At least seven attacks between late April and mid-July 2015, targeted at Yemen’s northwestern Hajja Governate, appear to have been caused by cluster munition rockets launched by Saudi-led coalition forces, killing and wounding dozens of civilians, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.
Cluster munitions, which are supposed to target mainly the Iranian-backed Houthi militants, caused civilian deaths either during the attacks or when a civilian picked up an unexploded submunition which detonates then.
Saudi-led coalition forces need to immediately stop the usage of cluster munitions due to the obvious harm they cause to civilians, HRW argued.
The organisation added that the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) should create a commission of inquiry to thoroughly investigate the seriously alleged laws-of-war violations by all of the participating parties to the armed crisis in Yemen since September 2014, especially that several conducted attacks took place in or near areas packed with civilians.
“The loss of civilian life in Hajja shows why most countries have made a commitment never to use cluster munitions,” said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher.
“These weapons not only kill or injure people at the time of attack, but the unexploded submunitions go on killing long afterward.”
Nine Arab countries joined forces and formed a coalition on March 26 in an attempt to carry out a military campaign against the Houthi militants.
Houthi militants are allied with militants loyal to deposed president Ali Abbdullah Saleh and are backed by Iran with military equipment, including weapons, according to many of the Gulf countries, a claim Tehran rejects.
Yemen has been suffering from an ongoing civil war since President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi was deposed through a military coup by the Houthis in February.
In a July visit to the Haradh and Hayran districts of Hajja Governorate in Yemen, Human Rights Watch visited four of the seven attack sites and found at each of them, unexploded submunition or remenants of cluster munition rockets.
The organisation also spoke with local residents who have witnessed the Saudi-led coalition attacks and reviewed photographs taken of the cluster munition remnants, including unexploded submunitions in all seven sites that the locals provided.
Local residents named 13 people whose lives were claimed due to the attacks by the cluster munitions but they could not identify the names of the other victims.
Unexploded submunitions were also found scattered about in fields that are supposedly used for agriculture and grazing, but due to the unexploded submunitions, these lands have become too hazardous to use, adding to the already food scarcity that Yemen faces.
Based on thorough examination of the remnants, the organisation identified the weapons used in all seven attacks as US-made, ground-launched M26 cluster munition rockets that were provided for the use by the coalition.
None of the coalition members are parties to the 2008 international treaty banning cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch sent a written request to Saudi authorities on Aug. 18 to clarify who is responsible for the attacks, but Saudi government has not yet responded.
“Cluster munitions are adding to the terrible civilian toll in Yemen’s conflict,” Solvang said.
“Coalition forces should immediately stop using these weapons and join the treaty banning them.”
War-torn Yemen is in dire need of humanitarian help due to shortages of food, medicine and fuel, since last March.
The UN has declared the situation in Yemen to be a level-three humanitarian emergency, the highest on its scale, after about 80 percent of the country’s population fell into dire need of humanitarian aid.
Twenty million people in the country are in need of aid, 13 million are facing food shortages and 9.4 million are having difficulties accessing drinking water.