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Response to the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights’ Call For Input

Status of Child Rights in Yemen

Arabian Rights Watch Association expresses deep concern regarding the status of child rights in Yemen. Towards that end, this working paper I) provides background on the conflict in Yemen to set the context in which children rights have been seriously violated, II) discusses the challenges faced with various mechanisms in place that aim to protect children rights, III) analyzes the effectiveness of specific practices that aim to guarantee children participation and the opportunity to be heard, and lastly IV) offers some recommendations that address the challenges faced by children in an attempt to safeguard their rights.

I.        Background on Status of Child Rights in Yemen

On 26 February 2014, the United Nations Security Council (U.N.S.C.) adopted Resolution 2140[1], which underlined the need to implement the political transition in Yemen and designated three individuals that would be subject to an asset freeze and travel ban measures. On 14 April 2015, the U.N.S.C. adopted Resolution 2216[2], which established an arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban on five named individuals. The latter resolution aimed to, among other objectives, assist and commend the political transition in Yemen; express grave alarm at the significant and rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Yemen; and express grave concern at the threat to peace and security in Yemen and the region.

On 26 March 2015, before U.N.S.C. Resolution 2216 was adopted, the Coalition imposed an aerial and naval blockade on Yemen.  The Coalition’s unilateral action occurred without a U.N. mandate and preceded the adoption of Resolution 2216 by three weeks. Despite this, the Coalition cites the resolution as a justification for unilateral military action that it claims is to enforce an arms embargo but that in effect involves ongoing egregious human rights violations and crimes committed against the Yemeni people, the majority of whom are children.  In practice, the airstrikes and aerial and naval blockade are “comprehensive” unilateral coercive measures that kill and maim civilians, destroy civilian infrastructure, and block restrict and disrupt both the import and export of commercial goods (including food, medical and fuel supplies) and humanitarian aid. Consequently, the human rights and humanitarian situation in Yemen has deteriorated significantly making Yemen the largest humanitarian crisis in the World.  These violations and crimes continue to be committed with impunity given that appropriate measures have not been adopted by the international community.

According to the Legal Center for Rights and Development, in the first 800 days of the war, a total of 12,574 civilians were documented to have been killed by Coalition airstrikes.  Of those civilian deaths, 1,942 were women, and 2,689 were children while a further 2,115 women and 2,541 children were maimed.[3]  In the following 70 days, the killing and maiming of children continued to increase to the point where the number stood at 2,743 children deaths and 2,572 injuries.[4]   In other terms, six (6) Yemeni children are being killed or maimed on a daily basis by airstrikes. Given that ov er 10,000 men and women have been killed by airstrikes many surviving children are being orphaned and traumatized by the circumstances they are enduring. The total number of civilians wounded due to the indiscriminate airstrikes exceeds 40,000 according to the Undersecretary General for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief, Stephen Obrien which also adds tremendous burdens on the population of children.[5] In addition, 15 airports and 14 seaports were targeted with airstrikes, alongside 294 health facilities including 5 maternity centers, 775 schools (compromising their right to education as 1.8 million children stopped attending and over 3750 schools were shut down)[6], 368 water tanks and networks, 162 power stations (affecting refrigeration and water pumping facilities), 552 markets, 289 factories, 1,784 agricultural fields, 221 poultry/livestock farms, 676 food warehouses and 528 trucks carrying food   among other civilian objects including 1733 roads and bridges.

Among the indiscriminate use of air power in attacks on civilian populations, the Coalition has used internationally banned cluster munitions on civilian populations on at least 60 occasions that particularly place children in danger.[7]  Yet despite the danger posed to children, the Coalition continues its use.

The blockade on food, medical and fuel supplies coupled with the airstrikes on health facilities and cadre, power plants, water and food networks has caused mass suffering among the civilian population, particularly the most vulnerable: the injured, children and the elderly.  According to Yemen’s Ministry of Public Health and Population, over 10,000 civilians died because they could not get medical treatment abroad due to the Coalition’s ban on flights to and from Sanaa International Airport. [8]  The Department of Transportation and General Aviation Authority in Yemen, however, places the death toll from the travel ban at over 13,000 civilians.[9]  Cholera is affecting an estimated 450,000 people mainly children under the age of 15 who account for 41 percent of suspected cases and 25 percent of the deaths while those aged over 60 represent 30 percent of fatalities.[10]   Children, pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions are at greater risk of death as they face the “triple threat” of conflict, famine and cholera. 17 million civilians are food insecure. About 2.8 million require acute malnutrition treatment, including 1.8 million children and 1.1 million pregnant, lactating women.[11]   A child is dying every ten minutes[12]  amounting to over 63,000 children deaths[13] in 2016 alone due to preventable causes according to UNICEF.

