SANA'A, YEMEN/NEW YORK, APRIL 24, 2018—The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) received 63 wounded in a hospital it supports in Hajjah, Yemen, following a series of nighttime airstrikes by the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition on a wedding party in a remote, impoverished village in Bani Qays district on April 22.
"Attacks on civilians are a serious violation of international humanitarian law," said João Martins, MSF head of mission in Yemen. "What happened in Bani Qays is appalling. Among the 63 wounded our teams have treated, 13 are children. These people arrived at the hospital in garlands traditionally worn to celebrate marriage. None were armed or arrived in military uniform.”
The hospital in Hajjah received its first patients at midnight, after the strikes occurred around 11 p.m. on April 22. The wounded were initially carried away from the scene by donkeys, as the only two cars in the village were damaged in the strikes. First responders and two ambulances from the MSF-supported hospital eventually arrived in the village, but were severely delayed because the aircraft circling overhead raised the specter of more strikes.
"I was inside the tent when I heard the airstrikes," said one 12-year-old boy who survived. "After that I fell down and lost consciousness. When I woke up, I saw people running away from the tent. I had been inside with my brother and the groom is my friend. One of my cousins died in this attack."
Another patient described a chaotic scene and dismembered bodies on the ground, covered in blood. Children, he said, were frantically searching for their parents.
"Some of the dead bodies were children," he said. "Children were playing outside while their parents attended the wedding inside the tent. That's when the attack happened."
At Hajjah hospital, the ambulances arrived with as many as six patients at a time. The injured had mainly lost limbs and suffered shrapnel wounds. At least three patients required amputation, including two brothers, who each lost a foot. By early morning, many residents of Hajjah had come to the hospital to donate blood. In two hours, 150 bags were collected to treat the wounded.
"One woman arrived at the hospital in a panic, searching for her son," said Sally Thomas, MSF project coordinator in Hajjah. "He was attending the wedding and she doesn't know what happened to him. Many other women and children in the village are traumatized and don't know what happened to their loved ones."
The rules of war are meant to protect civilians from such attacks, but they are being broken in Yemen.
"Warring parties to the conflict must respect the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution," Martins said. "It is prohibited to launch attacks which may be expected to harm civilians. The rules of war have constantly been violated in Yemen. All warring parties must commit to protecting civilians, and all parties fueling the conflict by selling arms should uphold their responsibility to ensure that international laws established to protect civilians are respected."
MSF is an independent international medical humanitarian organization that works in 13 hospitals and health centers in Yemen and provides support to more than 20 hospitals or health centers across 11 Yemeni governorates: Taiz, Aden, Ad Dhale, Saada, Amran, Hajjah, Ibb, Sana'a, Abyan, Shabwa, and Lahj.