Human Rights Crisis in Yemen

Reading time : 12 minutes


According to Yemen Data Project more than 17,500 civilians were killed and injured since 2015, 20 million are experiencing food insecurity, 10 million are at a risk of famine[1], half of children under five in Yemen might experience acute malnutrition in 2021[2].

But food insecurity might be one of the least concerns for the citizens of Yemen considering the ongoing human rights crisis, one of the worst ever witnessed in human history.

The people dwelling in the nation have been put through grave inhumane treatment ranging from police brutality, human trafficking, bombing civilian infrastructure, suppressed freedom of speech, grave indiscrimination against women and girl child, sexual assault of the children, number of executions and death sentences, illegal detention.

And as Yemen is at a standstill, are the screams of the pain being heard by the rest of the world?

The article provides a brief of the crisis in Yemen, its background beginning from the root of the issue and how the civil war has impacted the lives of the civilians experiencing numerous human rights violations on a daily basis.

The article concludes with some suggestions as to what endeavours can be made on our behalf to help uplift the country from such inhumane conditions.


The objective of the research article is to present a background of the current Human Rights Crisis in Yemen, what initiated the civil war, articles guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that are being violated as a result of this civil war.


The roots of the ongoing civil war in Yemen, dates back to a decade.

In 2011, the Longtime authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh who had been ruling the country for 33 years saw an uprising in the streets demanding the president to transfer his power to Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The new president failed to meet the demands of the citizens, further his failed attempts to address the economy, corruption, separatist protest in the south of the country, attacks by jihadists, food insecurity sparked an outrage among the citizens and gave rise to the Houthi movement. The Houthis representing Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority, took control of the Saada province and its neighbouring areas. They gathered support from ordinary Yemenis, Sunnis and prior president Saleh and took over the capital Sanaa in the beginning of 2015.

When the inner turmoil of the nation gained limelight, the military of regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states took steps to supress the Houthis and restore the government. In 2015, Saudi Arabia along with UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Morocco, Sudan, Jordan and Egypt launched an international coalition to reinstate Hadi. They received logistical support and intelligence from the United States and the United Kingdom.[3]

The conflict that was supposed to last a few weeks has continued ever since then to the present date. The conflict lasts between two major groups the pro-government forces who are being led by President Hadi and anti-government forces led by the Houthis, backed by former President Saleh.

The Houthis still have control over the Sanaa and north-western Yemen. Besides it they have sieged the third city of Taiz and are retaliating to Saudi Arabia by regular ballistic missile and drone attacks.

The south of the country has been taken over by militants from al-Qaeda and rival Islamic State group, who have been carrying out deadly attacks and civilian bombings in the country.

There are also accusations that Iran is weapons to the rebel. Saudi Arabia imposed certain restrictions in 2017, which eventually led to increase in food and fuel aggravating the situation.

Further, In November 2017 there was clash between the Houthis and Ali Abdullah Saleh regarding the control of Sanaa’s biggest mosque which led to a collapse of their coalition. The Houthis retaliated with a full operation leading to the death of Saleh.

In June 2018, the coalition decided upon launching an attack on the battlefield the Red Sea city of Hudaydah, to capture the Houthis.

The city’s port supports almost two thirds of Yemen’s population and hence the UN warned against any such capture which can lead to massive loss and destruction, worsen the current situation of the food crisis due to a possible famine.

At last, the fighting parties agreed to a ceasefire, in the “Stockholm agreement which required them to redeploy their forces from Hudaydah, establish a prisoner exchange.[4]

Some major endeavours have been made since to bring the situation under control, but the redeployment of forces is not taking at the wanted pace and there are concerns regarding the upholding of the Stockholm agreement and whether it will be able to cease the rising tensions in Hudaydah with both the parties unwilling to take back the forces.

August 2019, saw clashes between Saudi Arabia forces and the Southern Transitional Council (STC) backed by the United Arab Emirates.

The major reason behind these fights was sharing od power. STC was afraid that Mr Hadi’s government was incapable to manage the affairs of the country and hence it proposed a power sharing deal with Saudi Arabia, failing to which it won’t let the cabinet return.

