International Humanitarian Law and Yemen
Laws! As long as laws don’t come in conflict with our interests, they are meant to be followed. However, the moment that they come in conflict with our interests, of course then, they are meant to be broken.
Men by nature are power hungry, ambitious, and are always looking to dominate the other. The same dilemma exists with nation-states; after all, they are run by men. In the craze to dominate other states and to achieve their own designs, they can go to any extent; so much that even starting wars and massacring humanity is not a big deal.
This cycle of domination has been evident and visible throughout history. The sad part is that people seldom learn from their past. That is why, no matter how many humanitarian laws are created, this vicious cycle of killings will never stop.
International humanitarian law, also known as the law of war or law of armed conflict, is supposed to limit the effects of armed conflict and protect people who are not or are no longer part of any hostilities.
All the states which are parties to the instruments of international humanitarian law are legally bound to act within the boundaries set by international humanitarian law and its instruments. Those who do not act in accordance with the rules set by international humanitarian law and its instruments are technically violating international humanitarian law, thus committing war crimes.
However, the reality is that once a state is out to achieve it’s over ambitious designs, then, no laws, rules or humanitarian lessons can stop it from touching any lows.
Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners being parties to the instruments of international humanitarian law, though legally bound to follow the rules set by international humanitarian law and its instruments, cannot be forced to implement those laws on the ground.
Since the outbreak of conflict, the world has been witnessing naked violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen at the hands of warring sides, but according to the United Nations, most civilians and civilian objects have been damaged because of Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners.
In the first public meeting of Security Council on Yemen, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said, “Saudi led coalition forces appeared to be responsible for disproportionate amount of attacks on civilians in Yemen.” He further added that all parties were responsible, although a disproportionate amount appeared to be the result of airstrikes carried out by coalition forces.
International humanitarian law also requires that all necessary precautions be taken during armed conflicts to minimize the civilian casualties:
ICRC Customary IHL study, Rule 15 says that, “In the conduct of military operations, constant care must be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects. All feasible precautions must be taken to avoid, and in any event to minimize incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.”
Even then, the civilian death toll in Yemen speaks volumes of the necessary precautions taken by the Saudi led coalition to minimize the civilian casualties in Yemen.
International Humanitarian Law prohibits,
- Deliberate Attacks on Civilians and Civilian Objects:
ICRC Customary IHL study, Rule 156, “Making civilian population or individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities, the object of attack is a war crime.”
- Indiscriminate Attacks:
ICRC Customary IHL study, Rule 11, “Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited.”
Article 51(4) of Additional Protocol 1: “Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are:
- those which are not directed at a specific military objective,
- those which employ a method or means of combat which can not be directed at a specific military objective, or
- those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this protocol, and consequently in each such case, are of nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.
ICRC Customary IHL study, Rule 156, “launching indiscriminate attacks resulting in loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects is a war crime.”
- Disproportionate attacks:
ICRC Customary IHL study, Rule 14, “ launching an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilians, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects or combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, is prohibited.”
ICRC Customary IHL study, Rule 156, “an attack in knowledge that it will cause excessive incidental civilians loss, injury or damage is a war crime.”
But Saudi led coalition has constantly been found attacking civilians, and civilian objects including people’s houses, hospitals, schools, market places and roads, etc. In the airstrikes by the Saudi led coalition, thousands of civilians have been killed and injured with serious damage done to civilian infrastructure.
According to the UN, the conflict has killed 6000 people and almost half of them were civilians.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights also said that more than 600 children had been killed and some 900 were injured in 2015.
In addition, according to Amnesty international, the schools attacked were not close to any military objective, which shows that those schools were the intended targets. It further says those schools were deliberately attacked because they were not attacked once but several times.
In this situation, millions of children’s futures are at risk as millions of children have quit schools since the outbreak of conflict for either their schools have been damaged by the airstrikes or because their parents fear attacks on schools.
If we look at Yemen before the outbreak of this conflict, we will still find it as one of the poorest countries in the Arab world with one of the world’s highest rates of malnutrition, where fifty per cent of the population lives below the poverty line and more than half of the population is in serious need of humanitarian assistance. The escalation of this conflict has further deteriorated the situation, making it a humanitarian catastrophe. Currently, 21.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, which makes up more than eighty per cent of the total population; 14.4 million people are in need of food aid; 7.6 million people are facing severe food insecurity; 14.1 million people are in need of basic health services; 2.8 million people are in need of shelter, and 3 million people are in need of nutrition services while 2.5 million people have reportedly been displaced as a result of this conflict.
In such an alarming situation, it is high time for the UN, international organizations, relief agencies and the international community needs to act instantly and save the face of the dying humanity. The UN and the international community must put serious efforts into resolving the conflict, with violations of IHL thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators (whether directly involved, aiding or abetting) punished.
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