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The Use of Starvation by Warring Parties in Yemen as a Method of Warfare

Mwatana and GRC release "Starvation Makers" report - 1 September 2021

Sana’a/The Hague – Warring parties in Yemen have deliberately deprived civilians of objects essential to their survival (OIS), starving them, in some cases to death, over the course of the conflict, Mwatana for Human Rights (Mwatana) and Global Rights Compliance (GRC) said in a new report published today.

 

The report, “Starvation Makers,” follows a year-long investigation into attacks and other conduct by the Saudi/UAE-led coalition—acting with the consent of the internationally recognized Government of Yemen and fighting with government forces loyal to President Hadi—and the Ansar Allah (Houthi) armed group impacting access to food and water in Yemen. Mwatana and GRC conclude that the Coalition and Ansar Allah likely violated prohibitions under international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL), and that their members may have committed the war crime of using starvation as a method of warfare.

 

“We have been saying for years that Yemenis are not starving, they are being starved by the warring parties. States must take action now on behalf of Yemenis, starting with a push for an international criminally-focused investigative mechanism,” Radhya Al-Mutawakel, the Chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights, said.

 

The report documents airstrikes by the Saudi/UAE-led coalition on farms, water facilities, and artisanal fishing boats and equipment that destroyed, damaged and/or rendered useless OIS, namely agricultural areas, irrigation works, livestock, foodstuffs, water infrastructure, fishing boats and fishing equipment. It also documents Ansar Allah conduct that severely restricted civilian’s access to food and water through their imposition of restrictions on humanitarian relief action and their widespread and indiscriminate use of landmines in wholly civilian areas.

 

At the same time, parties to the conflict imposed restrictive economic and other measures, including a de facto naval and aerial blockade, adversely impacting access to food and water.

 

Members of the Saudi/UAE-led coalition and Ansar Allah acted in spite of the widespread knowledge of the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen, where people, including children, were dying from starvation. They must have intended to starve civilians or been aware of the virtual certainty that starvation would occur in the ordinary course of events—that is, without humanitarian intervention.

 

“It is difficult to imagine that those responsible for the starvation of civilians did not know their actions would result in such dire consequences,” said Kate Vigneswaran, Senior Legal Advisor at GRC.

 

IHL prohibits the use of starvation as a method of warfare. Using starvation as a method of warfare is also considered a war crime in international and non-international armed conflicts under international criminal law. An amendment to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2019 will bring the use of starvation as a method of warfare in non- international armed conflicts within the jurisdiction of the Court when it comes into force.

 

The report concludes with a comprehensive range of recommendations addressed to the parties to the conflict, other states and UN actors aimed at preventing future violations of international law, holding perpetrators accountable, and ensuring redress for victims.

 

Mwatana and GRC call on the parties to the conflict to cease all violations of IHL, violations and abuses of IHRL and war crimes, and to take steps to protect civilians and civilian objects, including OIS, and facilitate access to full humanitarian aid, including food and water. They also call on the UNSC to refer the situation to the ICC and the UN Human Rights Council to support the establishment of an international criminally-focused investigative mechanism to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence, and to prepare case files in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings.

 

The report follows several years of field research and documentation across Yemen in which Mwatana interviewed thousands of victims, families, eye-witnesses, humanitarian workers and paramedics. For the report, Mwatana conducted an additional 101 interviews across four governorates regarding the impacts that specific attacks and conduct have had on their access to food and water.

 

Mwatana continues to document attacks and conduct by the warring parties impacting Yemenis’ access to food and water across the country.

 

To read the Executive Summary of the report, click here.

To read the Full Report in English, click here.

To read the Full Report in Arabic, click here.

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