His Excellency Maj. Gen. Mohammed Nasser Ahmed
Minister of Defense
We write to seek your urgent response to credible information that Human Rights Watch has obtained indicating that Republican Guard forces emplaced antipersonnel landmines in 2011 around military camps they maintain in the Bani Jarmooz area near Sana’a and have since resisted the removal of these prohibited munitions although they have caused civilian casualties, including children.
If this information, which includes witness testimony obtained by Human Rights Watch, is correct, it indicates that a serious breach has occurred of Yemen’s obligations as a state party to the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and Their Destruction (Mine Ban Treaty). The Mine Ban Treaty, as you will be aware, entered into force for Yemen on March 1, 1999. As a state party to the treaty, Yemen has committed, like other states parties, never to use antipersonnel mines under any circumstances, and to prevent and suppress any prohibited activities.
We note that in April 2002, Yemen reported to the Secretary-General of the United Nations that it had completed the destruction of its stockpile of antipersonnel mines, as required by the treaty. Information that Human Rights Watch has recently obtained now indicates either that this assurance to the UN Secretary-General was incorrect or that Yemeni forces have since acquired a new supply of antipersonnel mines, apparently in breach of the Mine Ban Treaty.
On April 4 2012, Human Rights Watch interviewed a medic from the district of Milhin who lost his leg in a tragic incident in a minefield outside the camp of the 63rd Brigade of the Republican Guard on the main road from Beit Dahara to Sanaa, near a mosque on 30 November 2011, which caused five casualties. According to 21-year-old Brahim Abdallah Hussain Hotrom from Milhin district in Sana’a, three people were walking near the camp when one was shot. The other two men called the local medical team to help and tried to take the injured man to a safe place. Those two men stepped on landmines. The medical team went in and all except one of the four medics stepped on landmines and were wounded. Hotrom said the mined area was about 1200 meters from a Republican Guard checkpoint and about 800 meters from the 63rd Brigade.
On April 19, 2013 Human Rights Watch visited Bani Jarmooz and documented four more cases of victims of antipersonnel mines and one case involving the use of an anti-vehicle mine. In addition, Human Rights Watch met two children who had sustained injuries in the explosion when, according to a local journalist, sheep they were tending in the fields detonated a mine.
Local inhabitants and all the mine victims whom Human Rights Watch interviewed on this trip said that they first learned that their farmland was contaminated with mines around September 2011, notably when Abdulhamid Wasel Ali Wasl, a 14-year-old boy from Bayt al-Auseri village, was killed as the vehicle he was travelling in hit an anti-vehicle mine on September 2.
The most recent victim that Human Rights Watch interviewed, Fawaz Mohsin Saleh Husn, a 9-year-old boy from al-Khabsha village, said that he was tending his family’s sheep on April 12, 2013 when one sheep ran into a mined area that he knew to be unsafe. He sought to retrieve the sheep but stepped on a mine, which exploded, threw him to the ground and ripped off his left leg. His family said that some soldiers nearby witnessed the explosion but were apparently too fearful to enter the area to rescue the boy, and it was Mohammed Yahya, a local villager, who extricated him and took him to the nearest medical services for treatment.
In addition to Fawaz, two other members of his family have sustained injuries from mines, including Abdullah Mohammed, who was injured on November 26, 2011 while attempting to clear mines.
Abdullah told Human Rights Watch that in late September/early October 2011, before his injury, he had used binoculars to watch between 10 and 15 soldiers in Republican Guard uniforms lay mines in a nearby wadi. As it was an area where children from the village played, he and three friends had subsequently entered the area and attempted to detect and destroy the mines using sticks.
From their descriptions, and drawings that local residents provided to Human Rights Watch, it is evident that the munitions to which local residents had been exposed included PMN antipersonnel mines. In addition, photographs shown to Human Rights Watch by an international journalist indicate that other types of mines have been found in the area, including a PMD-6 mine.
