Saudi attack on Somali refugee boat likely war crime: Human Rights Watch

March 27, 2017 9:20 pm

A picture taken
on March 17, 2017, shows a man holding temporary registration form for
refugees with the UNHCR, covered in blood, of one of the persons killed
in a boat carrying Somali refugees, in front of the dead bodies arriving
at ’s western port city of Hudaydah. (Photo by AFP)

Watch (HRW) says
a recent deadly aerial aggression on a boat carrying Somali refugees
off the coast of Yemen, “apparently” carried out by the Saudi-led
military coalition, likely amounts to “war crime.”  

According
to a statement released by the HRW on Sunday, at least 32 people lost
their lives and nearly 30 others were injured after an apparent Saudi
airstrike hit a boat, crammed with 145 Somali refugees, near Bab
al-Mandeb Strait in the Red Sea on the evening of March 16. Preliminary
estimates by the United Nations’ refugee agency, the UNHCR, however, put
the fatalities at 42.

“The coalition’s apparent
firing on a boat filled with fleeing refugees is only the latest likely
war crime in Yemen’s two-year-long war,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the
director at the HRW, adding that “reckless disregard for the
lives of civilians has reached a new level of depravity.” 

Riyadh and
its allies, however, have denied carrying out the airstrike despite
witness accounts citing an Apache helicopter – which is only used by
in the war on Yemen – to have attacked the vessel.
“All
of a sudden, I saw a helicopter above us. … They attacked abruptly. …
When they kept firing at us, those of us who spoke Arabic kept saying,
‘We are Somalis!’” the statement quoted a young survived Somali
refugee as saying.
In the early hours of March 17, the ill-fated
boat managed to dock at Yemen’s western port city of Hudaydah and the
world learned about the tragedy. The UNHCR said at the time that it was
“appalled by the deaths of refugees.”
The refugees had departed from Hudaydah to Sudan when they came under Saudi fire. Ten refugees are still missing. Under the laws of war, deliberate or reckless attacks against civilians are considered as war crimes.

A
picture taken on March 17, 2017, shows bodies of people who were killed
in a boat carrying Somali refugees arriving at Yemen’s western port
city of Hudaydah. (Photo by AFP)Hudaydah
is part of a broad battlefront where Saudi-backed forces are fighting
the Yemeni army and its Houthi allies, which control most of northern
and western Yemen. Despite repeated assaults and heavy bombardments, Saudi Arabia has failed to wrest control of the port and on March 19 it called for jurisdiction over Hudaydah to be transferred to the UN but the world body flatly rejected the call.
On
March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia, backed by a number of African and Persian
Gulf Arab states, began launching airstrikes on different areas across
Yemen, its southern neighbor, in an attempt to reinstate resigned
president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is a close Riyadh ally, and to
crush the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement.
According to the
United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, the
Saudi military campaign has claimed the lives of 10,000 Yemenis and
left 40,000 others wounded. However, local Yemeni sources have put the
death toll from the Saudi war at over 12,000, including many women and
children.     
The Saudi war has also taken a heavy toll on the
country’s facilities and infrastructure, destroying many hospitals,
schools and factories.

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