In 2014 Houthi-Saleh rebels took control of the capital and occupied many government offices, precipitating the relocation of President Hadi and his government in 2015. The ensuing conflict continued as of year’s end. The UN-led peace process included attempts to reestablish a cessation of hostilities at intervals throughout the year. These efforts made no progress, and the conflict continued to escalate. Throughout the year, the Saudi-led coalition continued military operations against Houthi-Saleh rebels, including an active military role by the UAE.
The Hadi-led government re-established a presence in Aden and additional areas in the South in 2016. Prime Minister Ahmed Bin Dagher and part of the cabinet remained in Aden, with some cabinet members also present in Marib. President Hadi remained abroad in Saudi Arabia.
Throughout the year, clashes occurred as warring parties lost and regained territory. The military’s loyalty was divided among numerous local actors. Armed clashes expanded to several areas of the country among Houthi-Saleh rebels, supporters of the Islah Party (Sunni Islamist) and the Rashad Party (Salafi), armed separatists affiliated with the southern separatist movement Hirak tribal forces, progovernment resistance forces, and some Saudi-led coalition ground forces, with participation by elements of the Hadi-led government’s armed forces. Terrorist groups, including AQAP, carried out many deadly attacks against government representatives and installations, Houthi combatants, members of Hirak, and other actors accused of behavior violating sharia law.
Yemeni and international observers criticized all parties to the conflict for civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure resulting from shelling and airstrikes.
As a result of the fighting, the humanitarian situation in the country deteriorated significantly, with 8.4 million people at potential risk for famine and a reported 80 percent of the country’s population requiring humanitarian assistance by year’s end, according to the United Nations. An estimated three million Yemenis remained internally displaced during the year. The United Nations estimated that only 55 percent of health facilities remained functional.
Yemen suffered from two cholera outbreaks, the first in October 2016 and the second in April. The World Health Organization reported more than 964,000 suspected cases and more than 2,220 deaths since April.
Killings: While information on civilian casualties was incomplete--especially with the closure of many health facilities during the year due to insecurity and the lack of supplies--NGOs, media outlets, and humanitarian and international organizations reported what they characterized as disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by all parties to the continuing conflict.
At least 5,000 civilians, including 1,120 children, were killed and more than 8,700 injured in the conflict from March 2015 until August 2017, according to the OHCHR. The OHCHR further estimated there were more air strikes in the first half of the year than in all of 2016, resulting in an increase in the number of civilian deaths and a worsening humanitarian emergency. Civilian casualties also resulted from shelling by Houthi-Saleh rebels and their affiliated popular committees. Other deaths resulted from attacks and killings by armed groups, including AQAP and ISIS.
Near year’s end in November and December, Houthi militias fired two ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia over Riyadh. Saudi media reported that more than 370 Saudi civilians have been killed in Houthi attacks along the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border since March 2015.
The Saudi-led coalition airstrikes reportedly resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure on multiple occasions. The United Nations and NGOs, including HRW and Amnesty International, voiced serious concerns regarding Saudi-led coalition activities, claiming some coalition airstrikes were indiscriminate and caused disproportionate collateral impact on civilians. Coalition sources sometimes reported that damage in a given explosive incident resulted not from airstrikes but from shelling by Houthi-Saleh rebel forces; there were often contrary claims by pro-Houthi media. Due to continuing fighting, there was limited opportunity for postincident forensic investigations.
According to HRW, on March 16, a helicopter fired on a civilian boat in the Red Sea near Hudaydah that was carrying predominantly Somali citizens, including many refugees and migrants. There were 42 casualties, including women and children. Both the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi-Saleh forces denied responsibility for the attack; a UN investigation attributed responsibility to the Saudi-led coalition.
Reuters and several local media sources reported that, on June 17, two Saudi-led coalition air raids killed at least 25 civilians in al-Mashnaq market in the Shada District of the Sa’ada Governorate.
On July 18, the OHCHR reported a Saudi-led coalition airstrike killed at least 18 civilians, including 10 children in al-Asheerah village in Taiz. The three families in the house were internally displaced persons who moved due to airstrikes in their home village.
The coalition’s Joint Incident Assessment Team, based in Riyadh and consisting of 14 military and civilian members from coalition member states, investigated some incidents of airstrikes that reportedly resulted in civilian casualties and concluded that facilities hit during the year were targeted as legitimate military facilities.
Abductions: In its August report, the OHCHR stated it verified 491 cases of abduction and “deprivation of liberty” since July 2015. Of these, 89 percent were allegedly committed by the popular committees or tribal militias, 6 percent by AQAP affiliates, and 5 percent by the popular resistance committees or armed groups. The OHCHR reported that, as of March 24, some 249 individuals, including 18 journalists, were reportedly detained without cause in detention facilities throughout the country. Tribal groups were also responsible for kidnappings for ransom, as were other nonstate actors, such as AQAP (see section 1.b.).
