“I don’t want to live any more,” said the man standing in the rubble of his destroyed home. His teenage daughter beside him burst into tears and her younger sister looked up at their father in confusion. The airstrike, in the UNESCO World heritage old city of Sana’a, had come without warning in the middle of the night, killing all other members of the family and leaving the surviving members homeless. They had no connection to any of the warring parties to the complex conflict in Yemen, but were among its tens of thousands of civilian victims.

“What is his name?” I asked a mother sitting on a bed at the hospital in Sana’a next to her emaciated child. “Her name is Amal,” the mother corrected softly. “It means hope.” Heartbreakingly, this tiny girl is among the eight and a half million Yemenis on the brink of famine arising from the severe naval and air restrictions placed on Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition. 

“Please help us to find our sons and husbands,” pleaded members of the Abductees’ Mothers Association, describing the arrest and disappearances of their loved ones. One mother recounted having received her son’s lifeless, tortured body back, without explanation, after his disappearance two years earlier. The mothers have been bravely holding public demonstrations in Sana’a and Aden to demand answers, to demand due process and justice from parties to the conflict. These pleas have not only fallen on deaf ears — worse, they have led to violence, threats and intimidation from authorities.

Among those detained in Yemen by both sides of the conflict are journalists and human rights defenders for having the temerity to report the truth or express an opinion. In the north of the country, practitioners of the Baha’i faith have been targeted by the Houthis — the rebel militant group forming part of one side of the civil war. One Baha’i leader was sentenced to death earlier this year after a trial that neither he nor his family were allowed to attend. In the south, consistent reports have emerged of serious human rights violations in detention facilities controlled by the UAE, including large scale sexual violence.

Women and children in Yemen are particularly vulnerable, due to displacement, poverty and an atmosphere of indiscriminate violence. Children have been recruited by both sides to participate in the conflict.

The conflict in Yemen, now in its fourth year, is a man-made disaster that has devastated the country’s health and water infrastructure and resulted in the deaths and maiming of countless people. Yet, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis is also one of the world’s most neglected. The coalition’s air blockade of Sana’a international airport and the prohibition of international journalists and human rights organisations travelling on UN flights to Sana’a has contributed to the news vacuum.

At the end of August, the UN-appointed Group of Eminent Experts released the report of an investigation, which found that serious human rights violations and war crimes had been committed by all sides of the conflict in Yemen. The report noted little attempt by the parties to minimise civilian casualties.

Among its recommendations, the report called upon the international community to refrain from providing weapons that could be used in the Yemen conflict. It is the very least the world can do to prevent the further suffering of tens of millions of innocent Yemeni people. 

The group’s report will be considered by the UN Human Rights Council later this month.

This piece has previously been published in the West Australian and John Menadue’s Pears and Irritations.

Melissa Parke was appointed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in December 2017 as a member of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen.

Peter Fray

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