Airstrikes on Medical Workers, Facilities, and Infrastructure in Yemen


Historical Background on Conflict

1.   On 26 March 2015, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia consisting of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, (together “the Coalition”) launched a military intervention to “defend the legitimate government of President Hadi from the takeover attempts by the Houthi militias in Yemen.” From the outset, the Coalition was supported politically, diplomatically, and militarily by the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France, and Turkey. The Saudi-led Coalition conducted airstrikes that killed and injured hundreds of civilians and leveled civilian infrastructure.

2.    After about two months of war without achieving its stated official objectives and after failing to convince Egypt[2], Pakistan[3] and Turkey[4] to provide ground troops, the Coalition sought out other ways to bolster its troops on the ground in preparation for a ground invasion. To achieve that end, the Coalition hired foreign troops and mercenaries. After months of stalemate, the number of countries participating in the Coalition increased to include Sudan[5] and Senegal[6], both sending large numbers of troops to Yemen. In addition to hiring Sudanese and Senegalese troops, the Coalition relied and continues to rely on the use of mercenaries to continue hostilities.

3.    According to the Legal Center for Rights and Development, a local Yemeni NGO, 263 medical facilities   were struck by Coalition airstrikes in the first 600 days of war, including those facilities operated and supported by Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), commonly known as Doctors Without Borders - the most recent of which killed at least 15 people when Coalition warplanes bombed Abs Hospital in Yemen’s northern Hajjah governorate on 15 August 2016.  According to the hospital director, Ibrahim Aram, three Yemeni staff members of MSF were among the dead, three foreign doctors at the hospital were also wounded, and three other staff members had their limbs amputated.  This last attack led MSF to evacuate its staff from Yemen, further reducing the medical services available in the country.  The three other hospitals supported by MSF alleged to have been targeted and struck by Saudi-led Coalition warplanes include Shiara Hospital in the Saada governorate on 10 January 2016 in which five people were killed and eight others were injured, Alhouban Clinic in the Taiz governorate on 2 December 2015 in which 9 people were wounded including two MSF staff members, and Haydan Hospital in the Saada governorate on 26 October 2015 in which one person was wounded in the leveling of the hospital.  The destruction of the Haydan Hospital prompted MSF head of mission in Yemen, Hassan Boucenine, to state that “this attack is another illustration of a complete disregard for civilians in Yemen, where bombings have become a daily routine.”[7]

Statement of Facts and Allegations

4.    According to the 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview, “as of October 2016, 274 health facilities have been damaged by conflict – including 69 that have been destroyed. One third of destroyed health facilities are located in Sa’ada governorate.”[8]

5.   The following is a chart detailing 149 incidents[9] whereby hospitals, clinics and health units were targeted with airstrikes, along with the location, the date facility was targeted and a general damage assessment.

6.    In addition to airstrikes causing damage to health care facilities there have been no less than 287 casualties among health care workers since the outset of the war. The targeting and destruction of 40 ambulances by airstrikes was also documented.[10]

7.    The Coalition airstrikes and threat of airstrikes against health care workers, facilities, and infrastructure including power plants and the Coalition’s blockade on Yemen impede the ability of over 14 million people from receiving the health care services they are in dire need of.

8.    The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that by the end of the first month of war, the Yemeni Ministry of Health estimated that 95 percent of the foreign medical workforce evacuated the country because of the dangers to life and limb posed by the airstrikes, blockade and ground fighting.[11]

Legal Analysis

9.    The systematic destruction of healthcare facilities in Yemen impedes the people’s right to enjoy the “highest attainable standard of physical and mental health” in violation of Article 12(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).  It is also a violation of Article 50 of Geneva Conventions (I) which prohibits “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.” 

10.   The systematic targeting and destruction of health care facilities and the associated distribution networks indicates a premeditated intent to inflict pain and suffering on entire populations of people and violates the military object and necessity standards set forth in international humanitarian law.

11.    The destruction of food storage facilities, agricultural fields and the overall food distribution network impedes the Yemeni people’s right to food that nourishes their health in violation of Article 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food…”

12.   The Coalition airstrikes and threat of airstrikes against health care workers and the complete destruction of health care systems, facilities, and infrastructure includingports, power plants, food and water storage facilities, agricultural fields and the associated distribution networks impede the ability of millions of people in Yemen from receiving the healthcare services they are in dire need of in violation of the principle of medical impartiality which is defined as the international principle that no person or group shall interfere with the access to or delivery of medical services in times of conflict and civil unrest.



[1] All statements of allegations are based on field work and discussions with local and international NGOs, the various UN organs, the Yemeni Ministry of Human Rights, the Yemeni Ministry of Public Health and Population, and the Executive Director of ARWA.  Media reports are only cited to show that the statements made herein have been reported by media outlets from various countries across the world.

[2] Mohammed Aboud, Egypt allegedly sends ground forces into Yemen quagmire, The Middle East Eye, 9 August 2015.

[3] Mohammad Mukashaf, Pakistan declines Saudi call for armed support in Yemen fight, Reuters, 10 April 2015.

[4] Blog, Turkish and Saudi leaders discuss Yemen conflict, The Middle East Eye, 27 March 2015.

[5] Sudan to send 10,000 troops to join Arab forces in Yemen: report, The Sudan Tribune, 19 October 2015.

[6] Ishaan Tharoor, Why Senegal is sending troops to help Saudi Arabia in Yemen, The Washington Post, 5 May 2015.


[8] 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview,

[9] Information about the remaining 114 attacks will be sent once available. 

[10] Official Report of the Republic of Yemen Regarding Saudi Coalition Aggression on Yemen: Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law, Ministry of Human Rights, May 2016

[11] OCHA, “Yemen: Escalating Conflict Flash Update 17,” April 23, 2015 [accessed December 15, 2016]