Yemen: Indiscriminate attacks on civilians in Hudaydah are unacceptable

ReCivilians wounded and killed in indiscriminate frontline hostilities in Yemen

Yemen 2020 © Hareth Mohammed/MSF

NEW YORK/BRUSSELS, DECEMBER 14, 2020—The number of people in need of major war-trauma surgery is rising amid intense renewed conflict on the frontlines to the south of Hudaydah Port on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Monday. MSF’s trauma hospital in the nearby town of Mocha has treated 122 war-wounded patients since October. For the past three weeks, the vast majority of these patients have been severely wounded women and children.

“We treat everyone needing emergency surgery in our Mocha trauma center—war wounded, traffic accident victims, and pregnant women needing emergency surgical delivery,” said Raphael Veicht, MSF head of mission. “But when it’s suddenly almost all civilians coming with terrible weapon wounds, that raises serious questions. What we are seeing in our small hospital is disturbing and outrageous. Killing and wounding civilians in conflict not only constitutes a severe violation of International Humanitarian Law. It goes further than that; our patients include children, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and several men who were working in a milk-bottling factory that was hit by shelling. There is nothing that can justify this.”

One woman was brought to the MSF hospital on November 29 with a rough lifesaving amputation already done to both her lower legs, requiring corrective surgery. She described how she had joined other women and children, many of them her relatives, to attend a clothing sale in a house in their village of Al Qazah in the district of ad Durayhimi. She does not know exactly what happened before she woke up in the MSF hospital, but there was an explosion. Her father afterwards told her that it was a shell that landed on them. The house was made of reeds and palm leaves, so it provided no protection whatsoever.

The woman lists her relatives who were killed in the attack: “Four women: my aunt, my brother’s wife, two of my female cousins, and five children: my brother’s son, two cousins, and two children of other cousins.”

Following this shelling attack, MSF’s hospital in Mocha also treated one other patient and stabilized an 11-month-old child who needed to be immediately referred by ambulance to the more advanced MSF hospital in Aden. The child died before reaching Aden.

The Southern Hudaydah frontline is becoming one of the most active in the country. On November 24, the MSF Mocha hospital received seven patients wounded when a roadside bomb exploded as they returned from a wedding. Reportedly five people were killed in the explosion, including a child. The next day, two children found an unexploded munition on the roadside and were brought to MSF after it exploded when they threw it to the ground. The children suffered severe abdominal and chest trauma wounds in the explosion. About a week later, on December 3, MSF admitted six people wounded when a milk-bottling factory in Hudaydah was shelled. The patients said at least ten of their co-workers were killed in the strike.

The influx of weapon-wounded patients to MSF’s hospital provide a confirmation that the frontlines in southern Hudaydah governorate are currently among the most active in the whole of Yemen. The intensifying conflict is also forcing hundreds of families to flee once again from their homes, and the expansion of areas at risk of shelling or other attacks means essential healthcare and food assistance is increasingly limited at a time when it is most needed.

“Whether targeted or indiscriminate, these attacks breach all the rules of war,” Veicht said. "People who are just trying to get by, trying to survive, trying to be good mothers or fathers or brothers or sisters—these people are being killed and maimed, and that just has to stop.”