x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Sana'a and Shia militants face criticism over rights violations

New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch to release report accusing Yemeni government and Houthi rebels of conscripting children and killing civilians.

NEW YORK // Human rights campaigners are preparing a report that will criticise the Yemeni government and Shia rebels for using child soldiers and failing to safeguard civilians during the latest fierce bout of fighting in the mountainous north. The New York-based advocacy group, Human Rights Watch, will call for probes into atrocities allegedly committed by government forces and the Houthi rebels, an alliance of tribesmen disgruntled by state neglect of the minority Zaidi Shia sect.

Following a mission to Yemen in October, the group's regional expert and researcher, Christoph Wilcke, has found evidence of what he describes as "extrajudicial killings" by Houthi fighters and civilians killed in attacks by Yemeni aircraft. They include an air strike that left more than 80 people dead in September, many of whom were civilian refugees, at Adi, outside the rebel-controlled town of Harf Sufyan, which later prompted United Nations calls for an investigation.

The group investigated government claims that the Houthis have enlisted about 3,000 child soldiers, finding evidence to accuse both sides of recruiting under-18s into their ranks. Poor birth records mean the age of many Yemenis is unclear, said Mr Wilcke. "When violations of the laws of war happen, the first thing to do is to open an investigation and hold those people to account," said Mr Wilcke. "Then we have to look at any policies that were in place that led to such violations."

Yemen's ambassador to the UN, Abdullah al Saidi, refuted the allegations, saying Yemeni forces only recruited adults, adding: "In war there are deaths of civilians. There is no such thing in this world as a clean war, even with precision weapons." @Email:jreinl@thenational.ae