Local press reports and activists also alleged that coalition and local forces abducted, arbitrarily detained, and mistreated individuals, including those without apparent ties to terrorist organizations, as part of their counterterrorism efforts in the Mukalla area.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: The NCIAVHR claimed to have received 386 cases involving torture from September 2016 to June (see section 1.c.).
Following a visit to Aden early in the year, HRW reported in an April statement that Houthi-Saleh forces used land mines in six governorates, including in residential areas, which appear to have killed and maimed hundreds of civilians since the conflict began.
In February the Yemen Executive Mine Action Center (YEMAC) found and cleared improvised mines on civilian roads near the port city of Mokha in Taiz governorate, from which Houthi-Saleh forces had recently withdrawn. HRW reported that AQAP has also used landmines.
Between July 2015 and March 2, YEMAC’s southern branch reportedly found and destroyed 65,272 landmines, including 20,807 antipersonnel landmines, attributed to Houthi-Saleh forces and AQAP in Aden, Abyan, Lahj, al-Dhale, and Taiz.
Child Soldiers: Although law and government policy expressly forbid the practice, children under the age of 18 directly participated in armed conflict for government, tribal, and militant forces, primarily as guards and couriers. Nearly one-third of the combatants in the country were younger than 18, by some estimates. The lack of a consistent system for birth registration compounded difficulties in proving age, which at times contributed to the recruitment of minors into the military. In September the OHCHR reported 1,702 verified cases of recruitment and use of child soldiers since March 2015, of which 67 percent were attributed to Houthi-Saleh forces and 20 percent to progovernment forces.
During the year the Houthis and other armed groups, including tribal and Islamist militias and AQAP, increased their recruitment, training, and deployment of children as participants in the conflict.
A February Amnesty International report found that the Houthis actively recruited boys as young as 15 to fight as child soldiers. According to the report, Houthi representatives ran local centers where young boys and men were encouraged to fight. One source said the Houthis imposed recruitment quotas on local representatives.
Tribes, including some armed and financed by the government to fight alongside the regular army, used underage recruits in combat zones, according to reports by international NGOs, such as Save the Children. Houthi-Saleh rebels routinely used children to staff checkpoints, act as human shields, or serve as suicide bombers. Combatants reportedly involved married boys between the ages of 12 and 15 in fighting in the northern tribal areas; tribal custom considered married boys as adults who owe allegiance to the tribe. As a result, according to international and local human rights NGOs, one-half of tribal fighters were youths under 18. Other observers noted that tribes rarely placed boys in harm’s way but used them as guards rather than fighters.
The UN Security Council Panel of Experts on Yemen reported in January 2016 that young men and child combatants of all local fighting groups in Aden were reportedly subject to rape upon capture.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: All parties to the conflict routinely imposed severe restrictions on movements of people, goods, and humanitarian assistance. Food insecurity, fuel shortages, damage to local infrastructure, and lack of access for humanitarian organizations to vulnerable populations contributed to the deteriorating humanitarian situation.
The Houthi-Saleh militias’ forceful takeover and misadministration of government institutions led to dire economic consequences--nonpayment of workers’ wages and allegations of widespread corruption, including at checkpoints controlled by Houthi-Saleh militias--that severely affected the distribution of food aid and exacerbated food insecurity.
The government, the coalition, or both delayed or denied clearance permits for humanitarian and commercial aid shipments bound for rebel-held Red Sea ports. After a Houthi ballistic missile attack was intercepted over the Riyadh airport on November 4, the Saudi-led coalition blocked all air, sea, and land crossings in and out of Yemen, ceasing all commercial imports and humanitarian aid into the country for more than two weeks. The Saudi-led coalition reversed this action on December 20, allowing ports, including the critical Red Sea port of Hudaydah, to reopen.
Militias held trucks containing food, medical supplies, and aid equipment at checkpoints and prevented them from entering major cities.
There were reports of attacks on health-care facilities and health-care workers. The September OHCHR report for Yemen noted that, according to the World Health Organization, as of October 2016, at least 274 health facilities had been damaged or destroyed by fighting, 13 health workers killed, and 31 injured while performing their duties.
In January the UN Security Council Panel of Experts found that all parties to the conflict--the Saudi-led coalition, the Houthi-Saleh military alliance, and forces associated with the government of Yemen--committed or contributed to violations against hospitals. The panel recorded three incidents in Taiz in which armed men threatened hospital staff and disrupted life-saving treatment to demand treatment first for their wounded.
There were reports of the use of civilians to shield combatants. Houthi-Saleh forces reportedly used captives as human shields at military encampments and ammunition depots under threat of coalition airstrikes.