The Saudi, UAE-led coalition of aggression, which enjoys the participation and support of the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany, continues in its air, sea, and land campaign against Yemen, which started on March 26, 2015. Causing heavy loss of life among civilians, estimated at thousands of civilians, coalition forces have used bombs supplied by the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and other weapons suppliers to launch thousands of blind and indiscriminate air strikes on civilian targets in violation of the laws of war.
By March 2019, 15.579 civilians were killed and 24.421 wounded according to statistics issued by Yemen Center for Human Rights, which expects the numbers to be higher. Yemen is experiencing the worst humanitarian catastrophe due to the aggression of the coalition, which has blocked relief goods to Yemenis and used internationally banned cluster munitions, vacuum bombs, phosphorus bombs, chemical bombs, and landmines.
International humanitarian law provides protection for prisoners of war through its conventions, including the Third Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war, all provisions of which urge the warring parties to respect prisoners of war and treat them well.
However, the crime discussed in this report presents a rare situation in which the jailer was taking care of those prisoned in its facility while the other side whose fighters had been captured spared no efforts to commit a mass massacre against its own captured fighters.
Coalition crime against Dhamar-based detention center
During the early hours of the Sunday of September 1, 2019, Saudi-led coalition forces started off the new Islamic year- at 12 o’clock midnight- with the targeting of a detention center for coalition-affiliated prisoners of war who were held in the Community College in Dhamar Governorate. The buildings of the college had been targeted more than once during 2015 and as a result these buildings were no longer fit for the educational process and instead turned into prison, according to an eyewitness.
The building where the detainees were located consisted of a number of stories and constructed of concrete and was housing 179 prisoners of war at the time of the attack. The head of the National Committee for Prisoner Affairs said those held were due to be released in a local deal to exchange prisoners of war and that 50 of them would have been with their families if the deal hadn’t failed.
Yemen Center for Human Rights, as well as some other monitoring and documentation teams, visited the crime scene and met with the head of a delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross. The head of delegation confirmed that the detention center had been known to the ICRC and had been visited by the committee many times. He added that he couldn’t think of any reason why this detention center had been attacked.
One of those who survived the attack told us, ” At midnight, while the prisoners were getting themselves ready to sleep, they were shocked by a rocket bombardment that targeted the building where they were detained.” He went on to say, ” Dust filled the air and the place went dark. Corpses scattered and fell from the top floor to the lower floor. While those prisoners who survived the first attack were trying to flee, two more missiles hit the same building, reducing their chance to survive.”
The bombardment also hit some nearby buildings which had already been almost totally destroyed in a four-missile attack.
At 11 a.m., Sunday, 01 September 2019, Yemen Center’s team arrived at the scene where rescuing teams from Yemen Red Crescent Society were pulling the victims out of the rubble.
By 11 a.m. 40 corpses were pulled out of the rubble and put in bags provided by the ICRC. However, the rescue operation then was stopped due to the coalition’s warplanes that were flying overhead, forcing the rescuing teams to flee for fear of being targeted.
It was difficult for the rescuing teams to pull some of the corpses out of the rubble with bear hands because of the concrete pillars that collapsed on these corpses. After about a one-hour period teams from Yemen Red Crescent Society resumed the rescue operation and used bulldozers to pull the rest corpses out of the rubble.
Yahiya Ba’alawy was one of the injured we met in Dhamar Hospital and who was working as a security guard in the detention center. According to Yahiya, he was on duty securing the main gate of the facility when all of sudden he heard warplanes launching the first air strike on the prison and a second one on a nearby building. These two air strikes were followed by a third air strike on the wall of the prison and then Yahiya went in a coma and didn’t know what happened, according to Yahiya, who broke his leg and hand in the attack.
One of the war prisoners who was injured in the attack said that the ICRC had visited the war prisoners and gave them cards.
Abdul Alim Al-Qubati, one of the war prisoners who survived the attack, said that at or around 12 midnight about 100 war prisoners were in one of the cells and had just finished reading some Quran when an air strike hit the place, burying them under the rubble. With injuries to his head, leg, and back, He was pulled out of the rubble at dawn and told us that he kept screaming till rescuers heard him.
Ahmed Al-Nehmi, one of the injured, said:
At 12 midnight, we turned the light out to sleep. The sound of warplanes was heard, and when we went to sleep, a strike hit us. I found myself buried and my hand was right on my face. I pulled myself out and then I heard another strike, I didn’t know whether the strike hit our building or another one, but the dust was coming towards us. I woke up Muath Al-Salwi, who was beside me trapped under the rubble and pulled him out. I went out but I couldn’t know whether he made it out alive. I jumped to the yard and then a third strike hit the place and caused me to flee to the street. I walked for a short period of time and a fourth strike was launched. And when I reached to the main road there were Ansarallah-affiliated persons who then took me with a group of injured people to hospital.
According to the National Committee for Prisoner Affairs’ latest outcome released at the time of writing this report, 144 were killed and 43 wounded.
International organizations’ reaction to the crime
- The International Committee of the Red Cross released a press statement on the criminal targeting of the detention center. For information on the statement please visit the link below:
For a long time, we thought international humanitarian law was absolutely perfect for protecting human beings in times of war through its conventions and provisions since it included provisions on the protection of the sick and wounded, provision on the importance of creating good conditions for the sick, wounded, and shipwrecked on the battlefield to naval warfare, a convention concerning war prisoners, and a convention on the protection of civilians in war zones. However, it appears that those who made such conventions never imagined that they would one day be in the position of having to make a convention to protect war prisoners from their backers who once used them as fighters in their army.
As Yemen Center for Human Rights condemns in the strongest terms this horrifying massacre against the war prisoners, it calls on the UN and the ICRC to strengthen the drive toward the implementation of the agreement on prisoner swaps as agreed in the Sweden Agreement. What happened to these prisoners of war at the hands of their allies is alarming and should raise our awareness of the threat that puts the lives of war prisoners from the coalition of aggression in danger.
- We call for the establishment of an independent, impartial, international commission to investigate this crime and all other crimes committed in Yemen.
- We call for prosecuting those who carried out or participated in this crime and imposing the maximum penalty.
- We call for putting an end to this military operation against Yemen and lifting the air, sea, and land blockade imposed on Yemen.
- We call on international organizations to take part in documenting this crime.
Yemen Center for Human Rights
22 September 2019