ALERT – Yemen: France should press Saudi and Emirati allies to minimize harm to hundreds of thousands of civilians in Hodeidah attack

Posted by: on Jun 26, 2018 | No Comments

15 humanitarian and human rights organizations today urged Emmanuel Macron and the French government to use all means at their disposal to press their allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to minimize harm to civilians during the attack on Hodeidah city, home to Yemen’s most important port.

The international humanitarian conference on Yemen organized in Paris on Wednesday 27 June will be useful only if it contributes to preventing this new humanitarian disaster and improving the protection of civilians across Yemen, say NGOs.

The Saudi and Emirati-led coalition launched an attack on June 13 against Houthi rebels around Hodeidah port, on the west coast of Yemen, through which more than 70% of imports enter the country. Hodeidah is a lifeline for more than 20 million Yemenis who rely on outside aid to survive. UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths warned two months ago that an attack on Hodeidah could “in a single stroke, take peace off the table”. Fighting for port control also poses a disproportionate risk to civilian populations.

Even before the Hodeidah attack, Yemen was facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, directly linked to three years of conflict and the warring parties’ restrictions on humanitarian aid and access, including the coalition-imposed sea and air blockade on parts of Yemen under Houthi control. UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, on Friday warned of the threat of a new cholera oubreak due to a possible water system break down in Hodeidah – just months after Yemen grappled with the largest cholera epidemic in modern times with over one million suspected cases.

Thousands of people have already been displaced by recent fighting and the risks to civilians from the Hodeidah offensive are all the more serious given the track record of all parties to the conflict. In three years of war, the coalition forces have repeatedly violated international humanitarian law, using explosive weapons with wide area affect in densely populated areas, bombing schools and hospitals, and blocking aid and access. The Houthi forces they are fighting have also laid antipersonnel landmines, restricted humanitarian access and indiscriminately shelled densely populated areas in Yemen.

 “Bombing civilians in Yemen is a crime, not war. France’s engagement only makes sense if it does not compromise on the protection of civilians and humanitarian access throughout the Yemeni territory.” Anne Héry, Director of Advocacy, Handicap International.

France’s willingness to do more to address the crisis in Yemen is welcome. However, several NGOs have recently expressed, in an open letter to President Macron, their concerns about the humanitarian conference on Yemen of 27 June, co-chaired by Saudi Arabia – a party to the conflict –, as a major offensive is under way. The French initiative, now downgraded to a meeting of experts, will be judged on its ability to secure clear commitments from Saudi Arabia and its allies to minimize risks to civilians during the Hodeidah attack and across Yemen, NGOs said today.

The 15 signatory organisations call on France to:

  • Publicly warn of the risks to civilians during an attack on Hodeidah and call on all parties to take immediate steps to provide safe passage to civilians fleeing, allow unimpeded access for aid and commercial imports to the broader population and access by humanitarian agencies, as required by international humanitarian law.
  • Condemn indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians by all parties.
  • Suspend French arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates where there is a substantial risk of these arms being used in Yemen to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law.

The 15 signatory organisations are: ACAT, Alliance internationale pour la défense des droits et des libertés, Amnesty International, Action Contre la Faim, CARE France, Handicap International, Human Rights Watch, Observatoire des Armements, Norwegian refugee Council, Médecins du Monde, Première Urgence Internationale, Saferworld, Salam for Yemen, Save the Children, SumOfUs.