A destroyed house in Sanaa with crowd of rescuers in front

The war on Yemen’s civilians

The war in Yemen has killed over 100,000 people as a direct result of military action. Many more have died of as a result of the devastating humanitarian crisis caused by the war and the Coalition’s air and naval blockade of Yemen.

Last updated: 20/07/2020

Key points

The war in Yemen has killed over 100,000 people as a direct result of military action. The death toll includes more than 12,000 civilians. Two thirds of these deaths were caused by air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition.

Air raids have frequently targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings and busy market places where there was no military target nearby, often with extremely deadly consequences. Many of these air raids appear to be clear violations of International Humanitarian Law.

Despite UK government claims that it provides training to the Coalition to avoid civilian casualties, there is no sign that this has reduced the deadly toll of the air raids. UK-manufactured weapons have been tied to individual attacks violating International Humanitarian Law.

  • These numbers do not include those who have died of hunger and disease as a result of the devastating humanitarian crisis caused by the war and the Coalition’s air and naval blockade of Yemen.

A devastating human toll

The war in Yemen has killed over 100,000 people as a direct result of military action, from March 2015 (when Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies joined the war), until June 2019, according to data from the Yemen Data Project and ACLED, the Armed Conflict Locations and Events Data project.

This death toll includes more than 12,000 civilians. Two thirds of these deaths, from over 4,900 separate incidents, were caused by air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition.

Others were killed by landmines or improvised explosive devices (IEDs), artillery shelling, suicide bombings, shootings, and other armed violence against civilians, in attacks committed by all sides. Many more civilians, not included in the above figures, have also been killed in attacks on military targets – so-called “collateral damage”.

Key statistics

100,000

people killed as a result of military action

ACLED data

8,000

civilian deaths as a result of direct targeting by the Saudi-led coalition

Yemen Data Project

21,400+

air raids by the Saudi-led coalition

Yemen Data Project

All sides of the conflict: the Saudi-led Coalition, the Houthi fighters who control much of the country including the capital Sana’a, forces loyal to the internationally recognized Yemeni government of President Hadi, various militia armed and trained by Saudi Arabia and the UAE as part of the anti-Houthi forces, US forces through drone strikes, and groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, have all been responsible for numerous killings of civilians.

Reports from Yemeni NGOs such as Mwatana for Human Rights, international NGOs, and reports by the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen have documented numerous violations of  International Humanitarian Law (IHL) by all parties to the conflict.

The Saudi Coalition’s air war

According to the Yemen Data Project, the Saudi-led Coalition had carried out over 21,400 air raids in Yemen up to the end of July 2020.

Of these, around 30% were against targets that were clearly identified as civilian. These included residential areas, schools and universities, hospitals, market places, civilian vehicles, mosques, factories and businesses, crucial infrastructure including transportation and water and energy facilities, sporting and cultural sites, and farms and other agricultural facilities.

A further 34.2% of the targets could not be identified. Only 34% were identified as military targets.

Air raids have frequently targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings and busy market places where there was no military target nearby, often with extremely deadly consequences.

Despite UK government claims that it provides training to the Coalition to improve their targeting practices to avoid civilian casualties, there has been no sign that this has reduced the deadly toll of the air raids. Many of these air raids, including those presented here, appear to be clear violations of IHL, an assessment shared by the UN Panel of Experts and NGOs. Some have been described as apparent war crimes.

In some cases, investigators either from the UN or NGOs have identified the types of weapons used in attacks from fragments found at the scene. Thus, specific US and UK-manufactured weapons have been tied to individual attacks violating IHL. These cases are documented in various UN Panel of Experts reports, and the report Day of Judgement by Yemeni NGO Mwatana for Human Rights.

Book cover entitled "day of judgement" the rule of the US and Europe in civilian death destruction and trauma in Yemen. Picture of ruined Yemen houses behind title.

Bombing of a wedding party in Bani Qais

"The situation was tragic. Body parts were everywhere. It was like the Day of Judgement"

Source: Mwatana, Day of Judgement, 2019

At about 10 p.m. on Sunday, April 22, 2018, Saudi/UAE-led Coalition airplanes dropped a US-made GBU-12 bomb on a wedding celebration in Al-Raqa village, Bani Qais District, Hajjah Governorate.

