Saudi Arabia Used U.S. Weapons To Target Civilians In Yemen, Human Rights Organization Finds

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A Yemeni student stands on top of the debris of a school, that was damaged last year following a Saudi-led coalition air strike against Shiite Huthi, in the country's third-city of Taez, on March 6, 2019. (-/AFP/Getty Images)
A Yemeni student stands on top of the debris of a school, that was damaged last year following a Saudi-led coalition air strike against Shiite Huthi, in the country's third-city of Taez, on March 6, 2019. (-/AFP/Getty Images)

A human rights organization based in Yemen conducted a study that found remnants of U.S. weapons in civilian areas unlawfully targeted by Saudi Arabia.

It is the latest damning allegation against a coalition the Trump administration supports, while bipartisan efforts in Congress are underway to stop U.S. involvement in Yemen's civil war, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives and threatened millions more with starvation.

Here & Now reached out to the Saudi embassy for comment on the report but did not receive a response.

Radhya Almutawakel (@RAlmutawakel), chairperson of Mwatana, the organization behind the study, testified before Congress this week.

“There is no state in Yemen now."

Radhya Almutawakel

She tells Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd many of these civilian deaths were not the result of what the military calls “collateral damage.” In many cases, civilians are being intentionally targeted by the bombs.

“We think that the Saudi-led coalition, they feel empowered by their allies, and they don't care,” Almutawakel says. “They don't do anything to prevent hitting civilians.”

According to the report, an attack on a wedding celebration in April 2018 led to 21 deaths and 97 people injured. Almutawakel says the area that was attacked has “nothing to do with any military target.”

“Most of the people who died in this incident were the dancers and the drummers,” she says. “One of the pictures there was a child who just refused to leave the dead body of his father. But this picture is not unique. It's happening every day in Yemen.”

The report alleges that U.S.-made cluster bombs, which are illegal under international law, were used to target civilians in at least five incidents.

Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, is responsible for the airstrikes, Almutawakel says, but the U.S. plays a role by supplying the Saudis with weapons and supporting them politically. That’s why Almutawakel is lobbying Congress to use its power to stop the war.

“Not supporting Saudis, not selling weapons to Saudis is one significant step that can help to lead to peace in Yemen. But they can [be] involved positively to push for peace process in Yemen,” she says, noting the sense of urgency to start peace talks after the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Along with attacks on civilians, Yemen is also deep in the throes of a humanitarian crisis. According to the United Nations, a child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen.

Almutawakel says the Houthis, the Iran-backed armed movement that took over Sanaa in 2014, are torturing civilians in the 20 percent of Yemen they control, indiscriminately shelling areas and withholding access to food and medicine.

The Houthis are also refusing to pay civilians their salaries, and the Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi government won’t pay them either just because they live in Houthi-controlled areas.

“There is no state in Yemen now,” she says. “The state has collapsed and millions of Yemenis are not receiving their salaries.”

The withholding of salaries has also led to widespread starvation in Yemen, Almutawakel says.

“When we talk about the starvation I keep saying that Yemenis are not starving,” she says, “they are being starved because parties to the conflict, they use starvation as a weapon of war.”

James Perkins and Acacia James produced and edited this story for broadcast with Kathleen McKenna. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on March 8, 2019.


Headshot of Peter O'Dowd

Peter O'Dowd Senior Editor, Here & Now
Peter O’Dowd has a hand in most parts of Here & Now — producing and overseeing segments, reporting stories and occasionally filling in as host. He came to Boston from KJZZ in Phoenix.


Headshot of Samantha Raphelson

Samantha Raphelson Associate Producer, Here & Now
Samantha Raphelson is an associate producer for Here & Now, based at NPR in Washington, D.C.



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