local armed groups in Abyan, Dhale, Aden and Lahj,” said Mr. Colville. “In Abyan Governorate on 21 April, at least 14 civilians were killed and another 14 injured, reportedly due to indiscriminate shooting. We have reports of killings by sniper of a child in Dhale and four civilians emerging from a mosque in Aden.”

He also pointed to reports of arbitrary detention and “disturbing” reports about the humanitarian situation in various parts of the country, particularly relating to healthcare, and he urged all sides to ensure that international human rights and humanitarian laws are respected, and to ensure that all measures are taken to ensure civilians are protected.

“All sides must ensure that the humanitarian aid – that is so desperately needed – can reach people in Yemen,” Mr. Colville said.

Also briefing journalists in Geneva this morning was Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who referred to the airstrike that damaged UN offices in Sana’a, saying windows in the offices of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), OCHA and Department of Safety and Security (DSS) were shattered by explosions.

Elizabeth Brys, a Spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP) said the agency is continuing its work in Yemen, despite violence and security problems, though it had been limited in its operations, reaching a total of 19,471 conflict-affected people, including only 8,700 persons in Aden.

WFP aims to increase operations, she said, with a plan to provide emergency food assistance to 2.5 million conflict-affected people throughout the country between May and July, though the agency and its partners would face challenges, such as lack of fuel which affected transport and the ability of families to cook food.

The number of food insecure people had risen from 10.6 million to 12 million as a result of fighting, with food prices increasing and affecting vulnerable families most strongly. Ms. Brys called for space in which humanitarian operations could be conducted and WFP staff could work safely.

A spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO) said that approximately $750,000 was needed every month to provide sufficient fuel to cover 100 ambulances and major hospitals in affected governorates as well as mobile teams, and a spokesperson for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) gave new information on child casualties, saying at least 115 children had been killed and 172 maimed and adding that those figures were conservative.

The UNICEF spokesperson also confirmed that that at least 140 children had been recruited by armed groups in Yemen, 30 schools had been damaged or occupied by the warring parties and 23 hospitals had been attacked.

The children of Yemen, who were already vulnerable before fighting started, were even more so now and urgent actions were needed to end grave violations against children, including their recruitment and use by armed groups, and to meet obligations under international law.