UN Secretary-General condemns Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres condemned Friday airstrikes launched by a Saudi-led coalition against a detention centre in Saada city, Yemen which left sixty dead and more than a hundred injured. The Secretary-General also reported an airstrike against a telecommunications facility in Hudayah resulting in deaths and injuries among civilians and children.

The Houthi government in Yemen, reportedly backed by Iran, ousted the internationally recognised government in 2014 and controls most of northern Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition became involved in Yemen’s civil war to restore the ousted government in 2015. The coalition airstrikes follow the aftermath of the Houthi group carrying out a missile attack against coalition member United Arab Emirates (UAE) on January 17, killing three civilians and wounding six. Further, the UAE Defence Ministry said that it had intercepted two ballistic missiles launched by the Houthi group against the UAE. In a press conference on January 21, the UN Secretary-General called the attack on the UAE a regrettable escalation that was “unacceptable” and a “serious mistake.”

The Saudi-led airstrikes against the telecommunications centre in Hudayah resulted in a nearly nationwide internet shutdown. The attack affected TeleYemen, the state-owned monopoly providing internet access across the country. Netblocks, an international digital rights group, reported a national collapse of internet connectivity starting on January 21. The internet shutdown was ongoing Monday. Save the Children reported that the airstrikes in Hudayah have killed three children and over sixty adults and injured at least one hundred others.

Brigadier General Turki Al-Malki, the official spokesperson for the coalition, alleged that Yemen failed to add the detention centre to the No Strike List under the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs mechanism and did not report the site to the International Committee of the Red Cross. He alleged further that the detention centre did not bear distinctive symbols and preventive measures per Article 23 of the Geneva Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. The coalition did not directly confirm the attack against the telecommunications centre but acknowledged that it had carried out “accurate airstrikes” around Hudayah’s port.

The UN Secretary-General reminded all parties that international humanitarian law obligates them to adhere to the “principles of proportionality, distinction and precaution” and to protect civilians from military operations. He urged all parties to de-escalate the situation and engage with the UN Special Envoy to arrive at a negotiated settlement.