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UN Rights Official Calls for Investigation into Yemen Civilian Deaths

By Lisa Schlein
18 September 2009

The U.N.'s Human Rights Chief is calling for an investigation into Yemeni air strikes that killed dozens of civilians. U.N. aid agencies say the humanitarian situation of the civilian population caught in the conflict in northern Yemen continues to deteriorate.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay says she is deeply disturbed by eyewitness reports of an air attack Wednesday by Yemeni warplanes against a makeshift camp in northern Yemen.

Map of Saada in Yemen
The air strike reportedly killed dozens of civilians displaced by fighting between the government and Al Houthi rebels in and around Saada city.

The High Commissioner's spokesman, Rupert Colville, says she is urging the government to launch an investigation and to refrain from launching similar attacks in the future. Colville notes this was the second deadly air strike resulting in civilian deaths in the space of three days.

"We see this as a deeply disturbing development in a conflict that was always very troubling in terms of its impact on civilians," he said. "The high commissioner is reminding the government of Yemen and the armed forces of Yemen of their obligation to protect civilians caught up in fighting and to uphold international human rights and humanitarian law."

"She is also urging the government to launch a full-fledged investigation into what went wrong with these air strikes in particular and possible other similar episodes and take immediate measures to try and ensure that we do not see a further avoidable tragedy of this nature," he added.

Colville says High Commissioner Pillay is also very concerned that aid workers have limited access to the thousands of people trapped by this conflict. She says civilians are being deprived of much needed food, water, and medication.

U.N. aid agencies share Pillay's concerns. They continue to call upon the Yemeni government and rebels to open a humanitarian corridor so they can safely deliver assistance to the civilians.

U.N. refugee spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming calls the humanitarian situation of the civilian population caught in the conflict alarming.

"Five weeks into the conflict, Saada city remains virtually isolated and inaccessible for the U.N. humanitarian community," she said. "However, yesterday there was a bit of a lull in the fighting between government troops and Al-Houthi forces and we did manage to get some aid in to some of the internally displaced in Saada. And, we are planning another such operation today through a local NGO partner."

Fleming says the UNHCR is still trying to gain access to Saada province from neighboring Saudi Arabia. She says the agency is ready to launch a cross-border operation from Saudi Arabia to assist displaced people north of Saada city pending security clearances from both governments.

The UNHCR and other U.N. agencies say they are strapped for cash. They say their appeals to the international community for money to run their humanitarian operations have fallen on deaf ears. They say, so far, they have received nothing.

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