Yemen: Houthi-Saleh forces using landmines [EN/AR]
Cease Use of Banned Weapons; Ensure Clearance, Victim Assistance
(Beirut, April 20, 2017) – The Houthi-Saleh forces’ use of banned antipersonnel landmines in Yemen has caused numerous civilian casualties and hindered the safe return of civilians displaced by fighting, Human Rights Watch said today. The Houthis and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh should immediately cease using these weapons and observe the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which Yemen ratified in 1998.
Houthi-Saleh forces have used landmines in at least six governorates since the Saudi Arabia-led coalition began military operations in support of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi in March 2015. Mines appear to have killed and maimed hundreds of civilians and disrupted civilian life in affected areas. Landmines continue to pose a threat to civilians long after a conflict ends.
“Houthi-Saleh forces have been flouting the landmine ban at the expense of Yemeni civilians,” Steve Goose, director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch, said. “Yemen prohibited antipersonnel mines nearly two decades ago and no authorities should tolerate their use.”
Human Rights Watch documented 10 incidents in which landmines killed or wounded people in Sanaa, Marib, Aden, or Taizz governorates.
Sanaa Governorate Houthi-Saleh forces control most of Sanaa governorate. The eastern Nihm district, on the border of Marib governorate, has been one of the conflict’s static front lines. Brig. Gen. Thabet, who heads demining efforts in Marib and nearby areas under Hadi government control, said that his team began demining efforts in Nihm in March 2016, gradually expanding their operations as Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew from different areas.
January 22 and 23, 2017, Nihm District
In January, Thabet’s demining team conducted clearance operations in Nihm district, Sanaa, in an area from which Houthi-Saleh forces had only recently withdrawn. On January 22, a team member, Muhammad Abo A’lba, stepped on a landmine and was killed. The next day, his colleague, Abo Mursi, stepped on an antipersonnel landmine and lost both his legs. The area was not known to be mined prior to the current conflict.
May 24, 2016, Al-Saad Village, Nihm District
On May 23, 2016, Saleh Ahmad, in his mid-forties, returned to his home in Al-Saad village in Nihm district, Sanaa with his wife, two daughters, and two sons. His entire village, about 60 families, were displaced from the area in 2015 when Houthi-Saleh forces advanced, he said. He and his family returned the day after Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew “because we couldn’t afford to stay out of our home anymore.”
The next day at about the time of the early evening prayer, his wife, Rawiya al-Dahak, 30, went to bring back the sheep from grazing. Ahmad said he heard an explosion:
I ran to the place [about 300 or 400 meters from our home], and found my wife with her right leg completely missing. She was unconscious and bleeding. Her clothes were torn. ... I carried her to the closest health center.
When Ahmad’s eldest son, Muhammad Saleh, 23, heard about the accident, he went to check the area on foot. Another mine exploded. “I was not there,” Ahmad said. “The neighbors called me and they told me that I lost my beloved son.”
A few days later, a demining team cleared about 13 antivehicle mines from around Ahmad’s home. Saad believed a mine attached to a large explosive charge wounded his wife and that another killed his son, due to the severity of the burns on his son’s body and the force of the explosion that wounded his wife. Antivehicle mines that have been modified to explode when a person is nearby are considered antipersonnel mines prohibited by the Mine Ban Treaty.
In 2017, the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen reported that Houthi-Saleh forces were using victim-activated IEDs that deployed antivehicle mines as the main charge in Taizz. The UN Panel found that until these mines were defused, they prevented civilians from returning.
Displaced people have a right to return home safely as soon as the reasons for their displacement cease to exist. The laws of war obligate warring parties to facilitate their safe return.
Two days after Saad’s son was killed and his wife wounded, another man living near the village of Al-Saad detonated an improvised mine, losing both his legs, Ahmad said. About a week later, a few kilometers from the village, 10 sheep were killed by an improvised mine, according to Ahmad.
Houthi-Saleh forces controlled most of Marib between May and October 2015, laying landmines as they withdrew, deminers and local activists said.
