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Press briefing notes on Yemen

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Liz Throssell
Date: 19 February 2021

We are increasingly concerned for the fate of civilians in Marib Governorate in northern Yemen, including at least 800,000 internally displaced people, amid an escalation in hostilities as Houthi forces, also known as Ansar Allah, try to seize control of the region from the Yemeni Government.

With the fighting intensifying, IDP sites in the mountain district of Sirwah have been left without water and electricity, as well as health and education services. As a result, several thousand people, many in need of humanitarian assistance, have been fleeing Sirwah towards Marib City, about 15 to 20 km away, which is itself coming under attack from Ansar Allah forces.

If the frontlines continue to move east towards the city and other populated parts of Marib Governorate, it is likely hundreds of thousands of civilians will be forced to flee the area, which has only one main road to the East and a more precarious one towards the South. 

Given the potentially disastrous humanitarian consequences, we call on all parties to the conflict to de-escalate the situation and remind them of their obligations under international law to protect civilians from the adverse effects of the armed conflict. This includes ensuring freedom of movement for the safe passage of civilians, including IDPs and migrants who are trying to leave Marib, as well as allowing humanitarian workers and assistance to reach civilians in the area at all times.

Marib, relatively unaffected by the conflict until now, is the governorate with the biggest number of IDPs in Yemen.

We urge the authorities to protect all civilians. These include thousands of migrants from East Africa, the majority stranded on their way north to Saudi Arabia. We are also concerned about the situation of 501 detainees in Marib’s Central Prison as the Yemeni authorities have indicated that they have no contingency plan for them.

We are in the process of verifying information about recent civilian casualties in Marib, where over the last week Ansar Allah forces  launched an offensive on several fronts. Forces affiliated to the Government of Yemen have fought back with the support of the Saudi-led Coalition, which has carried out more than 100 airstrikes since 10 February. We are also concerned by reports of drones and missiles allegedly launched by Ansar Allah striking civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.

We urge all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law principles on the conduct of hostilities, in particular the principles of distinction, which prohibits the targeting of civilians and civilian objects and infrastructure, as well as the principles of proportionality and precautions in attack and against the effects of attacks.

We also call on all parties to the conflict to agree to a ceasefire and return to the negotiating table. As has been stressed on many occasions, only a political solution can end a conflict that has brought untold suffering to Yemenis.

For more information and media requests, please contact:
Liz Throssell + 41 22 917 9296 / ethrossell@ohchr.org or
Rupert Colville + 41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org

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