UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition on Saada City in northern Yemen which is controlled by Shiite rebels killed dozens of civilians in an apparent violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said in a report Tuesday.
The rights group said its investigators were able to visit Saada City on May 15-16 during a five-day humanitarian cease-fire and compile the names of 59 people killed in aerial attacks, including at least 35 children. It said satellite imagery showed over 210 impact locations in built-up areas consistent with aerial bombings.
Human Rights Watch said many airstrikes were directed at legitimate military targets but several "appeared to violate international humanitarian law, also known as the laws of war, and resulted in numerous civilian deaths and injuries."
The rights group said it wrote to the Saudi government seeking information on intended targets of 13 airstrikes in Saada City but has received no response.
It called on Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners to observe the laws of war, promptly investigate all alleged violations, and provide appropriate compensation to civilian victims. It also called on the United States, which is providing logistical and intelligence support to the coalition, to press for an investigation.
Fighting in Yemen pits Shiite Houthi rebels and allied troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh against southern separatists, local and tribal militias, Sunni Islamic militants and loyalists of current President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The rebels seized the capital in September and swept south, forcing Hadi to flee to neighboring Saudi Arabia.
A Saudi-led and U.S.-backed coalition began launching airstrikes against the rebel forces on March 26.
Human Rights Watch said under the laws of war applicable to the Yemen conflict, civilians and "civilian objects" such as markets and schools may never be deliberate targets of attack — and attacks that fail to discriminate between civilians and combatants or that cause disproportionate civilian harm are prohibited.
The rights group said a coalition announcement on May 8 that the entire city of Saada was a military target not only violated the laws of war by treating separate military objectives as a single military target but possibly also "the prohibition against making threats of violence whose purpose is to instill terror in the civilian population."
Belkis Wille, a Human Rights researcher, told a news conference that "the city itself is a shell of what it once was," with bombed out homes, market places and government buildings. She said she and a colleague interviewed 28 people — among the few left in what is now almost "a ghost city" — including a man named Walid al-Ibbi who lost 27 members of his family.
Just before the bomb struck his home on May 5, al-Ibbi said in a video shown to reporters that "a family had come to our house to ask for my daughter's hand in marriage for their son. Now I have lost my wife and all four of my daughters. "