Of the 150 to 200 people gathered to celebrate the wedding of 20-year-old shepherd Yahya Al-Musabi, the attack killed twenty-one, including eleven children, and injured ninety-seven, including forty-eight children and two women.

55-year-old farmer Fadhl Al-Musabi, one of the wedding guests, was celebrating at the groom’s house at the time of the attack. Fadhl recalled the moments before the airstrike: “We were dancing happily like any other people who had weddings. It was a happy time and people were happy…I could hear the jets hovering overhead, and I was praying that things would go well that day.”

Suddenly, one of the guests began shouting for people to evacuate the wedding tent. Fadhl began running toward the bridal party. As Fadhl ran, a Coalition bomb soared through the air. “I saw a bomb and heard it whistle. I saw the bomb in the sky with a flame emerging from it. I could not move… I prayed to Allah that my daughter and wife be safe.” The bomb struck the groom’s wedding tent. Fadhl described the aftermath of the deadly attack: “The situation was tragic. Body parts were everywhere. It was like the Day of Judgment.”

The situation was tragic. Body parts were everywhere. It was like the Day of Judgement

 Fadhl Al-Musabi, wedding guest. From Mwatana, Day of Judgement

The Saudi/UAE-led Coalition airstrike appears to have been indiscriminate. Researchers and witnesses did not identify any military targets in the area at the time of the attack—the closest military site identified was a checkpoint about twenty-five kilometers away. Mwatana did not find any evidence to indicate that combatants were present at or near the wedding.

 

Seven campaigners holding signs standing behind 20 blue school bags. Signs are at a distance but appear to relate to Yemen and a school bus bombing

Bombing of a school bus in Dayhan

"For a group of boys in northern Yemen, Thursday was supposed to be a celebration -- a much-anticipated field trip marking their graduation from summer school."

CNN report: Yemen school bus attack

An air strike on a busy market place in Dayhan, Sa’dah killed between 43 and 51 civilians, and injured 63. Most of those killed were children, when the school bus in which they were travelling was hit by the explosion.

The children were on a field trip, visiting a graveyard containing shrines to local martyrs. A local hospital run by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) received the bodies of 29 children from the attack. The attack caused widespread outrage, and was condemned by the UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres.

Saudi Arabia initially defended the attack as being against a ‘legitimate military target’, despite there being no evidence of Houthi military activity in the area, according to the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen. Later, the Coalition’s Joint Investigation and Assessment Team (JIAT) admitted that the attack had been a mistake and had violated rules of engagement. However, there is no evidence that they followed up a pledge to hold those responsible accountable.

Remnants of a laser-guided Paveway bomb produced by Lockheed Martin were found near the scene of the strike.

Does the world really need more innocent children’s lives to stop the cruel war on children in Yemen?

 Geert Cappelaere, Unicef’s regional director in the Middle East and North Africa, in response to the school bus bombing. Source: UNICEF.

 

Signs Stop weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and Targeting a school bus is not a legitimate military operation; held by two activists, one wearing a beard and flat cap. The other wearing a pink and purple hat.

Chronology of air raids

Air raids have frequently targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings and busy market places where there was no military target nearby, often with extremely deadly consequences.

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Arms Dealers Dine as Yemen Starves #StopArming Saudi CAAT banner held by four activists outside a hotel under a mirrored canopy. The mirror reflects policeman in fluorescent jackets.

The humanitarian crisis

As well as the direct deaths caused by such bombings, this brutal air war has been one of the primary causes of the humanitarian crisis that is devastating Yemen, leaving 10 million people on the brink of famine.

Royal Saudi fighter jet, picture of pilot under canopy. Decals on jet say God Bless You and Royal Sau in Arabic and English

Photo by Clément Alloing, CC BY-NC-ND

UK arms supplies

The Saudi-led bombing campaign has been conducted overwhelmingly using aircraft, bombs, and missiles supplied by the US and the UK.

Storm Shadow missile parts found in Yemen

Photo by Hussain Albukhaiti on Twitter

Use of UK arms in Yemen

Over half of Saudi Arabia's fleet of combat aircraft used for bombing raids are UK-supplied, and the UK has continued to supply arms to Saudi Arabia, including much of the bombs, missiles, and other ordnance used in the war.

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UK-made cluster bombs in Yemen

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