The incidents involving mines have all occurred in the vicinity of military camps that the 63rd and 81st Brigades of the Republican Guard established at Bani Jarmoozaround July 26, 2011, which remain in place. There has been no other military activity in the area that could explain the presence of these munitions.
Human Rights Watch was told by several local residents and a journalist and by Yemeni human rights defenders that the Ministry of Defense established a committee to clear the mines several months ago. Local residents added that they saw members of this committee arrive in two groups, by bus, at the two Republican Guard camps approximately three months ago but neither group obtained access to clear the mines. One local man told Human Rights Watch that he was present close to the entrance of the camp of the 63rd Brigade when the bus conveying committee members arrived and that he overheard the camp commander, who prevented the bus from entering, telling its occupants, “The mines are here to protect the camp. You cannot remove them, and if you do, you will see what will happen.”
During its visit, Human Rights Watch inspected an area of rocky ground about four minutes’ drive from the village, which local people had marked with a ring of small stones to show that the area contains mines and is not to be entered. This is the only form of marking of this extremely hazardous area; no fencing or warning notices were visible. Local residents complained that the deployment of antipersonnel mines had caused them to lose access to farmland and quarries and prevented them from repairing water irrigation pipes in need of repair that run through areas that are perilous due to mines.
In light of this information, Human Rights Watch urges you to take the following measures:
· Conduct an immediate investigation into the deployment of antipersonnel mines and other munitions in the Bani Jarmooz area, in order to establish when, by whom, and under what authority these prohibited munitions were deployed, the types of munitions used, and the extent of their deployment.
· Immediately mark and cordon off the areas where antipersonnel mines and related munitions are deployed so as to reduce the risk of further casualties among the local population, and promptly embark on a mine clearance program to remove or destroy the munitions from the vicinity of the Republican Guard camps and any other areas in which antipersonnel mines have been deployed.
· Identify and prosecute those responsible for deploying antipersonnel mines in accordance with the legislative measures taken by Yemen in implementing the Mine Ban Treaty.
· Provide appropriate compensation, assistance, and support to those killed or injured as a result of the deployment of these mines and their families, including medical care, the provision of prosthetics where appropriate and on-going rehabilitation needs, as well as to other landmine victims in Yemen.
· Publicly reaffirm Yemen’s commitment to enforcing all aspects of the Mine Ban Treaty, including the prohibition on the use of antipersonnel mines.
· Disclose the source of the antipersonnel mines laid in the Bani Jarmooz area, indicating whether these came from a hitherto undisclosed Yemeni stockpile or from a foreign source or sources and, if so, the identity of the supplier/s and the date/s on which they were obtained.
· Immediately collect and destroy any remaining stockpiles, as required by the treaty.
Human Rights Watch previously wrote to His Excellency President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi on April 13, 2012 concerning an incident on March 4, 2012 in the Hassaba neighborhood of Sana’a, in which a 10-year-old boy was seriously wounded by an antipersonnel landmine. In that case, Human Rights Watch was unable to determine whether government forces or fighters of the al-Ahmar tribe had laid the landmine that caused the child’s injury, and so urged the government to investigate and to ensure that government forces were complying fully with Yemen’s obligations as a state party to the Mine Ban Treaty. As yet, however, we have received no response from the President’s Office or other Yemeni officials to whom we sent copies of our letter, including yourself.
We hope, however, to receive your full and prompt response to this further communication.
Sarah Leah Whitson
Director, Middle East and North Africa division
Human Rights Watch
Stephen D. Goose
Director, Arms division
Human Rights Watch
His Excellency President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi
Prime Minister Mohammed Salim Baseundwah
His Excellency Abdul-Qader Qahtan, Minister of Interior
His Excellency Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Her Excellency Hooria Mashhour, Minister for Human Rights
Hamid al-Ahmar, General Secretary of the Preparatory Committee of the National Dialogue for the JMP