The Saudi and Emirati-led coalition launched an attack on June 13 against Houthis around Hodeidah port, on the west coast of Yemen, through which more than 70% of imports enter the country. Hodeidah is a lifeline for more than 20 million Yemenis who rely on outside aid to survive. UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths warned two months ago that an attack on Hodeidah could “in a single stroke, take peace off the table”. Fighting for port control also poses a disproportionate risk to civilian populations.
Hodeidah is a lifeline for more than 20 million Yemenis who rely on outside aid to survive.
Even before the Hodeidah attack, Yemen was facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, directly linked to three years of conflict and the warring parties’ restrictions on humanitarian aid and access, including the coalition-imposed sea and air blockade on parts of Yemen under Houthi control. UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, on Friday warned of the threat of a new cholera outbreak due to a possible water system break down in Hodeidah – just months after Yemen grappled with the largest cholera epidemic in modern times with over one million suspected cases.
Thousands of people have already been displaced by recent fighting and the risks to civilians from the Hodeidah offensive are all the more serious given the track record of all parties to the conflict. In three years of war, the coalition forces have repeatedly violated international humanitarian law, using explosive weapons with wide area affect in densely populated areas, bombing schools and hospitals, and blocking aid and access. The Houthi forces they are fighting have also laid antipersonnel landmines, restricted humanitarian access and indiscriminately shelled densely populated areas in Yemen.
France's willingness to do more to address the crisis in Yemen is welcome. However, several NGOs have recently expressed, in an open letter to President Macron, their concerns about the humanitarian conference on Yemen of 27 June, co-chaired by Saudi Arabia – a party to the conflict –, as a major offensive is under way. The French initiative, now downgraded to a meeting of experts, will be judged on its ability to secure clear commitments from Saudi Arabia and its allies to minimize risks to civilians during the Hodeidah attack and across Yemen, NGOs said today.
The 15 signatory organisations call on France to:
- Publicly warn of the risks to civilians during an attack on Hodeidah and call on all parties to take immediate steps to provide safe passage to civilians fleeing, allow unimpeded access for aid and commercial imports to the broader population and access by humanitarian agencies, as required by international humanitarian law.
- Condemn indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians by all parties.
- Suspend French arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates where there is a substantial risk of these arms being used in Yemen to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law; and allow for increased parliamentary oversight over arms sales.
The 15 signatory organisations are: ACAT, Alliance internationale pour la défense des droits et des libertés, Amnesty International, Action Contre la Faim, CARE France, Handicap International, Human Rights Watch, Observatoire des Armements, Norwegian refugee Council, Médecins du Monde, Première Urgence Internationale, Saferworld, Salam for Yemen, Save the Children, SumOfUs.
Dr. Jean-François Corty, International Operations Director, Médecins du Monde
“The blockade of the coalition, which is akin to collective punishment, and the attack on Hodeidah amplify the deterioration of living conditions and access to care for civilians. France must actively pursue a conflict resolution diplomacy to limit the worsening of the humanitarian crisis.”