Anti-Houthi Yemeni fighters harass medics, endanger civilians: Amnesty

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 23, 2016 10:31 AM

DUBAI (Reuters) - Amnesty International accused pro-government Yemeni forces fighting Houthi rebels for control of the southwestern city of Taiz of harassing medical staff and endangering civilians by stationing combatants among them.

Civilians in Taiz, which had a pre-war population of 300,000, have been trapped by intense fighting, with dead bodies lying in the streets and hundreds of people wounded this week, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Tuesday.

Amnesty, a London-based human rights watchdog, said that so-called Popular Committees - anti-Houthi local militias backed by exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's government - had detained and threatened to kill medical staff in Taiz.

Popular Committee fighters hold most of Taiz, Yemen's third largest city, but are hemmed in by Houthi forces on three sides.

"There is compelling evidence to suggest that anti-Houthi forces have waged a campaign of fear and intimidation against medical professionals in Taiz," said Philip Luther, research and advocacy director at Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa wing.

"By positioning fighters and military positions near medical facilities they have compromised the safety of hospitals and flouted their obligation to protect civilians under international law."

Officials from Hadi's government said they were studying the Amnesty report and would respond to it.

A Saudi-led coalition has been fighting the Houthis since March 2015 to restore the internationally recognized president, Hadi, who lives in exile in Saudi Arabia.

Hadi supporters control most of Taiz. But the United Nations has accused Houthi forces enclosing Taiz on three sides of blocking humanitarian supply routes into the city, located some 205 km (123 miles) south of the capital Sanaa.

Rights groups have accused both sides in Taiz of using rockets and mortars in populated residential areas. Landmines planted by Houthis in Taiz have caused numerous civilian casualties, according to Human Rights Watch.

Amnesty said its researchers had interviewed 15 doctors and other hospital staff in Taiz who described how Popular Committee members had "regularly harassed, detained or even threatened to kill them over the past six months".

The report cited at least three cases in which hospitals were closed because of threats against staff. These included an incident on Monday when fighters raided and shut down the city's biggest public hospital, al-Thawra, apparently for having provided emergency medical treatment to three injured Houthi fighters, according to the report.

It quoted witnesses as saying that three armed men stormed an office at the hospital and threatened to kill medical staff if it was not shut down immediately.

They also tried to drag the two surviving Houthi fighters - one of whom was a minor - out of the hospital's intensive care and recovery units, but were prevented by medical staff.

The report further quoted the director of al-Thawra hospital as saying fighters had deployed defensive positions, including tanks, around the compound, ignoring pleas by staff and local authorities not to do so.

The hospital director said outgunned and outnumbered hospital guards were unable to stand up to the militiamen.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; editing by Mark Heinrich)