Last Updated: Friday, 22 August 2014, 15:07 GMT

Yemen: Tens of thousands beyond reach of aid agencies - rights group

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Yemen: Tens of thousands beyond reach of aid agencies - rights group, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49267b151e.html [accessed 23 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

SANAA, 20 November 2008 (IRIN) - The government's policy of restricting humanitarian access to Saada Governorate, northern Yemen, has left tens of thousands of civilians beyond the reach of aid agencies, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said in a new report.

"During extended lulls in the fighting, national and international humanitarian aid agencies found it impossible to access most parts of Saada. In early 2008, the government denied agencies permission to undertake assessment missions in areas believed to contain large numbers of civilians in need," it said.

The HRW report entitled Invisible Civilians: The Challenge of Humanitarian Access in Yemen's Forgotten War was released on 19 November.

Imposing an information blackout and clamping down on media coverage had kept the plight of civilians hidden from the rest of the world, it said.

Hundreds of people were killed and thousands displaced in four years of conflict between a Shia group led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi and government forces in Saada Governorate. The war was officially declared over on 17 July 2008.

"Illegal collective punishment"

The government had blocked the movement of all commercial goods after fighting broke out again in May 2008, an act the report said appeared to be an "illegal collective punishment". However, it also noted that the rebels, too, had failed to facilitate humanitarian access to areas under their control.

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW, criticised Yemen's policy of restricting aid to the troubled region, saying it appeared to be designed primarily to prevent independent and international observers getting a better understanding of the impact of the fighting and the resulting humanitarian problems.

"Thousands of civilians are in need, and yet the government is still depriving them of aid. This violates international law and common decency," he said, adding that his team had not been allowed to go to Saada to prepare the report.

The only valid grounds for restricting access to aid agencies were if the government deemed that urgent military action needed to be taken there. "General restrictions based on security just don't work," he said.

Gloomy prognosis

Gerry Simpson, the author of the report, said a small number of aid agencies had been granted limited access to Saada at the beginning of September. They had to get permission for each trip to and from Saada.

"The government said all the humanitarian agencies are free to visit Saada. However, the reality is different," he said, adding that the UN had expressed increasing frustration with this policy.

HRW would be lobbying the European Union and the USA to pressure the Yemeni government to change its policy, he said.

Simpson said further fighting between government forces and rebels in Saada was likely. "Every single person we have spoken to in Sanaa said they were afraid there would be a sixth round of war sooner or later. Donors have told us that they consider Saada to be in a state of conflict; they are not prepared to provide the government with money for reconstruction efforts," he said.

Meanwhile, Abdul-Malik al-Houthi's Information Office said on 19 November that there had been a big deployment of government forces' tanks, rocket launchers and military vehicles near Saada Governorate.

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