General Thabet said that he and several other deminers had destroyed 510 antipersonnel mines on February 6, 2016, and another 350 about a month later, in addition to 3,390 improvised landmines. Marib remains heavily contaminated with mines, he said.
Ali Al-Tam, director of the Civil Protection Organization, a Marib-based group that has documented civilian victims of landmines, said antipersonnel mines, including improvised mines, had been found in civilian-populated and agricultural areas after Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew, including the districts of Marib City, Harib, al-Abadiya, Sarwah and Majzer. These areas were not known to be mined prior to the current conflict.
Saleem Allaw, the HOOD Team Coordinator in Marib, al-Jawf and al-Bayda, shared a list of names, ages, and dates of people killed or wounded by landmines in Marib and al-Jawf governorates since October 2015. HOOD reported that 80 people were killed, including two women and eight children, and 136 wounded, including four women and 14 children, by landmines in the two governorates.
March 1, 2016, Al-Jufina Farming Area, Marib City District
At about 1:30 p.m. on March 1, 2016, Ali al-Ansi, 35, stepped on a landmine while he was working in an orange grove in Marib, which Houthi-Saleh forces had controlled before withdrawing in late 2015. He said he was returning from lunch with his wife and two daughters: “I walked inside [the grove]. Then, suddenly I heard the blast. I didn’t see anything except the dust flying over my head. I looked at my legs, and saw my right leg had been blown apart.”
Other farm workers took al-Ansi to a hospital, where a doctor amputated his right leg. He stayed at the hospital for four days. Hospital staff then asked al-Ansi to return home as they needed space for other patients.
A few days later, al-Ansi guided deminers to the location where he was wounded. The team cleared four small mines. Al-Ansi said they were “black-greenish” and about “the size of a can.” Human Rights Watch researchers showed Al-Ansi a selection of photos depicting landmines used recently in Yemen, and he said they looked like a GYATA-64 antipersonnel mine.
Al-Ansi has been unable to work since his injury and depends on support from family members.
The orange grove was not known to be mined before the Houthi-Saleh forces occupied it.
In March 2015, Houthi-Saleh forces entered Aden, eventually occupying nearly half of the city’s districts, including Sheikh Othman, al-Buraika, Krater, Khormaksar, and Dar Saad. They laid antivehicle and antipersonnel landmines as they withdrew from the city in July 2015, according to YEMAC and security officials.
Two fighters from Aden lost limbs after stepping on antipersonnel mines in the Khormaksar and al-Basateen neighborhoods in July 2015, soon after Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew. They said the areas were heavily mined when the forces entered. The neighborhoods were not known to be mined before the current conflict.
Yemeni mine action officials began emergency clearance of landmines and explosive remnants of war almost immediately after Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew from Aden. YEMAC officers and a demining activist said that since that time antipersonnel mines have been cleared from 11 neighborhoods: Al-Basateen, Green City, and Al-Luhoom neighborhoods in Dar Saad district; al-Emad and al Masa’abi neighborhoods in Sheikh-Othman district; Bir Fadhl and Ja’ulaa neighborhoods in al-Mansoora district; Bir Ahmad and Ras Amran in al-Buraika district; and al-A’areesh and al-Nasser neighborhoods in Khormaksar district.
Since Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew more than a year-and-a-half ago, YEMAC has been clearing landmines from the city. The National Demining Training Center showed Human Rights Watch photos of an antivehicle mine and two PPM-2 antipersonnel mines discovered and cleared from a heavily frequented road in al-Emad, north of Sheikh Othman district, on February 1. On March 29, YEMAC removed six more PPM-2 antipersonnel mines next to one of Aden’s main highways in Khormaksar, which they said were laid by Houthi-Saleh forces.
Yemen’s Health Ministry, currently based in Aden, told Human Rights Watch in February that soon after Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew from the city, Aden’s hospitals were receiving about seven to eight people wounded by landmines each week and that they have continued to receive landmine victims.
