Ye­men’s hos­pi­tals at­tacked over 120 times by war­ring par­ties, re­port says

The Guardian - - World - Bethan McKer­nan Mid­dle East cor­re­spon­dent

Hos­pi­tals and doc­tors in Ye­men have been tar­geted at least 120 times by the con­flict’s war­ring par­ties, ac­cord­ing to a re­port that gives the most com­pre­hen­sive anal­y­sis to date of the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect of war on the coun­try’s health­care sys­tem.

There were 120 in­ci­dents across 20 of Ye­men’s 22 gov­er­norates be­tween March 2015 and De­cem­ber 2018, in­clud­ing airstrikes, ground at­tacks, mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion, as­saults on health work­ers and other vi­o­la­tions such as loot­ing and re­stric­tions on hu­man­i­tar­ian aid, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis co-pub­lished by Physi­cians for Hu­man Rights (PHR) and the Ye­meni hu­man rights group Mwatana to­day.

The find­ings come as a rel­a­tive lull in the vi­o­lence ap­pears to have ended and Ye­men’s al­ready dec­i­mated med­i­cal sec­tor is brac­ing for the pos­si­bil­ity of a coro­n­avirus out­break.

The col­lapse of Ye­men’s health­care sys­tem has been a big con­tribut­ing fac­tor in cre­at­ing what the UN says is the worst hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis in the world, with two-thirds of the 28 mil­lion-strong pop­u­la­tion de­pen­dent on aid to sur­vive, wide­spread hunger and out­breaks of cholera and dipthe­ria.

“What our re­port shows is how bla­tantly in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian law has been ig­nored in Ye­men’s con­flict and how in par­tic­u­lar at­tack­ing health­care fa­cil­i­ties has a long-term and wide-reach­ing im­pact,” said Osamah Al­fakih, Mwatana’s ad­vo­cacy di­rec­tor, who co-au­thored the re­port.

“All the war­ring par­ties have dis­played a sus­tained reck­less­ness for civil­ian life.”

In­ter­views with 200 sur­vivors and eye­wit­nesses iden­ti­fied pat­terns of at­tacks and spe­cific vi­o­la­tions that killed at least 96 civil­ians and health­care work­ers and in­jured 230 more.

The re­port could be used in fu­ture war crimes in­ves­ti­ga­tions against the Saudi- and Emi­rati-led coali­tion fight­ing to re­store the ex­iled Ye­meni gov­ern­ment, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and var­i­ous other armed groups.

Mwatana doc­u­mented 35 coali­tion

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Num­ber of health­care work­ers per 10,000 peo­ple in the coun­try of 28 mil­lion, in­stead of the ‘stan­dard’ 22 aerial at­tacks on hos­pi­tals, clin­ics and vac­ci­na­tion cen­tres, which it says is “ev­i­dence of [the coali­tion’s] dis­re­gard for these struc­tures’ pro­tected sta­tus and ap­par­ent un­will­ing­ness or in­abil­ity to com­ply with the prin­ci­ples of dis­tinc­tion and pro­por­tion­al­ity”.

The re­port also crit­i­cises the coali­tion for a lack of trans­parency in its op­er­a­tions, adding that “it re­mains un­clear what pre­cau­tions the coali­tion has adopted to min­imise harm to Ye­men’s health fa­cil­i­ties and per­son­nel”.

Among its rec­om­men­da­tions the in­ves­ti­ga­tion says that the UK, US, Canada, France and other coun­tries fa­cil­i­tat­ing weaponry and sup­port for the coali­tion should im­me­di­ately sus­pend sales con­tin­gent on re­spect for in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian law and com­pre­hen­sive ef­forts to in­ves­ti­gate al­leged crimes and vi­o­la­tions.

The use of mor­tars and ar­tillery by the Houthis and other non-state ac­tors in Ye­men in densely pop­u­lated ar­eas has also dam­aged and de­stroyed health­care fa­cil­i­ties, the re­port said, while Houthi oc­cu­pa­tion of such build­ings pointed to a more de­lib­er­ate vi­o­la­tion of their pro­tected sta­tus.

At­tacks on hos­pi­tals and clin­ics have closed more than half of Ye­men’s pre-war fa­cil­i­ties and the con­stant threat of be­ing tar­geted makes it very dif­fi­cult for doc­tors and nurses to work, Al­fakih said.

Al-Thawra hos­pi­tal in Taiz was the vic­tim of at least 45 doc­u­mented at­tacks by sev­eral par­ties, in­clud­ing ground-launched at­tacks, armed in­cur­sions and loot­ing. In Au­gust 2015, the fa­cil­ity was tar­geted eight times and hit with 22 shells in two days.

“Even those hos­pi­tals that re­main open lack spe­cial­ists, equip­ment and medicine. We only have 10 health­care work­ers per 10,000 peo­ple in­stead of the stan­dard 22. If one med­i­cal worker is ar­rested, in­jured or killed that has a huge knock-on ef­fect,” he said.

“There are very brave health­care pro­fes­sion­als work­ing in Ye­men right now. Even if they don’t talk about how tired they are, the toll is clear in their faces and their eyes.”

The sober anal­y­sis of the state of Ye­men’s health­care in­fra­struc­ture comes amid heavy fight­ing in al-Jawf prov­ince after months of rel­a­tive quiet that many hoped could lead to a more per­ma­nent de-es­ca­la­tion.

Wor­ries are also mount­ing that Covid-19 could have a cat­a­strophic im­pact if it reaches vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties in Ye­men.

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