SANAA, Yemen – Disparate factions in war-torn Yemen are routinely committing abuses against civilians, according to statements from several humanitarian organizations in recent days. The accusations precede an upsurge in clashes near the Saudi border, a region largely exempt from the incessant violence that has roiled Yemen since the country’s protest movement kicked off in February.
Fighting erupted this week between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and members of Islah, the country’s main opposition party, in Jawf Governorate. At least 23 people have been killed and dozens more injured, according to Reuters news agency.
A UN human rights committee concluded nine days of investigations in Yemen last week. The committee, while expressing gratitude for receiving permission to enter the country, demanded a termination of violence and greater protection for innocent Yemenis.
Committee head Hani Majali in a Sanaa press conference urged government forces to cease using live ammunition against protesters. International conventions provide civilians the right to freely demonstrate and this right must be respected, Majali said.
“Yemen is facing a humanitarian and economic crisis,” according to Majali. Five months of protests and pervasive violence have also ravaged Yemen’s already fragile economy.
The committee visited the Yemeni capital Sanaa and two southern cities, Taiz and Aden. Officials attempted to contact members of Yemen’s fractured political scene. The Islah party, however, complained state security prevented its members from meeting the UN representatives.
But protesters complain the abuses they’ve suffered are not solely at the hands of the regime.
“We faced different violations from different parties – not only the armed attacks by the state and republican guards,” said one of the protesters. “Some protesters wanted the committee to focus on the regime’s violations and the violations of the opposition political parties, Islah party in particular.”
Violence in embattled Yemen, according to various humanitarian groups including Human Rights Watch, is causing hardship for pro-reform demonstrators and others, as well. As a result of the state’s assault on Islamist militants in the country’s south, dozens of civilians, at minimum, have lost their lives, while countless Yemenis have been injured and more displaced. No precise causality figures are available, however.
“As Yemeni government forces wage a battle with armed militants in Abyan, civilians are paying the price,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director for Human Rights Watch. “Both sides need to be doing much more to protect civilians from harm, and the government should be investigating possible laws of war violations by its forces in Abyan.”
With the threat of increased violence still looming over Yemen, armed tribes in Taiz Governorate are readying themselves for full-fledged conflict should President Ali Abdullah Saleh, currently in convalescence in Saudi Arabia after sustaining injuries during a June attack on his presidential palace, decide to return to the country.
“The violence in Taiz is not only by the regime,” said Emad al-Sakkaf, a journalist based in Taiz. “Along with the violence practiced by the republican guards in the protest area, the tribes are terrifying the locals.”
Armed tribes last week attacked two government armored vehicles that were protecting a school, according to Sakkaf. The tribes, who earlier announced their solidarity with the anti-government protesters, wanted to force the students into engaging in civil disobedience, Sakkaf added.
In persistently lawless provincial Yemen, the tribes, locals say, are extending their influence to all society’s sectors.
“The tribes force businessmen to pay them YR 5000 everyday for protection,” Sakkaf said. “This is a huge violation in itself.”
Journalists have also been targeted in recent months. The Yemeni Journalists Syndicate reports an increase in violence against journalists during the past five months of unrest.
“The lack of security has reached a point that was never reached before,” said Mansur al-Jaradi, a syndicate member.
The National Forum for Human Rights, a Yemeni non-profit organization, recently claimed human rights violations in the country, mostly committed by the government, have left more than 50,000 victims. The violations include physical assaults, killings, attempted killings, kidnappings and arrests.
Due to the pervasive violence, displaced Yemenis had launched a month-long sit-in in front of the UNHCR’s Sanaa office, seeking international resettlement assistance. But last week state security, according to several testimonies, dispersed the sit-in participants with water cannon and live rounds fired in the air.