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Atrocity Alert No. 81 (22 November 2017): Illegal Blockade of Starving Civilians in Yemen

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Illegal Blockade of Starving Civilians in Yemen

More than two weeks into the blockade imposed on Yemen by the Saudi Arabia-led international military coalition, millions of civilians are at growing risk of famine. With Yemen dependent on imports for 90 percent of its essential goods – including, food, clean water, medical supplies and fuel – and more than 20 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, the blockade drastically increases the threat to more than 7 million people already facing famine-like conditions.

On Monday, 20 November, the International Committee for the Red Cross warned that more than 2.5 million people in Yemen lack access to clean water, increasing the risk of water-borne diseases. Over 940,000 people in Yemen have been infected with cholera since April this year.

Blockading and deliberately depriving starving civilians of access to crucial food supplies constitutes a war crime under international law.

UN officials, including Secretary-General António Guterres, have pleaded with Saudi Arabia to lift the blockade, which was imposed after Houthi forces fired a ballistic missile towards Riyadh on 4 November.

Immediately before publication of Atrocity Alert, Saudi Arabia announced that the coalition would allow the reopening of Hodeidah and Sana’a ports to humanitarian aid on Thursday, 23 November. The UN Security Council - which has not passed a substantive resolution on Yemen in over two years - should now urge the Saudi-led coalition to adhere to this promise and fully reopen all Yemen’s ports to life-saving aid and trade.

400,000 Civilians Besieged and Bombed in Eastern Ghouta

Today Russia, Iran and Turkey are meeting in Sochi, Russia, to discuss a possible political settlement to the conflict in Syria. However, despite the agreement reached between the three states and the Syrian government to establish four “de-escalation zones” in opposition-held areas, the bombardment of civilians continues. Last week at least 60 people were killed in airstrikes on a market in Atarib, an opposition-held town in Aleppo governorate, while another 84 people were killed in airstrikes on the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta between 14-17 November.

Eastern Ghouta has been under siege for more than four years and the UN estimates approximately 400,000 civilians remain trapped in the area. The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) reported that one of its facilities in eastern Ghouta received at least 60 patients on 18 November who had possibly been exposed to toxic chemicals during airstrikes. Ghouta previously experienced a major chemical weapons attack in August 2013 when more than 1,400 civilians were killed by sarin gas.

The latest alleged chemical weapons attack took place during the same week that Russia vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions extending the mandate of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Joint Investigative Mechanism (OPCW-JIM). The OPCW-JIM, which was authorized to investigate all chemical weapons attacks in Syria, has now officially ceased its operations.

Despite last week’s vetoes, the OPCW should be permitted to investigate evidence of chemical weapons use in Ghouta. The guarantors of the “de-escalation zones” must also allow unimpeded humanitarian access to besieged populations. In accordance with international law, all parties to the conflict in Syria must also cease attacks on civilian populations.