Houtis, Southern fighters endanger Aden hospital in Yemen 

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June 21, Beirut: Houthi forces and southern armed groups have committed serious abuses at a hospital in Yemen’s port city of Aden, forcing its evacuation in late April 2015.

Staff at the al-Jumhouri Hospital told Human Rights Watch that in late March southern fighters summarily executed two Houthi fighters who were patients and used the hospital as a defensive position until driven from the area. The Houthi assault on the area around the hospital resulted in repeated firing on hospital staff and patients, killing at least two civilians and wounding a nurse.

All parties to Yemen’s armed conflict should respect the neutrality of hospitals and other medical facilities and not target them or use them for military operations, Human Rights Watch said. The United Nations Security Council should remind the parties in Yemen that attacks on hospitals violate international humanitarian law, and that those responsible for such attacks are subject to travel bans and asset freezes under Resolution 2140.

“The fighting in Yemen is terrible enough without both sides bringing the battle into hospitals,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “Attacks on medical facilities prevent people who are injured from the fighting to get critical, life-saving care.”

On March 4, Houthi fighters stopped three volunteers for Inqath, an aid group that provides medical supplies to hospitals in Aden, as they took boxes of medicine by taxi to al-Jumhouri hospital. The Houthi fighters took the volunteers to a military base in Lahj, 35 kilometres north of Aden, before releasing them on March 10. One volunteer told Human Rights Watch that his captors held him in a room with a dozen other detainees and interrogated him several times, accusing him of assisting extremist groups. Also in March, fighters linked to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) or Islamic State, also known as ISIS, went to the hospital and tried to force their way into a room where a Houthi commander was being treated for burn wounds. They eventually left without harming the commander.

On April 19, about 300 southern fighters deployed in and around the hospital over the objections of hospital staff. The fighters forced hospital staff to reveal the location of two Houthi fighters who had been brought in that morning, suffering from dehydration. The fighters shot both men dead in the hospital yard and left the bodies there, where people mutilated the corpses before they were buried the next day. Houthi forces in surrounding buildings fired on the hospital numerous times, eventually causing the staff and patients to evacuate on April 29, hospital staff said.

Under the laws of war applicable to the armed conflict in Yemen, hospitals and other medical facilities receive special protection. They may not be targeted, even if they are being used to treat enemy fighters. Medical facilities remain protected unless they are used to commit hostile acts that are outside their humanitarian function. Even then, they are only subject to attack after a warning has been given setting a reasonable time limit, and after the warning has gone unheeded. Armed forces or groups should not occupy medical facilities.

All parties to the conflict should ensure that medical workers are protected from attacks or interference by third parties, and take meaningful steps to prevent the military occupation of hospitals. They should not disrupt the provision of medical services to wounded enemy combatants, and they should allow safe passage of medical supplies and personnel to those in need.

Under international human rights law, attacks on health facilities, workers, or transport vehicles may impede the right of access to health care and the right to the highest attainable standard of health. In December 2014, the United Nations General Assembly passed a landmark resolution that urged member countries to take immediate steps to ensure that health workers everywhere are protected from violence.

The fighting in Aden broke out on March 19, one week before a nine-country coalition led by Saudi Arabia opened an aerial bombing campaign against Houthi forces. Houthi and southern fighters engaged in heavy clashes in Aden’s Khormaksar district between April 19 and 27 with the district’s al-Jumhouri Hospital caught in the middle.

The head of the statistics department at al-Jumhouri told Human Rights Watch that between March 25 and April 24, the hospital received 559 wounded and 165 dead civilians. These included at least three women and two children who had died and five women and two children who were wounded. He said that these numbers included only those brought into the hospital, so the actual number of civilian casualties was probably higher. Injuries to civilians reported by hospital staff included gunshot wounds to the back, chest, shoulder and legs, wounds from blast fragments, and various burns. During the same time, the hospital received the bodies of 22 Houthi and 41 southern fighters.

The United Nations reported that as of June 3, 2,288 people had been killed since the beginning of Yemen’s conflict, including 1,160 civilians, Another 2,800 civilians had been injured. The conflict has displaced over a million people. More than 15 million people are without access to basic health care, up 40 percent since March.

“As fighting rages on in Aden, hospitals need to remain safe havens for those in need of medical care,” Stork said. “Any commander allowing his troops to use hospital premises to carry out attacks should be held accountable.”

The Oslo Times

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