United Arab Emirates

Yemen: Naval blockade can amount to torture, a new report argues

A Yemeni boy in a wheelchair draws in front of a destroyed house

OMCT News Release

Geneva – Tunis, 22 September 2022

The naval blockade imposed on Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition has substantially contributed to pushing Yemeni civilians into starvation and can be considered torture, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) said in a report published today.

The tens of thousands of civilians who die due to malnutrition, waterborne diseases, and the lack of access to healthcare are no collateral damage of the conflict”, said Hélène Legeay, legal director at OMCT’s Middle East and North Africa office. “They are the direct victims of a combination of war crimes committed by the various sides, in which the naval blockade imposed by the Saudi-led Coalition plays a major role. The blockade threatens to plunge the country into famine and violates international norms, including the United Nations Convention against Torture.”

Since March 2015, Yemen has been ravaged by a civil war that pits the government, supported by a nine-country coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), against the Houthi rebel movement in the north of the country. In December 2020, the United Nations recorded 131,000 deaths due to a lack of food, health services, and clean water. In July this year, the World Food Programme estimated that almost two Yemeni out of three – 19 million people – were food insecure, with 3.5 million acutely malnourished.

The report, titled Torture in slow motion, demonstrates that the stringent controls imposed on the maritime imports to the Houthi-controlled north of the country, which hosts 70% of Yemen’s population of 30 million, plays a crucial role in this devastation. Yemen imports 90% of its needs – food, fuel, and medicines. The Coalition’s control of commercial and humanitarian cargo ships, ostensibly to enforce a UN-mandated arms embargo against the Houthis, has caused considerable delays in deliveries, leading to price spikes that have brought an already fragile economy to its knees.

The Coalition’s searches have not led to any discovery of weapons“, said Legeay. “Instead, restrictions on fuel imports, in particular, keep having a knock-on effect on the provision of food, drinking water, and healthcare.” Yemen needs diesel generators to pump most of its water and keep clinics and hospitals running. “Since the April 2022 ceasefire, the restrictions have been eased, and the fuel delivery has increased. This is a positive but insufficient step forward. The blockade must stop immediately and completely, rather than depend on a fragile and long peace process.”

The report argues that Coalition member States, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, could be held responsible, leading to international criminal liability for their agents. The same goes for their accomplices, States and private companies that supply arms and thus play a crucial role in compounding the situation. The report calls for an end to the blockade, international scrutiny of these crimes, the punishment of perpetrators, and collective reparations to the Yemeni people.

Read the full report here

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) is the largest global NGO group actively standing up to torture and protecting human rights defenders worldwide. It has more than 200 members in 90 countries. Its international Secretariat is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

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