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'Children Fighting on Both Sides of Yemen War': Rights Group Urges Western Nations to End Arms Sale

The report by the Sanaa-based group said more than 1,000 children including girls were "recruited or used for military purposes in 2018" including 72 per cent by the Houthi rebels.


Updated:July 16, 2019, 11:41 PM IST
'Children Fighting on Both Sides of Yemen War': Rights Group Urges Western Nations to End Arms Sale
In this 2016 file photo, tribesmen loyal to Houthi rebels hold their weapons as they chant slogans during a gathering aimed at mobilizing more fighters into battlefronts in several Yemeni cities, in Sanaa (Photo: AP)

Paris: Children are fighting on both sides of Yemen's five-year-old war, a human rights group said Tuesday as it urged Western powers to end arms sales to countries involved in the conflict.

"This war is (destroying) our future and destroying our children," the president of NGO Mwatana for Human Rights, Radhya Almutawakel, told a Paris news conference.

"You will see children carrying weapons; that was not the case before 2014," Almutawakel said, unveiling the group's report titled "Withering Life: The Human Rights Situation in Yemen 2018".

The report by the Sanaa-based group said more than 1,000 children including girls were "recruited or used for military purposes in 2018" including 72 per cent by the Houthi rebels. "Many families can't even control their children from not going to fight," said Almutawakel.

More than 2,000 schools have been destroyed, Almutawakel said. "In many, many neighbourhoods you will see a lot of pictures of children who have been taken to the frontlines and come back home as dead bodies," she added.

She said children are enlisted "not only because of the money but because of this emotional environment... They say that their friends have been killed (so) the only response is to go to the front lines."

Yemen was plunged into war in 2014 when the Houthis launched a military campaign, taking over swathes of territory and driving the government from the capital Sanaa.

The Saudi-led coalition, which includes the United Arab Emirates, intervened the following year sparking what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Almutawakel chose the Paris venue for the release of the report to underscore the fact that France and other Western powers are selling arms to Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition fighting Yemen's Houthi rebels.

"Many countries are supporting Saudi Arabia and the Emirates for economic reasons," said Almutawakel, named by Time magazine as among the world's 100 most influential people in 2018.

The United States, Britain and France "oppose a real in-depth investigation just because they are selling weapons -- but they have to stop," she said.

"The virtual impunity that currently reigns emboldens the warring parties to keep carrying out awful abuses, destroying Yemen in the process," she was quoted as saying in the report.

"Civilians are drowning in agony while states hesitate to take urgently needed action like ending military support to warring parties," the report said.

The US Senate in June voted to block a multibillion-dollar weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, the same day the UK Court of Appeal ruled that the British sale of arms to the kingdom for use in Yemen was unlawful.

An upcoming UN report featuring a blacklist of child rights violators is expected to refrain from toughening criticism of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen despite a bus bombing last year that killed scores of children, according to diplomats.

The Mwatana report spells out several specific instances of children combatants and seven cases of "sexual aggression" involving eight children. Houthi forces who seized Sanaa in December 2014 control 20 percent of the territory where most of the population is concentrated.

The report said the abuses were certainly greater than those that the organisation was able to catalogue through more than 2,000 interviews conducted in Arabic with victims, relatives, witnesses and medical and humanitarian personnel.

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