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Yemen: Prioritize Protection of Children

Include Children’s Rights in Potential Peace Agreement

(Beirut) – Parties to the conflict in Yemen, the UN, and the international community should prioritize the protection of children in the ongoing peace talks to ensure justice and accountability, 43 organizations, including Human Rights Watch, said today, on International Children’s Day.

Children attending class on the first day of school, which was damaged by an airstrike during fighting between Saudi-led coalition-backed government forces and Houthi forces, Taizz, Yemen, September 3, 2019.
© 2019 Ahmad al-Basha/AFP/Getty Images

Human Rights Watch is one of 43 human rights organizations that published a joint statement on November 20, 2023, highlighting ongoing violations against children and calling on parties to the conflict to “take a resolute stand to defend, promote, and celebrate the rights of Yemeni children.”

“The children of Yemen are the country’s future, and yet all parties to the conflict are carrying out widespread violations against them,” said Niku Jafarnia, Yemen and Bahrain researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Any peace deal should include protections for children and accountability for the many violations committed against children over the last nine years.”

Research by members of the Yemeni Coalition for Monitoring Human Rights Violations and Watch for Human Rights, two Yemeni civil society organizations, verified 250 cases of grave human rights violations against children by parties to the conflict that were documented between January and September 2023. The cases included child recruitment, killing, maiming, attacks on schools and hospitals, kidnapping, sexual violence, and obstructing access to humanitarian aid. The vast majority of the documented cases were carried out by the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, the de facto authority in much of Yemen.

Since the conflict broke out in 2014, Human Rights Watch has documented massive violations that parties to the conflict have committed against children.

Houthi rockets, indiscriminate artillery attacks, and use of landmines have caused thousands of child casualties. The Houthis have attacked scores of schools and hospitals, used schools for military purposes, and blocked humanitarian assistance.

The Houthis have also recruited thousands of children as soldiers and sent them into battle. Child recruitment, especially by the Houthis, comprised the largest share of cases that the Justice4Yemen Pact verified in 2023. This is despite an action plan that the Houthis signed with the United Nations in April 2022 in which they pledged to end recruitment and use of children as soldiers, killing and maiming of children, and attacks against schools and hospitals.

The Saudi and UAE-led coalition, which joined the conflict at the behest of the Yemeni government, has carried out more than 25,000 airstrikes in Yemen. Many have been indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, destroying schools and hospitals and killing or injuring thousands of children. Pro-government Yemeni forces have also carried out indiscriminate missile strikes, deployed children into combat, and attacked schools and hospitals.

The UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council and the Yemeni government, in failing to fulfill Aden residents’ rights to electricity and water, have also interfered with children’s rights to education.

For well over a year, the Saudis and Houthis have been in negotiations for a possible peace deal, with some journalists and news outlets reporting that a deal may be imminent after Hans Grundberg, the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for Yemen, visited Riyadh on November 15. Yemeni civil society has been largely excluded from these and other peace and ceasefire negotiations during the nearly decade-long war, and human rights issues have been consistently sidelined or ignored.

Violations against Yemen’s children have persisted in the absence of an international accountability mechanism that could deter parties to the conflict from abuses. Since the UN Human Rights Council disbanded its monitoring body, the Group of Eminent Experts, in 2021, there has been no international monitoring of rights violations in Yemen.

“The parties to the conflict in Yemen need to be held accountable for their violations against children over nearly a decade, both to provide justice to victims and as a crucial step toward finally ending the abuses,” Jafarnia said.

“If the current negotiations for a peace deal are going to truly serve to promote a lasting peace in Yemen, then children’s rights must be prioritized.”

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