The country experienced significant internal conflict during the year. On January 22, forces affiliated with the Houthi-led Ansar Allah, a movement backed by former president Ali Abdallah Saleh, seized the presidential palace and other government buildings in Sana’a, leading Prime Minister Khaled Bahah and his cabinet to resign, while the Houthis placed President Hadi under house arrest. On February 6, the movement illegally disbanded parliament and attempted to establish the Supreme Revolutionary Committee as the highest governing authority. On March 24, President Hadi requested Arab League/ GCC military intervention, invoking Article 51 of the UN Charter; the president fled the country the following day. In response to this request, on March 26, Saudi officials announced the formation of a coalition to counter the Houthi rebellion, with membership including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, and Senegal. The Saudi-led coalition conducted air and ground operations throughout the remainder of the year.
Clashes occurred as the parties expanded control over, lost, and regained territory. The military’s loyalties divided among numerous local actors. Armed clashes continued and expanded to several areas of the country among Houthi-Saleh rebels, supporters of both the Islah Party (Sunni Islamist) and the Rashad Party (Salafi), armed separatists affiliated with the Southern Mobility Movement, tribal forces, and progovernment resistance forces, and some Saudi-led coalition ground forces, with participation by elements of the country’s armed forces. Terrorist groups, including AQAP and Da’esh, carried out attacks against government representatives and installations, Houthi combatants, members of Hirak, and other actors AQAP and Da’esh accused of behavior violating sharia law. In October, Vice President Bahah (who was named to this position in April) and most ministers established themselves in Aden and attempted to restart government services, despite an attack on their temporary headquarters on October 6, for which Da’esh claimed responsibility. On December 15, UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, convened the government-in-exile and Houthi-Saleh representatives to peace talks in Switzerland. As of year’s end, those talks continued, and the government had established a tentative hold in Aden.
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 a reported 82 percent of the country’s population requiring humanitarian assistance by the end of the year, according to the UN.
Killings: NGOs, media, and humanitarian organizations reported on the use of what they considered disproportionate force by all parties to the ongoing conflict.
Available information on civilian casualties is incomplete, especially with the closure of many health facilities during the year due to insecurity and the lack of supplies. Casualties reportedly resulted from airstrikes and shelling of civilian areas. Numerous organizations tried to track fatalities in the fighting. For instance, on September 1, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated that of the estimated 95 civilian deaths during the preceding two weeks in Ta’iz, the Saudi-led coalition’s aerial bombardment caused 53, while the OHCHR attributed the remaining 42 to sniper fire and shelling by Houthi rebel forces. According to the government-in-exile, shelling by Houthi-Saleh forces killed 7,235 civilians between March 21 and August 15. The OHCHR estimated that between March 26 and December 31, the conflict produced 8,119 casualties, including 2,795 killed and 5,324 wounded.
In August the YCMHRV reported 3,074 fatalities and 7,347 injured persons during the period September 2014 to August 15 in 14 of Yemen’s 21 governorates plus Sana’a. As of August 19, the World Health Organization counted 4,513 persons killed since the start of the conflict, many of them reportedly civilian.
In September the UK-based NGO Action on Armed Violence reported 1,363 civilian fatalities between January 1 and July 15 due to explosive weapon use; of 124 recorded incidents, 60 percent took place in populated areas. According to Human Rights Watch and other reporting, from March 20 to September 27, an estimated 1,866 civilian fatalities occurred from all causes, the majority from coalition airstrikes.
There were many reported instances of killing civilians. For example, on August 29, Houthi-Saleh rebel forces shelled the al-Saeed mosque in Usayferah, north of Ta’iz, reportedly causing the deaths of 20 children ages two to 14.
Houthi rebels fired numerous rockets and three SCUD missiles across the border into Saudi Arabia, killing at least 47 Saudi civilian and military personnel from April to December, according to media reports.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reported that the Saudi-led coalition launched rocket attacks into populated civilian areas near the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border in the northern Yemeni town of Sa’ada and Hajjah Province. Human Rights Watch reported that seven rocket attacks killed 13 persons, including three children, in seven rocket attacks from April to mid-July in Hajjah Province.
The Saudi-led coalition airstrikes resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure on multiple occasions. 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 ongoing fighting, there was limited opportunity for post-incident forensic investigations.
On September 28, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit a wedding party in a village near Mokha, Ta’iz Governorate, resulting in upwards of 130 civilian fatalities and as many injuries, according to media reports.
On August 30, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike targeted the al-Sham bottling plant in Hajjah Province, according to the coalition spokesman, resulting in more than 30 casualties, according to media reports. The coalition spokesperson asserted that Houthi rebels had used the plant to make explosive devices and to train African migrants pressed into service as combatants. Human rights organizations reported that there had been no militant activity in that area for several months.
Abductions: Between September 2014 and August 15, Houthi-Saleh forces and their allies abducted and forcibly disappeared 982 persons in 17 governorates, extracting forced pledges and confessions and demanding ransom from family members, according to the YCMHRV. Tribal groups were probably responsible for kidnappings for ransom, as were other nonstate actors such as AQAP, according to reports by the NGO HOOD in 2014 (see section 1.b.).
