Yemen's Houthi rebels committing war crimes in Hodeidah, human rights minister says

The Hadi government was 'forced into a war', says Mohammed Askar

A member of the Saudi-backed Yemeni forces who check on land mines takes a land mine planted by Houthi militias out of the ground at an area that has been newly freed from the militias in Al-Wazeya area in Taiz governorate  May 13, 2018.  Photo/ Asmaa Waguih

The Houthi rebels are committing war crimes against civilians in the key port city of Hodeidah, said Yemen’s minister of human rights, as fighting between government forces — backed by an Arab coalition — and the militia intensified on Saturday.

"In the last three years, under Houthi rule, Hodeidah has been and continues to suffer a humanitarian catastrophe," Mohammed Askar told The National in a phone interview.

“Their war crimes and violations of human rights laws include the arrest of activists, journalists and anyone who holds an opinion against them.

“They have also planted land and sea mines around the port of Hodeidah, which is considered a strategic harbour along the Red Sea coast.”

Yemeni forces, supported by the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen on behalf of the internationally-recognised government of President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi, launched on offensive on Hodeidah on Wednesday. Their aim is to box the Houthis into the capital Sanaa, cut their supply lines and force them to the negotiating table.

Hodeidah's port handles 80 per cent of essential goods going into Yemen. The Houthis, however, have used the port to smuggle Iranian-supplied weapons into Yemen and also to profit from illegally sold humanitarian aid. The coalition is confident that it can capture the port without major disruption to aid supplies.

On Saturday, Yemeni forces and the coalition seized Hodeidah airport from the rebels, as UN special envoy Martin Griffiths arrived in rebel-held Sanaa for emergency talks.

“We want this conflict to end. We have taken all means necessary to end this war in a peaceful manner, but the Houthis have refused to co-operate. We were forced into this war,” Mr Askar said.

Read more: Arab coalition, Yemeni forces seize Hodeidah airport from Houthis

Several rounds of UN-brokered talks between the Iran-backed rebels and the government have failed. The Houthis have repeatedly refused a proposal to hand over control of Hodeidah to the UN, while the Yemeni government fears their grip on the port will cut off the only lifeline for million of Yemenis facing starvation. About 8.4 million people in Yemen face conditions close to famine, according to the World Health Organisation.

Mr Griffiths is due to present a peace plan to the Security Council next week.

Mr Askar said that the Houthis have turned Hodeidah into a "military port", threatening international access of much needed humanitarian aid.

"The rebels are using this port to collect illegal taxes and to receive ballistic missiles that have been used against Saudi Arabia," he said, following a UN report on Friday said that components from five missiles fired at the kingdom by Yemen's Houthi rebels were manufactured in Iran.

"People are starving, while the Houthis use the port to attack Riyadh. It needs to be a humanitarian port to help Yemen's citizens.

"An intervention was imperative to end the suffering of the people."

The coalition — which includes the UAE — intervened in the Yemen war in March 2015 at the request of Mr Hadi's government.