February 6-8, 2016, Al-Naser Neighborhood, Khormaksar District
On February 6, 2016, a car carrying a family of four struck a landmine, killing the father and two children, according to YEMAC.
YEMAC sent a team to the site, which cleared three antipersonnel mines and an antivehicle mine on the first day and eight “German-made” antipersonnel mines on the second.
On the third day, Abdo al-Ashwal, a 45-year-old YEMAC deminer, was working in the area:
“I took out a mine, but we had a technical problem with the detector [that YEMAC was using] … The detector didn’t detect the mine that was under a [cylinder] block. I stepped on the block. Then I lost my consciousness.”
Team members took al-Ashwal to a nearby hospital. He lost one leg and stayed in the hospital for 22 days. Al-Ashwal, who is married with five children, said he can no longer work and has been unable to provide an income for his family. He has not received any compensation.
September 17, 2015, Bir Ahmad Neighborhood, Al-Buraika District
At about 10 a.m. on September 17, 2015, Yassin Omar, a 33-year-old from Aden, drove a construction vehicle over a small dirt mound at a farm where he was working. The farm was near Bir Ahmad military camp, which had been controlled by Houthi-Saleh forces prior to their withdrawal from Aden. His vehicle triggered a landmine explosion that threw him out of the vehicle: “I tried to run, but I couldn’t, I didn’t know that I had lost my right leg, so I crawled for five or six meters. Then I lost consciousness.”
Omar, who has three children, said he had been worried about taking the job at the farm because he had heard people had been wounded by landmines in the area after Houthi-Saleh forces left. He said he had been assured the area was safe.
July 24, 2015, Al-Basateen Neighborhood, Dar Saad District
At about 9 a.m. on July 24, 2015, Muhammad Hansh, 43, entered al-Basateen neighborhood with other men from Aden fighting Houthi-Saleh forces. He stepped on a landmine: “I saw my leg at that moment – fragmented, chopped off.” He was taken to a hospital in Sheikh Othman, where his right leg was amputated.
July 14, 2015, Al-Nasser Neighborhood, Khormaksar District
Sameer Derwish, 42, a plumber and a builder, joined local forces fighting Houthi-Saleh forces after they entered Aden. On July 14, 2015, he and a group of fighters came under fire in Khormaksar district. He said: “[The Houthis] forced us to take a path which is for civilians. There were some houses there, but they were empty because people left when the Houthis were controlling the area, so I walked and stepped on a landmine.”
Derwish said the mine was an antipersonnel mine, and that he saw other mines next to it after it exploded, including two small antipersonnel mines and “one big one, for tanks”. “I didn’t lose consciousness. … I was asking those around me, ‘What happened? What happened?’ They already saw that my leg was gone completely, but they didn’t say anything, they didn’t want to tell me.”
Derwish was kept in hospitals in Aden for about three months before being transferred abroad for rehabilitation and to get a prosthetic limb. Derwish, who is married and has six children, said, “I was working [before the war], my income was great, I was healthy, but now, I have no work.”
The area where Derwish was wounded is not believed to have been mined before the current conflict.
In September 2016, Human Rights Watch documented the use of landmines by Houthi-Saleh forces in Yemen’s third-largest city, Taizz, investigating the cases of five people who had been maimed by antipersonnel mines between March and June 2016.
Taizz city and Taizz governorate have had heavy ground fighting throughout Yemen’s two-year-long war. In late 2016 and early 2017, coalition-backed forces affiliated with the Hadi government began advancing up Yemen’s western coast, eventually pushing the Houthi-Saleh forces out of the port city of Mokha in Taizz governorate.
YEMAC quickly began demining areas in Mokha from which Houthi-Saleh forces had retreated. YEMAC said that in February it had cleared and destroyed 770 mines from Bab al-Mandab district, about 75 kilometers south of Mokha, including about 150 mostly PPM-2 antipersonnel mines.
December 2015, Taizz Governorate
In December 2015, a 12-year-old boy and his sister were grazing the family’s sheep near a site held by Houthi-Saleh forces since early 2015, his family said. His family had taken their livestock to graze in that area without incident before the Houthi-Saleh forces occupied the area.
