Friday, 18 Jan 2019

Civilian numbers in Yemen increase despite US assurances

CAIRO – Saudi Arabia's air strikes and its allies in Yemen are on the verge of killing more civilians than last year, according to a database on violence in the country, despite repeated statements by the United States that the coalition is taking precautions to prevent such bloodshed.

The database gives an indication of the scale of the disaster in Yemen caused by nearly four years of civil war. At least 57,538 people – civilians and combatants – have been killed since the beginning of 2016, according to data collected by the ACLED data project on places and events of armed conflict.

This does not include the first nine months of the war, in 2015, which the group is still analyzing. The data is expected to reach 70,000 or 80,000, Andrea Carboni, a researcher at ACLED in Yemen, told the Associated Press. The count of the organization is considered by many international agencies as one of the most credible, although it is prudent to underestimate this estimate because of the difficulties encountered in tracking deaths.

The figures do not include those who died in the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the war, especially famine. Although no precise figures are available, the Save the Children aid group estimated that hunger killed 50,000 children in 2017. According to these calculations, about 30% of severely malnourished children not benefited from appropriate treatment have died.

The renewed tumult over the destruction put Washington in a corner. The United States has sold billions of dollars worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, supporting the fight against Shiite rebels known as Houthis, whom Washington and the coalition consider a substitute for Iran.

Tensions related to the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the country's consulate in Istanbul could be key factors for which Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the 30 October their greatest effort for the end of the war. for a ceasefire within 30 days and resumption of negotiations.

Barely a month earlier, Pompeo had strongly demonstrated his support for the coalition by certifying in Congress that Saudi Arabia and its allies were taking steps to prevent civilian casualties. Certification was an indispensable step in the continuation of US aid, which included the provision of intelligence used for the targeting and refueling of coalition aircraft.

But the dead of the coalition campaign show no signs of slowing down.

The coalition's air strikes and bombings have killed at least 4,489 civilians since the beginning of 2016, accounting for nearly three-quarters of all known civilian deaths, according to ACED figures.

As of November 3, at least 1,254 civilians were killed by the coalition this year, four per day. In comparison, 1,386 civilians died during strikes the previous year, or 3.79 a day.

When asked about this discovery, the US State Department responded by e-mail: "Throughout this conflict, the United States has urged all parties to comply with the law of armed conflict, to work to prevent damage to civilians and civilian infrastructure, to conduct thorough investigations and to ensure accountability for any violations. "

Blood has flowed from fierce fighting in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, which coalition forces have been trying to retake from the Houthis since June. Civilians were killed in air strikes as well as bombings and Houthi landmines.

Since June, more than 4,500 people – including 515 confirmed civilians – have been killed in Hodeida, nearly three times more than the first five months of the year.

Help agencies worry that the worst is yet to come. The coalition seems to accelerate its assault before any cease-fire. Its forces have almost surrounded the city, where tens of thousands of people are trapped with thousands of Houthi fighters. The port is Yemen's main point of entry for food and humanitarian aid. Any cut could bring millions of people to starvation.

The coalition launched its air campaign in March 2015 after the Houthis took control of northern and central Yemen, thereby driving out the internationally recognized government. The rebels were only allowed to invade the south by coalition bombing and support for the militia forces.

Victim follow-up is extremely difficult. The few independent field monitors do not have wide access; officials on both sides have an interest in manipulating the numbers; deaths often occur in remote areas and even in populated areas, the confusion of fighting makes it difficult to confirm the numbers.

The most widely used estimate was 10,000 deaths, made in January 2017 by the United Nations.

In October, the US Humanitarian Coordinator said that at least 65,000 people have been killed or injured since 2016, including 16,000 civilians, based on data provided by health centers. US officials did not answer questions to elaborate on the numbers.

ACLED builds its database on Yemeni and international media reports and international agencies. It covers everything from air strikes, bombing and ground fighting between different forces, bombings and violence at demonstrations. The group receives funds from the US State Department and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Because of its transparency, its figures are often cited by US agencies and non-governmental organizations. But they warn that even ACLED data can not give a complete picture – only "the least bad of assumptions", as one agency official said.

Determining how many deaths are civilians is even more difficult.

ACLED has reported 6,242 civilians killed since 2016 by "remote violence" on civilian targets – air strikes, artillery or shelling on both sides. Of these, the bombings of the Houthis or their allies killed 977 people.

The complete balance is probably much higher. The vast majority of deaths – over 34,000 – are classified by ACLED as resulting from battles. But it's impossible to determine whether it's fighters or civilians, Carboni said.

"It's probably an underestimate," he said of the civilian death toll. "The numbers caught between two fires are not known."


The authors Maggie Michael in Cairo and Matthew Lee in Washington collaborated on this report.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, disseminated, rewritten or redistributed.


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