UN human rights chief urges investigation into Yemeni air-strikes that killed civilians

GENEVA (18 September 2009) -- The High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Friday she is deeply disturbed by eyewitness reports of a 16 September air attack by Yemeni warplanes against a makeshift camp, that killed dozens of people displaced by fighting between the government and Al Houthi rebels, and urged the government to launch an investigation and take immediate action to avoid a repetition.

"It was the second deadly air-strike resulting in civilian deaths in the space of three days," Pillay said. "This is a deeply disturbing development in a conflict that was already troubling in terms of its impact on civilians. I would like to remind Yemen's government and armed forces of their obligation to protect civilians caught up in fighting and to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law. The government should launch a full-fledged investigation into what went wrong, and take immediate measures to try to ensure we do not see a further avoidable tragedy of this nature."

The situation in northern Yemen has deteriorated rapidly since 12 August, when the latest of six rounds of serious fighting between the al-Houthi rebels and the government since 2004 broke out.

The High Commissioner also raised other human rights concerns relating to the civilians caught up in the fighting in Yemen, including access to food, water, and medicines, the protection of aid workers trying to deliver humanitarian assistance, the treatment of captured fighters, access to hospitals for the wounded, as well as greater freedom for the press to cover the conflict.

"It seems that very high numbers of civilians are being directly affected by the air-strikes and ground fighting," she said. "This type of situation is particularly devastating for women and children, and I urge both sides to make a greater effort to allow civilians to escape to safety, and ensure they receive proper assistance."