Beirut, April 22, 2019 – Houthi forces’ widespread use of landmines along Yemen’s western coast since mid-2017 has killed and injured hundreds of civilians and prevented aid groups from reaching vulnerable communities, Human Rights Watch said today. Yemeni law and the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty ban all use of antipersonnel mines; anti-vehicle mines have been used indiscriminately in violation of the laws of war, posing dangers to civilians long after hostilities have ceased.
Landmines laid in farmlands, villages, wells, and roads have killed at least 140 civilians, including 19 children, in the Hodeida and Taizz governorates since 2018, according to the Civilian Impact Monitoring Project, a humanitarian data source. Landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have prevented humanitarian organizations from reaching populations in need, left farms and wells inaccessible, and harmed civilians trying to return home.
“Houthi-laid landmines have not only killed and maimed numerous civilians, but they have prevented vulnerable Yemenis from harvesting crops and drawing clean water desperately needed for survival,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, acting emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “Mines have also prevented aid groups from bringing food and health care to increasingly hungry and ill Yemeni civilians.”
Human Rights Watch researchers visited the southern port city of Aden in February 2019 and interviewed civilians injured by landmines as well as civilians fleeing mined areas, aid workers, and a deminer from Yemen Executive Mine Action Centre; analyzed video and photographs collected in country; and reviewed Houthi state and military media channels.
Human Rights Watch found evidence that in addition to laying anti-personnel landmines, Houthi forces planted anti-vehicle mines in civilian areas, modified anti-vehicle mines to detonate from a person’s weight, and disguised improvised explosive devices as rocks or parts of tree trunks. Human Rights Watch also found that the Houthis have used antipersonnel mines in Hayran, near the Saudi Arabia border, and confirmed their use of naval mines despite the risk to commercial, fishing, and aid vessels.
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Victims and witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the areas where landmines caused deaths and injuries were previously controlled by Houthi forces and that civilians had not been harmed until the Houthi withdrawal, when the mines presumably were planted. A 25-year-old man displaced from Nakhil village in Tuhayta district said that Houthis laid mines in his village around May 2018: “[The Houthis] warned me and said, ‘Don’t enter this area, we’re mining it.’ They told me that the area was mined.”
Landmines have also left at least three western coast water facilities inaccessible, two aid groups said. In addition, mines have made it more difficult for villagers to feed themselves and maintain their income. Five people said that they had been injured or that relatives had been killed when landmines detonated in farmlands or grazing lands; many displaced people said mines prevented safe harvesting and killed valuable livestock.
Landmines have prevented humanitarian organizations from reaching communities in need along the western coast, Human Rights Watch said. These included villages and towns in the Tuhayta and Mawza’a districts, as well as the major port city of Hodeida. Three aid groups said they could not reach key places or provide services to areas because landmines were planted there or along the route. Many of these communities are only accessible by dirt roads, which are far more hazardous than paved surfaces.
The Houthis’ use of landmines, which deprives people of water and food sources, contributes to the humanitarian crisis that afflicts the entire war-torn country, Human Rights Watch said. On April 9, 2019, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator, Lise Grande, described Yemen as “the worst food security crisis in the world and one of the worst cholera outbreaks in modern history.” All of the districts noted here are either at crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity, while cholera cases are on the rise in Hodeida and Taizz governorates.
Authorities in Sanaa, the Houthi-controlled capital, informed Human Rights Watch in April 2017 that they consider the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which Yemen ratified in 1998, to be binding. In addition to the prohibition on use in the Mine Ban Treaty, individuals responsible for using prohibited weapons or carrying out indiscriminate attacks may be prosecuted for war crimes.
The Houthi authorities should immediately cease using these weapons and credibly investigate and appropriately punish commanders responsible for their use, Human Rights Watch said. Both the UN Group of Eminent Experts and the Security Council Panel of Experts should investigate Houthi landmine use and identify individuals responsible for widespread use where possible. The Panel of Experts should investigate individuals who may be responsible for war crimes, including impeding aid indispensable for the survival of civilians.
The Security Council should impose targeted sanctions on all individuals responsible for such violations. While the Council has imposed sanctions against Houthi leaders, it has taken no steps against members of the Saudi-led coalition, which has been responsible for numerous unlawful attacks since the conflict began.
While Houthi forces bear primary responsibility for civilian casualties and foreseeable civilian harm from landmines, inadequate training for deminers and poor coordination among demining groups has contributed to the problems in heavily mined areas. Various demining groups have failed to adequately share information about the types of devices discovered and their locations.
Human Rights Watch reviewed videos of at least three mine detection and clearance operations on Yemen’s western coast that clearly did not comply with International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) and safe demining practices. Deminers are seen removing live mines while children and other apparent civilians stand nearby. Houthi official news media have treated the deaths of the pro-Hadi government deminers as victories even though even though antipersonnel mines are unlawful and anti-vehicle mines have been used indiscriminately.
All humanitarian demining organizations should share information through a coordinated response guided by the International Mine Action Standards. Shared information should include mine locations, usage, and device types to allow for better training and safer demining practices. All parties to the conflict, including the Houthis, the Yemeni government, and the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition, should facilitate demining, including by providing visas to experts and approving technical and protective equipment for deminers, Human Rights Watch said.
Yemen’s government and coalition allies should urgently improve demining efforts and increase assistance to victims of landmines, which concerned governments should support, Human Rights Watch said.
“Houthi leaders should immediately end their use of landmines, for which they may one day be held to account,” Motaparthy said. “Governments concerned about the devastating impact of landmines in Yemen should support demining efforts, including through better training and coordination, as well as victim assistance.”
For additional details on the findings and accounts by residents, please see below.
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