Compounding the dire human rights and humanitarian situation, the Central Bank of Yemen’s (CBY) move to Aden under the control of the Coalition backed Hadi government-in-exile resulted in the non-payment of monthly salaries to about 1.5 million public sector employees since September 2016. Despite Hadi government-in-exile assurances to the international community that it would undertake all obligations of the CBY, it has not done so for the past year.  Given that each public sector employee has an average of five dependents, the lack of payment of their monthly salaries for 12 months directly impoverishes about 7.5 million people and negatively impacts economic activity further impoverishing merchants, their employees and families, the bulk of whom are children.[14]

The Saudi-led Coalition’s implementation of Resolutions 2140 and 2216 has played a major role in the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in Yemen, particularly the rights of children who make up the largest segment of the population.  While U.N. Security Council Resolutions 2140 and 2216 may have been intended as a “smart” coercive measure designed to place an arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban on five specifically named individuals, the Coalition’s actual use transformed U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216 into a “comprehensive” coercive measure that violates the human rights of millions of Yemenis, particularly their right to food, medicine and to be free from poverty.  These U.N. Security Council resolutions do not sanction war on Yemen, nor do they make permissible the imposition of a comprehensive land, air, and sea blockade that blocks regular trade, both import and export, in commercial goods, including food, medical, fuel supplies, as well as humanitarian aid. 

Despite the specificity of these resolutions, the Saudi Coalition unilaterally launched a war by land, air and sea citing the resolutions to justify a blockade on millions of Yemenis that has exponentially exacerbated the already dire humanitarian situation in Yemen.  According to the Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures, Idriss Jazairy, “[t]he blockade involves a variety of regulatory, mostly arbitrary, restrictions enforced by the coalition forces – including an unreasonable delay and/or denial of entry to vessels in Yemeni ports. Mr. Jazairy says it amounts to an unlawful unilateral coercive measure (UCM) under international law.”   Mr. Jazairy goes on to state that “[t]he blockade involves grave breaches of the most basic norms of human rights law, as well as of the law of armed conflict, which cannot be left unanswered.”[15]

These unlawful measures have a multi-dimensional negative impact on child rights in Yemen, particularly their right to life, right to education, their right to healthcare in a manner that adversely affects children’s physical and mental development and overall well being for years to come.  This brings to light several questions: What can be done?  What mechanisms are in place?  How can they be improved? What other mechanisms can be put into place?

II.      Mechanisms and the Main Challenges

There are some mechanisms that could be instrumental in protecting child rights in Yemen if it were not for the challenges and drawbacks standing in the way.  For example, the listing and delisting mechanism of the Report of the U.N. Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict is a tool involving the gathering and verification of information detailing the effect of armed conflict on children and listing those parties who commit violations against them.

Listing and Delisting Mechanism for the Report on Children and Armed Conflict

On 20 April 2016, the U.N. issued its report on Children and Armed Conflict which verified a six-fold increase in the number of children killed and maimed in the war on Yemen compared with 2014, totaling 1,953 child casualties (785 children killed and 1,168 injured).  The report further found that 60% of children casualties were caused by airstrikes.[16]  Former U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon placed the Saudi Coalition on the blacklist but shortly thereafter removed them from the list due to what he termed was undue pressure on him in the form of a threat to defund U.N. programs. The U.N. Secretary General alluded to the lack of support from Member States and “underlined that when a UN report comes “under fire” for raising difficult issues or documenting violations of law or human rights, Member States should defend the mechanisms and mandates that they themselves have established” to work constructively and maintain the cause of the organization.[17]  The report describes horrors no child should have to face yet still these alarming violations against the rights of Yemeni children continued throughout 2016 and 2017.

On a separate but related note, even if the Saudi Coalition remained on the blacklist would there be any significant impact on the rights of children.  Although “naming and shaming” plays a role in highlighting violations what consequences would there be for violators and what compensation would be available to victims?  Currently, the mechanism involves engaging in dialogue with governments and groups on the list to develop action plans that seek to halt and prevent violations against children.  What of the families who have lost their children to death or who are left to struggle with their maimed children.  What of children who have lost their mothers and fathers and thereby orphaned?  What of children who have suffered malnourishment or who have been prevented from attending school? There should be a mechanism by which an avenue is provided that holds accountable violators of children’s rights, makes available legal redress for victims of those violations and has the power to enforce judgments through appropriate means.