Yet after the agreement Yemen saw another uprising between the Houthis and coalition led forces in January 2020 which saw many air raids and missile strikes.

In April 2020, the STC agreed upon governing the port cities and southern provinces, conferring to their deal, with the internationally recognised government of Yemen.

The Houthis, still continue to reject any peace deals or ceasefires, are hellbent on lifting of air and sea blockades in Sanaa and Hudaydah. Further they have stepped up their use of drone and missile strikes into bordering Saudi Arabia with suggested assistance from Iran.

Thus, all the deals and efforts, proposed by the UN have reached an impasse. As a result of which, not much progress has been made with respect to getting the parties to settle and the conflict amongst them continues to haunt the lives of the dwellers.


“The international humanitarian law represents a balance between military necessity and humanitarian consideration in the context of conflict. Humanity represents the imperative during conflict to alleviate suffering and save lives, and to treat humanely and respectfully each individual” [5]

The international humanitarian law is based on two principles:

  • The Principle of Humanity

The principle of humanity aims to ensure that the captured persons receive humane treatment, limit the methods and means of warfare and mitigate the sufferings.[6]

  • The Principle of Military

The principle of military aims at ensuring lawful means in order to overpower an enemy.[7]

Where does Yemen stands in this respect?

Yemen’s situation was referred as “worst humanitarian crisis in the world” by the EU this year. The citizens have their loved ones at the hands of civilian bombing, malnutrition, barbaric conditions and extreme brutality of the conflict groups.

They have been surviving in a bleak world for years, failing to exercise even the basic human rights. The women and children there are being sexually assaulted each day, but they have no one to complain to or to fight for their rights. They have to go through intolerable suffering each day and this definitely doesn’t conform with the right to a dignified living for an individual. According to the September report by the UN Group of Eminent International and Regional experts, verified 12 cases of sexual violence on five women, six men and a 17-year-old boy. Which is definitely far below the actual numbers. United Nations Population Fund further confirmed that violence against women has increased 63 percent since the conflict escalated.

Further, the food insecurity numbers are increasing day by day. Nearly half of the population is food insecure with about 2 million facing hunger crisis. According to UN “Some 20 million people need help securing food, according to the UN. Almost 10 million of them are considered “one step away from famine”.”[8] This clearly violates the right to food guaranteed under article 25 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights.

The conditions they have been subjected to is against the basic Principle of Humanity, according to UNICEF about 12 million need urgent humanitarian assistance, they are facing constant abuse in form of trafficking, illegal detention, extortion. As the statistics show, about 260,000 Ethiopians, an average of 10,000 per month, were deported from Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia between May 2017 and March 2019.

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The visuals they have been put through must have taken a mental toll on them, as per a report half of the children are facing depression since a very young age. All these cruelties the adults as well as the children have been subjected to clearly violates the “Right to life, liberty and security of person to everyone” as guaranteed under Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the principle of military to be maintained under an armed conflict.

The education sector of the country has clearly taken a backseat amongst the war. As statistics show “Before the pandemic, 2 million children were out of school and another 3.7 million were at risk of dropping out. Girls being at a greater risk with 36 percent out of school versus 24 percent for boys. Pandemic closures increased that number to 8 million.  Prior to the pandemic, 4.7 million children needed educational assistance across the country, including 3.7 million in acute need. Some 2,000 schools, 20 percent of the total, have been rendered unusable, either destroyed or used to house IDPs, or as centers for isolating COVID-19 patients, etc. In the past five years, 380 schools have been attacked, caught in crossfire, or occupied by fighters, including 153 hit by airstrikes from the Saudi-led coalition.”[9] The right to education guaranteed under the Article 26 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been violated gravely addressing the bombings on the schools. 

