UN experts said in a new report that about 2,000 children recruited by Yemen’s Houthi rebels died on the battlefield between January 2020 and May 2021, and the Iran-backed rebels continue to hold camps and courses encouraging youngsters to fight.
In the report to the UN Security Council circulated on Saturday, the experts said they investigated some summer camps in schools and a mosque where the Houthis disseminated their ideology and sought to recruit children fight in the seven-year war with Yemen’s internationally recognised government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition.
“The children are instructed to shout the Houthi slogan 'death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews, victory to Islam,'” the four-member panel of experts said. “In one camp, children as young as 7 years of age were taught to clean weapons and evade rockets.”
The experts said they documented 10 cases where children were taken to fight after being told they would be enrolled in cultural courses or were already taking such courses, nine cases where humanitarian aid was provided or denied to families “solely on the basis whether their children participated in fighting or to teachers on the basis of whether they taught the Houthi curriculum,” and one case where sexual violence was committed against a child who underwent military training.
The panel said it received a list of 1,406 children recruited by the Houthis who died on the battlefield in 2020 and a list of 562 children recruited by the rebels who died on the battlefield between January and May 2021.
“They were aged between 10 and 17 years old,” the experts said, and “a significant number” of them were killed in Amran, Dhamar, Hajjah, Hodeida, Ibb, Saada and Sanaa.
Yemen has been engulfed in civil war since 2014 when the Houthis took Sanaa, the capital, and much of the northern part of the country, forcing the government to flee to the south, then to Saudi Arabia.
A Saudi-led coalition that included the UAE and was backed at the time by the US, entered the war months later, in 2015, seeking to restore the government to power.
The panel of experts said the Houthis have continued their aerial and maritime attacks on Saudi Arabia, with targets close to the border most at risk and usually attacked several times a week with a combination of unmanned drones and short-range artillery rockets.
But the rebels also strike deep inside Saudi Arabia less frequently, using longer-range drones as well as cruise and ballistic missiles, the experts said, as they did in recent attacks on the UAE.
In the Red Sea, the experts said, waterborne improvised explosive devices were used to attack commercial vessels at anchor in Saudi ports, in some cases more than 1,000 kilometres from Yemeni shores.
“It appears almost certain that those devices were launched from a 'mother ship', which would have towed the devices for most of the journey,” they said.
“The purpose of these attacks was primarily political, in other words the Houthis want to push Riyadh towards accepting a political settlement beneficial to them,” the experts said.
“This contrasts sharply with the use of missiles and un-crewed aerial vehicles within Yemen, the aim of which is often to attain maximum lethality.”