The U.N. Verification and Inspection Mechanism

Another mechanism designed to ensure that food and medicine is available for civilians including badly needed life saving supplies for children suffering malnourishment and disease, is the U.N. Verification and Inspection Mechanism (U.N.V.I.M.). In May 2016, former Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced the U.N.V.I.M. which is designed with the intent to facilitate the unimpeded flow of commercial goods and services to 3 Yemeni ports - Saleef, Mokha, Hodeidah and associated oil terminals - while ensuring compliance with the arms embargo imposed by the U.N. Security Council.  In effect, the U.N.V.I.M. addresses the Coalition’s blockade by establishing a U.N. mechanism for searching and inspecting incoming ships for weapons, with the aim of making the process more efficient and thereby helping to alleviate the mass suffering caused by the blockade.[18]  Unfortunately, even with U.N. involvement and mechanisms in place, the Coalition continues to have the final word on cargo ships attempting to enter Hodeida port, which is the lifeline of the population handling more than eighty percent (80%) of imports into Yemen before the war began.[19]  Again, we see the same issue arising here. Member States are not sufficiently defending or enforcing the mechanisms and mandates that they themselves have established.  To address the issue the U.N. should explore redlines whereby foods and medicines cannot be withheld from a population and enforce severe consequences if those redlines are crossed.

III.    Specific Practices that aim to guarantee child participation and opportunity to be heard

There are certain practices designed to guarantee, at minimum, child participation and an opportunity to be heard.  One of the practices valued by our organizations includes the activities afforded to non-governmental organizations by the U.N. Human Rights Council such, as written statements, oral interventions, side events, meetings with permanent missions and U.N. representatives.  On the local front, another practice appreciated by our organization is the permission given to children by the de facto authorities in Yemen allowing them to demonstrate in support of their own rights.  These activities must be supported and paid attention to yet, at times and in certain respects, that is not the case.

NGO Activities at the U.N. Human Rights Council Sessions

Although we sincerely appreciate the opportunity to make written and oral statements addressed to the Human Rights Council, we were dismayed when on 16 June 2017 one of our oral interventions was abruptly stopped with a point of order by the Vice President presiding over the general debate under Item 5.  It was the first time we experienced a point of order directed at the organization’s statement and it happened to be on the rights of the child and the mechanisms in place to protect those rights. More specifically, the oral intervention discussed the listing and delisting mechanism that places parties on a blacklist for killing and maiming children.  The speaker was questioning the mechanism since it allowed a financial threat (as opposed to lack of merit) to interfere with the listing process.  The speaker provided examples to the Council to show that serious violations of children’s rights were systematic and ongoing and that, in the past year, the parties failed to demonstrate a sustained commitment towards refraining from violations against children.  But before the speaker was going to conclude that the Council should revisit and work to ensure the perpetrating parties remain on the list, the speaker was stopped by the Vice President and not allowed to continue despite the Vice President providing all other speakers with a second chance to finish their statements.[20]  Thereafter, on 17 July 2017, Arabian Rights Watch Association submitted a written request for an explanation to the NGO Liaison Office which answered  a day later that it was “not competent in addressing the subject matter” in our letter.  Instead, the NGO Liaison Office forwarded our request to the Office of the President of the Human Rights Council as well as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights yet to date we have not received a response from either office.  Whereas, with the listing and delisting mechanism and the U.N.V.I.M. there was an issue with the will of Member States, here, there is an issue rooted in the discretion of U.N. representatives which should be appropriately addressed.

Local Practices Aimed At Guaranteeing Child Participation and An Opportunity To Be Heard

One practice we found to be admirable was when the de facto authority in Sanaa provided security for children and their parents to demonstrate outside of the U.N. building in protest of the decision to remove the Saudi Coalition from the list of states who kill and maim children.[21]  Yet despite the de facto authority guaranteeing the children’s right to be heard, their voice fell on deaf ears whereby the U.N. seemed more focused on pandering to the Saudi Coalition’s undue pressure demanding the removal of their coalition from the list.  We sincerely hope that the U.N. can overcome such undue pressure and ensure the Saudi Coalition remains on the list given the continued failure to demonstrate a sustained commitment towards refraining from violations against children. To this end, we call on the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres to ensure the Saudi Coalition remains on the list until a significant change of behavior occurs and legal redress is provided to the victims.