Only half of the country’s 3,500 medical facilities are functioning, about 20 million people lack access to adequate healthcare. And about 18 million, do not have enough clean water or access to adequate sanitation. Along with it the largest cholera outbreak ever recorded, has resulted in more than 2.2 million suspected cases and 3,895 related deaths since October 2016.Further,the United Nations has warned that the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic could “exceed the combined toll of war, disease, and hunger over the last five years.” Lack to basic sanitation and healthcare facilities clearly violates the Article 11 that entitles that “Everyone shall have the right to live in a healthy environment and to have access to basic public services.”

The Yemeni forces have resorted to arbitrary detention to supress the freedom of speech and expression. Any journalist, supporter of the political party al-Islah or any other person trying to raise his voice against the discrimination have to face detention, unfair trials, enforced disappearance or even death penalty in many cases. In July 2020, the SCC sentenced to death 30 academics and political figures on trumped-up charges, including espionage for the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, following an unfair trial.[10] The suppression of these rights clearly violates the Article 19 “guaranteeing the right to freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of choice.”

The fatalities due to the civil war and many preventable reasons is unprecedented. UN verified at least, 7,700 civilian deaths by March 2020 with most caused by Saudi-led coalition air strikes. The US-based Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) said in October 2019 that “it had recorded more than 100,000 fatalities, including 12,000 civilians killed in direct attacks.” With about 23,000 fatalities, reported in 2019.

Not only the adults but the children, have also become a victim of the bombings. There have been bombings on the school buses as well as schools that itself speaks about the inhumanity of the attacks. As of June 2019, over 7,500 children had been killed in Yemen since the beginning of the war due to airstrikes, shelling, mines, and other ordnance.

Yemen being a party to the Geneva Conventions and an additional Protocol on the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts, which is binding on all groups party to a conflict, and seeks to ensure that forces undertake precautions to avoid killing civilians has to make efforts, take accountability and address the grave human rights violation in Yemen.


Yemen has been going through the conflicts between various groups since a decade, but in the recent four to five years the clashes have intensified. All these conflicts have had a miserable impact on the lives of the citizens, has cost a lot of human lives and peace.

While the organization like United Nations, UNICEF, WHO, World Bank are making efforts to gather funds and provide all financial assistance possible to the nation and the Human Rights Organization like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch are raising voice for the victims in Yemen and making the rest of world aware of the urgency of the situation. The support and resources rendered by the rest of the world is much less than what is required to address the situation. UN Security Council,2020 appeal for Yemen had received only about $1.5bn in donations to date, some 45 percent of the $3.4bn required.

With the country facing grave multiple crisis including a civil war, civil bombings, failure of economy, a cholera outbreak, collapse of the healthcare sector, food insecurity, lack of law and order worsened by the ongoing pandemic the dire need of the hour is to provide utmost attention to the issue or it would lead to thousands of deaths and then there will be no turning point. Adults and children who have been experiencing extreme brutalities won’t be able to hold up well if they are presented with one crisis after the other. Such emotional and mental toll can leave indelible impressions in lives of many people.

Hence we as humans need to address the ongoing crisis in the nation before it becomes a catastrophe. Each one of us can donate a little money, food, clothes, education material, medicines so that the agencies can help out the aggrieved specially in these difficult times. World Health Organization needs to ensure the availability of medical facilities and personnel at the location so that basic health services can be provided to the people as specially the malnourished children. 

The nations need to address the human rights violation more seriously and make major efforts to negotiate a deal between the conflicting parties and bring peace to the nation. They further need to control the influence of groups like IS and Al Queda n the country before every child is sacrificed as a soldier to these groups. The agencies need to find out the sources of weapons for the Houthis and must immediately stop any such trade.

The idea of the research article is to provide a look into the daily lives of the citizens of Yemen, surviving in the worst possible human conditions, the seriousness of the situation and a plea to raise voice for their sufferings as they can’t.

[1] World report by Human Rights Watch

[2] Report by united Nations

[3] Yemen’s war explained by

[4] BBC news on Yemen Crisis






[10] Amnesty International, Yemen: Huthi-run court sentences 30 political opposition figures to death following sham trial (Press release, 9 July 2019),

Author: Yoovika Toor

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India.


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