After the mid-afternoon prayer, he stepped on a landmine. He lost both his legs and now has prosthetic ones. He said: “I was awake when that happened. I didn’t cry. My sister rescued me, she carried me out of there… I want better legs. I want to walk and play football.”
Yemen and the Mine Ban Treaty
A total of 162 countries are party to the Mine Ban Treaty, which comprehensively prohibits the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines and requires their clearance and assistance to victims. In keeping with the international norm being established by the Mine Ban Treaty, Human Rights Watch condemns any use of antipersonnel mines by any party at any time.
Yemen ratified the Mine Ban Treaty in 1998 during the rule of former President Saleh. In April 2002, Yemen reported to the UN that it had finished destroying its stockpile of antipersonnel mines. Yemen subsequently found additional stocks in 2006 and destroyed those in December 2007.
The Houthi-Saleh forces have deployed at least two types of blast antipersonnel mines: GYATA-64 made in the 1980s in Hungary and PPM-2 manufactured in the 1980s in the former East Germany. A Claymore-type directional mine with Chinese-language markings has also been used, but it is unclear if it was victim-activated, i.e. triggered by an individual and thus an antipersonnel mine, or command-detonated, i.e. detonated via remote control. Yemen did not report these mines among the four types of stockpiled antipersonnel mines it declared to the UN secretary-general in 2002.
YEMAC said it has cleared and destroyed GYATA-64, PPM-2, and Claymore-type mines in Taizz governorate in 2017, clearing approximately 25 Claymore-type mines in Suqiya area, north of Bab al-Mandab district. In Marib governorate in March 2016, deminers found about two full boxes of 22 mines each of Claymore-type mines. The team also cleared Claymore-type mines from agricultural areas used for animal grazing in al-Jufina and al-Mas, and in the hills of Tabt al-Masriya, and al-Tabah al-Hamra where Houthi-Saleh forces had deployed. According to the UN Panel of Experts, such mines were found in Buraida, Aden in July 2016, and Lowder, Abyan in May 2016.
The evidence of further use of antipersonnel mines during the current conflict, including types that Yemen did not report as stockpiled, suggests either that the 2002 declaration was incorrect, or that these mines were acquired from another source after 2002.
An army officer assisting demining efforts said the army conducted a number of public displays after Yemen signed the Mine Ban Treaty in which they destroyed 70,000 antipersonnel mines previously stored in Aden and Taizz, primarily POMZ-1 and POMZ-2 types. The officer said that other antipersonnel mines were rerouted to Sanaa and never sent to Aden for destruction. The Ministry of Human Rights in Aden has alleged that the Houthi-Saleh forces acquired mines when they looted the stores of YEMAC, as well as arms stocks of the Yemeni military.
In September 2016, YEMAC found and destroyed about 16,729 landmines, including 6,135 antipersonnel mines, on Mayoon (Perim) Island in the Mandab strait. YEMAC said about 1,700 antipersonnel mines were planted around a fort on the island, while the rest were stockpiled in warehouses. Before the current conflict, the Yemeni army had officers stationed on the island, residents said.
Two people who lived on the island said many residents fled when Houthi-Saleh forces took control in March 2015. A resident who returned in April 2016, after the Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew, said that he and other returning residents found the island “full with mines,” including around military bases and in civilian areas. The island was not mined before the current conflict, he said, and is now home to about 350 people.
Human Rights Watch has also documented Houthi-Saleh forces’ apparently indiscriminate use of antivehicle mines, including TM-62 and TM-57 mines manufactured in the former Soviet Union, and UKA-63 antivehicle mines manufactured in Hungary. Antivehicle mines, while not internationally banned, are often used in violation of the laws of war, for example when used indiscriminately or when inadequate precautions are taken to avoid civilian casualties.
Human Rights Watch is a co-founder of and chairs the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to bring about the Mine Ban Treaty and for its contributions to a new international diplomacy based on humanitarian imperatives.