IV.    Recommendations

To address the alarming status of child rights in Yemen, Arabian Rights Watch Association recommends the following:

  • The U.N. should ensure the Saudi Coalition remains on the list of states who kill and maim children.  The U.N. should also explore or revisit the merits of establishing a mechanism that can hold accountable those who commit grave violations against children rights such as the violations detailed above and which provides legal redress for their victims. At the very minimum, the U.N. should work to insulate itself from financial threats by imposing suitable consequences for those who employ them, such as reducing membership status or removing it altogether.
  • The U.N. should strengthen the U.N.V.I.M. in a manner that gives it the final word on entry of food, medical and food supplies into Yemen with a view to ensuring the delivery of necessary supplies for children and mothers as well as the population at large.
  • The U.N. should ensure that any person presiding over the U.N. Human Rights Council allows civil society to make children’s voice heard in oral interventions before the council without undue point of orders that interrupt the advocacy on behalf children.  The discretion should be limited by a U.N. rule when it comes to statements on grave violations against children, women and the vulnerable.
  • We respectfully request donors, especially those who are part of the Coalition, to fully fund the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan and make good on all pledges to allow humanitarian organizations to scale up and provide an integrated response that reaches people in all areas affected by malnutrition, unsanitary conditions and related diseases such as cholera.
  • Public and official U.N. recommendations should be made to those influencing and arming the parties to use their position to end the conflict and to stop fueling the violence.
  • Pressure should be brought to bear on the Central Bank of Yemen to pay the salaries of all public sector employees without discrimination.
  • Pressure should be brought to bear on the Coalition to lift the unlawful blockade on Hodeida Port and reopen Sana’a International Airport to commercial flights with no further delay to allow for free movement of people especially those seeking medical treatment, education or trade abroad or are seeking to return or receive their commercial goods.

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Citations

[1] Security Council 2140 Sanctions Committee Designates Three Individuals as Subject to Assets Freeze, Travel Ban, 7 November 2014,  http://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11636.doc.htm

[2] Security Council Demands End to Yemen Violence, Adopting Resolution 2216 (2015), with Russian Federation Abstaining, 14 April 2015, http://www.un.org/press/en/2015/sc11859.doc.htm

[3] https://twitter.com/LCRDye/status/874224289939062785

[4] https://twitter.com/LCRDye/status/897135452284694529

[5] Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien Statement to the Security Council on Yemen, New York, 16 February 2016 http://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/under-secretary-general-humanitarian-affairs-and-emergency-relief-coordinator-stephen-4

[6] Complaint to the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Education, Arabian Rights Watch Association, 19 February 2017, http://arwarights.org/education-violations

[7] https://mobile.twitter.com/arwa_rights/status/828672534790955009

[8] Yemen airport closure killed more people than airstrikes, Norwegian Refugee Council, 9 August 2017, https://www.nrc.no/news/2017/august/yemen-airport-closure-killed-more-people-than-airstrikes/

[9] Department of Transportation: The death of over 13000 because of they could not travel abroad for medical treatment due to the aerial blockade, Department of Transportation, 9 August 2017,  http://www.mot.gov.ye/view.php/?news_no=918

[10] Key Messages on Cholera, United Nations, 23 July 2017 https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Yemen/Yemen%20Key%20Messages%20on%20cholera_23July2017.pdf

[11] Ibid

[12] https://twitter.com/OCHAYemen/status/810476064099233793?lang=en

[13] https://twitter.com/UNICEFmedia/status/829676324889489409

[14] The Saudi-led Coalition Airstrikes and Blockade on Yemen’s Food Sector along with the Hadi Government-in-exile Decision to Withhold Public Sector Employee Salaries and Ensure the Central Bank of Yemen Refrains From Underwriting Transactions for Food Imports Has Impoverished Millions in Yemen Bringing an Entire Nation to the Brink of Famine, Arabian Rights Watch Association, 17 Aoril 2017, http://arwarights.org/right-to-food-violations

[15] Lift blockade of Yemen to stop “catastrophe” of millions facing starvation, says UN expert, OHCHR, 12 April 2017, http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21496&LangID=E

[16] Report of the U.N. Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict, United Nations, 20 April 2016 http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=s/2016/360&referer=/english/&Lang=E

[17] Content of report on conflict-affected children 'will not change,' asserts Ban, UN News Centre, 9 June 2016, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=54185#.WZamojOGPIU

[18] Ban welcomes launch of UN inspection to facilitate flow of commercial goods to Yemen, U.N. News Centre, 3 May 2016, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=53843#.WZayfTOGPIU.  For more information on UNVIM visit https://www.vimye.org/about-unvim

[19]Saudi Coalition Blockade on Food, Medical and Fuel Supplies Entering Yemen, Arabian Rights Watch Association. 31 January 2017, http://arwarights.org/blockade-on-healthcare-supplies

[20] Oral Intervention, General Debate Item 5, Arabian Rights Watch Association https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5NufAD_R4A

[21] https://twitter.com/arwa_rights/status/891429109787742208