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Media and NGOs reported that the Houthis used land mines in civilian areas in the governorates of Abyan, Aden, Marib, Lahij, and Ta’iz. According to Human Rights Watch, land mines killed at least 12 persons and wounded more than nine since September. Al-Jazeera reported that the Houthis planted land mines on intercity roads and in residential areas in and around Aden in retaliation for their defeat and loss of the city in August. Adel Saeed, an expert at the Yemen Executive Mine Action Center, said in a press interview that the Houthis left behind tens of thousands of mines, explosive devices, and explosive remnants of war. The government-in-exile and the Saudi-led coalition brought in an antimine team from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to clear the land mines.
Child Soldiers: Although law and government policy expressly forbid the practice, children under age 18 directly participated in armed conflict for government, tribal, and militant forces, primarily as guards and couriers. During the year the Houthis and other armed groups, including tribal and Islamist militias, including AQAP, increased their recruitment, training, and deployment of the children as participants in the conflict, according to Human Rights Watch. In May, Human Rights Watch reported that children accounted for as many as a third of all fighters for these armed groups. Fighting killed at least 279 children and wounded 402 others between March 26 and June 16, more than four times the 2014 child casualty rate, according to Human Rights Watch.
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. Houthis routinely used children to operate checkpoints and search vehicles. Combatants reportedly involved married boys ages 12 to 15 in armed conflicts in the northern tribal areas. Tribal custom considers married boys as adults who owe allegiance to the tribe. As a result, according to international and local human rights NGOs, half of tribal fighters were youths under 18. Other observers noted tribes rarely placed boys in harm’s way but used them as guards rather than fighters.
Extremist groups also used child soldiers. AQAP recruited boys for combat operations against military and security forces.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at 2009-2017.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-Related Abuses: There were reports of restriction of the passage of relief supplies and of humanitarian organizations’ access. After progovernment forces established a tenuous hold by August, the government-in-exile and the Saudi-led coalition delayed or withheld clearance permits for commercial and humanitarian aid shipments bound for rebel-held Red Sea ports, directing shipments instead to Aden. Also that month, media and NGOs reported that multiple attacks severely damaged infrastructure critical to offloading shipments at the Houthi-controlled Port of al-Hudaydah on August 18. According to these reports, five cranes, several storehouses, and the container terminal sustained damage. Supply interruptions made it difficult for aid agencies to support vulnerable populations. Increasing food insecurity, fuel shortages, damage to local infrastructure, and lack of access for humanitarian organizations to vulnerable populations contributed to the deteriorating humanitarian situation.
In general, NGOs reported relative cooperation from Houthi leadership related to delivery of humanitarian aid to ports that they controlled; however, the Houthis did not permit the delivery of humanitarian aid to the besieged city of Ta’iz, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis there.
There were reports of attacks on health-care facilities. On October 26, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit a medical facility operated by Doctors without Borders (MSF) in Haydan District, Sa’ada Governorate, resulting in one staff member’s injury and the building’s destruction, according to MSF. According to another international NGO based in Sana’a, an initial strike landed to the side of the facility, while a subsequent one hit it directly.
In August, Houthi forces reportedly shelled al-Thawrah Hospital in Ta’iz and turned the Yemen International Hospital on the city outskirts into a military barracks, installing heavy artillery, according to reports by the government-in-exile, citing Yemeni NGOs.
There were reports of deliberate attacks on health-care workers. On September 2, a gunman at a Houthi checkpoint killed two ICRC workers, both Yemeni nationals, in Amran Governorate. On August 25, the ICRC evacuated its foreign staff in Aden after gunmen robbed its main office while holding staff at gunpoint. On December 1, unknown parties kidnapped two ICRC workers; the kidnappers subsequently released one while the other, a Tunisian national, remained in captivity at year-end.
Eight Yemeni Red Crescent Society volunteers died in the line of duty since the start of the conflict. Two volunteers died in an airstrike in the al-Swaida area of Ta’iz. On April 4, two volunteer paramedics died when an unknown assailant’s gunfire hit their ambulance in Aden. On March 30, an unknown assailant shot and killed a volunteer ambulance driver in al-Dhale in the south.
There were reports of use of civilians to shield combatants. Houthi-Saleh forces reportedly used captives as human shields at military encampments and ammunition depots under threat of Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, extracted forced pledges and confessions, and demanded ransoms ranging from 100,000 to 200,000 rials ($465 to $930) from family members, according to the YCMHRV. They seized most detainees in their homes or at their workplaces during raids, detaining the remainder at checkpoints, according to the YCMHRV, citing a Houthi militia document. Houthi-Saleh forces detained individuals without judicial orders and denied them family visits or legal representation, according to the YCMHRV.
On May 21, Houthi and pro-Saleh forces used detainees as human shields during Saudi-led coalition airstrikes against rebel positions on Jabal Hirran in Dhamar Governorate, according to the YCMHRV.