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Airstrikes that kill Yemeni civilians ‘not even surprising anymore’

The war in Yemen has reached a point where an apparently unlawful airstrike by a U.S.-backed coalition is “not even surprising anymore.” So says Human Rights Watch, the campaign group calling on the international community to create a credible and transparent mechanism to investigate what may amount to war crimes.

The airstrike on Wednesday occurred in the Hiran district of Hajja province in north-western Yemen — the same province where coalition forces bombed a hospital in August, killing seven. The most recent strike killed 12 civilians, many of them on a truck taking people to the local market. The Saudi-led coalition, who allegedly fired the missile, has not commented on the latest attack.


This strike is just the latest in a line of allegedly unlawful attacks in the country since the current conflict began in March 2015. The conflict in Yemen is between Houthi rebels – who control the capital Sana’a – and military forces loyal to the government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The government is backed by a coalition of allies led by Saudi Arabia.

“I’m not surprised [at the latest attack],” Kristine Beckerle, Yemen researcher for Human Rights Watch told VICE News. “I’m sad and I’m frustrated, because I wish that governments across the globe would take action at this point, but it is following a pattern of bad behaviour on the Saudi-led coalition’s part that we have been seeing since March 2015.”

The coalition is made up of neighbouring countries including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar, as well as African countries like Sudan and Senegal. It is supported by the U.S., China, U.K. and France.

At the end of October, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power called on the Saudi-led coalition to end airstrikes in Yemen. Critics pointed out that Washington was complicit in these attacks as the U.S. supplies weapons to the Saudi government, but Beckerle says U.S. involvement goes way beyond just the supply of weapons.

“The US itself is a party to the conflict,” Beckerle said. “What we have been saying since the first months of fighting is that United States is also providing in-air refuelling to the coalition [and] there is U.S. staff in the Riyadh planning cell.”

Following the high-profile coalition airstrike on a funeral in Sana’a in October that killed 140 civilians — one that Beckerle said “is likely a war crime” — the U.S. National Security Council said it would review support for the Saudi-led coalition.

“That was early October. We are now near the end of November and we have not seen any results of that review, we don’t know what the status is, what exactly it is looking into, if the results will be public or when the results will be released,” Beckerle said.

Even if it is published, it is unlikely the report will make any difference. “The ‘policy review’ is an old and established Washington technique for avoiding tough decisions,” former state department officials Richard Sokolsky and Jeremy Shapiro wrote on the War on the Rocks website. “Faced with a choice between unpalatable alternatives, the government initiates a review to study the question in depth.”

Beckerle says that it is time for some accountability. “It is really on the international community at this point to establish a credible accountability mechanism.”