SHAFAQNA – Human Rights Watch (HRW) says a recent deadly aerial aggression on a boat carrying Somali refugees off the coast of Yemen, “apparently” carried out by the Saudi-led military coalition, likely amounts to “war crime.”
According to a statement released by the HRW on Sunday, at least 32 people lost their lives and nearly 30 others were injured after an apparent Saudi airstrike hit a boat, crammed with 145 Somali refugees, near Bab al-Mandeb Strait in the Red Sea on the evening of March 16. Preliminary estimates by the United Nations’ refugee agency, the UNHCR, however, put the fatalities at 42.
“The coalition’s apparent firing on a boat filled with fleeing refugees is only the latest likely war crime in Yemen’s two-year-long war,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at the HRW, adding that “reckless disregard for the lives of civilians has reached a new level of depravity.”
Riyadh and its allies, however, have denied carrying out the airstrike despite witness accounts citing an Apache helicopter – which is only used by Saudi Arabia in the war on Yemen – to have attacked the vessel.
“All of a sudden, I saw a helicopter above us. … They attacked abruptly. … When they kept firing at us, those of us who spoke Arabic kept saying, ‘We are Somalis!’” the statement quoted a young survived Somali refugee as saying.
In the early hours of March 17, the ill-fated boat managed to dock at Yemen’s western port city of Hudaydah and the world learned about the tragedy. The UNHCR said at the time that it was “appalled by the deaths of refugees.”
The refugees had departed from Hudaydah to Sudan when they came under Saudi fire. Ten refugees are still missing. Under the laws of war, deliberate or reckless attacks against civilians are considered as war crimes.
Hudaydah is part of a broad battlefront where Saudi-backed forces are fighting the Yemeni army and its Houthi allies, which control most of northern and western Yemen. Despite repeated assaults and heavy bombardments, Saudi Arabia has failed to wrest control of the port and on March 19 it called for jurisdiction over Hudaydah to be transferred to the UN but the world body flatly rejected the call.
On March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia, backed by a number of African and Persian Gulf Arab states, began launching airstrikes on different areas across Yemen, its southern neighbor, in an attempt to reinstate resigned president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is a close Riyadh ally, and to crush the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement.
According to the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, the Saudi military campaign has claimed the lives of 10,000 Yemenis and left 40,000 others wounded. However, local Yemeni sources have put the death toll from the Saudi war at over 12,000, including many women and children.
The Saudi war has also taken a heavy toll on the country’s facilities and infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools and factories.