Civilian suffering in Yemen has increased following the Saudi-led intervention to fight the Houthi rebels. Many operations by the warring parties are taking place near urban and residential areas, putting civilians at significant risk. Much of Yemen’s infrastructure, including health services, has collapsed and the delivery of humanitarian aid remains extraordinarily difficult.
Civilians have borne the brunt of violence between government forces and Houthi fighters. Pro al-Qaeda militias and Sunni tribes have also waged their own insurgencies in southern Yemen. And since 2002, the United States has undertaken counterterrorism operations via drone strikes against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
All countries taking part in coalition military operations, as well as the Yemeni armed forces and armed groups, should take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians and avoid damage to civilian homes, businesses and infrastructure, and facilitate humanitarian aid.
In 2015, we issued a policy brief with key recommendations for the Saudi coalition on civilian protection. We are engaging with the US—which is providing logistical and intelligence support to Saudi Arabia—to provide critical advice on civilian harm mitigation tactics and tools to its Saudi counterparts. That support should include bolstering Saudi Arabia’s understanding of how its operations affect civilians. Riyadh should be strongly encouraged to track civilian harm and create the capacity to provide post-harm assistance to those suffering losses.
In 2016, we issued a report “We Lived Days in Hell”: Civilian Perspectives of the Conflict in Yemen, which documents civilian perceptions of the parties to the conflict and patterns of civilian harm in Aden, Hadramout, Mareb, Sana’a, and Taiz governorates. It reflects civilians’ needs and expectations in terms of protection and assistance to rebuild their lives and communities, gaps in training, and concerns about oversight of military and security forces.