Skip to main content

There was widespread destruction of schools in direct attacks, including air strikes, bombing, shelling and looting, as well as in general fighting and in clashes during protests. Schools and universities were used as barracks, bases and firing positions.1684

A political crisis in 2009 between the ruling General People’s Congress party and the main opposition bloc, the Joint Meeting Parties, led to the postponement of parliamentary elections.1685 In 2009, the country witnessed fighting break out again between the army and rebels from the Houthi community in the far north, as well as escalating protests by supporters of independence or greater autonomy for southern Yemen, and the emergence of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an affiliate of the global terrorism network, Al-Qaeda.1686

Inspired by the Arab Spring, student groups took a prominent role in the uprising from February 2011,1687 peacefully occupying ‘Change Square’ in front of Sana’a University, which became a focal point for protesters.1688 Following a military crackdown on civilian protests, pro- and anti-government forces fought each other sporadically in 2011.1689 AQAP militants, meanwhile, took over key areas of the south. However, a US-backed offensive in April and May 2012 drove the militants out of their strongholds in Zinjibar and Jaar city, Abyan governorate, and the Azzan area in Shabwa governorate.1690 Meanwhile, a comprehensive set of agreements, including the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Initiative and the Agreement on the Implementation Mechanism for the Transition, was brokered after ten months of protest, ushering in a two-year period of political transition.1691

Attacks on schools and other education-related incidents involving violence and the use of force were a significant concern and sometimes a growing trend during 2009-2012, affecting schools in different parts of Yemen at different times. Between 2009 and 2012, there were at least 720 incidents affecting schools, including direct attacks, looting, threats and military use of schools, according to the UN Secretary-General’s annual reports on children and armed conflict.1692 Additionally, data supplied by a UN respondent for 2011 and 2012 suggest that there could have been as many as 853 incidents in total in 2009-2012.1693 It is not known how many of them were targeted attacks.1694

In education, gross enrolment was 97 per cent at primary level, 46 per cent at secondary level and 10 per cent at tertiary level (2011).1695 Adult literacy was 65 per cent (2011).1696

Attacks on schools
From August 2009 to February 2010, attacks on and damage to schools increased in the far north during the war between the army and Houthi rebels in Sa’ada governorate on the border with Saudi Arabia. The Director of the Education Office in Sa’ada, Muhammad Abdul Rahim Al-Shamiri, reported that out of the governorate’s 725 schools, all of which were closed during the war, 70 were almost completely destroyed1697 and another 145 were partially destroyed or looted.1698 Ahmed Al-Qurashi, director of the NGO Seyaj Organization for Childhood Protection, confirmed that schools in the Sa’ada governorate were targeted during this period, as were other places used to teach children while schools were closed, such as tents, mosques and houses.1699

According to the UN, by the end of 2010, some 311 schools in Sa’ada had been partially or completely destroyed because of shelling and crossfire during clashes between the parties to the conflict, but again it was not specified how many had been targeted.1700 In two separate incidents, unexploded ordnance was sighted in schools in Malaheed in Sa’ada governorate. Away from the conflict in Sa’ada, three bombs were found in a girls’ school in Aden Governorate in the far south.1701

During 2011, there was a spike in school attacks and school-related incidents away from the Houthi conflict area, following a general increase in unrest after the protests demanding reforms. According to the UN, attacks included looting, shelling, aerial bombardment, arson and intimidation.1702 According to Seyaj Organization for Childhood Protection, whose staff visited dozens of schools immediately after they had been attacked in 2011, incidents also included IEDs planted in schools, detonators attached to school doors and rocket damage.1703 They also saw nine schools in Abyan that had been hit in airstrikes by Yemeni forces after militants linked to Al-Qaeda used them for military purposes.1704 The UN reported 211 incidents affecting 150 schools that year. The Sana’a region was particularly affected with at least 130 incidents affecting 77 schools, and there were 72 incidents in Tai’zz in the southern highlands.1705 On 19 October 2011, a school in Ta’izz was seriously damaged by pro-government armed men, who tried to burn it down. At least seven students who protested against the entry of the armed elements into the school were injured.1706

Armed groups such as the First Armoured Division – a breakaway division supporting anti-government protesters – and militias associated with the Al-Ahmar tribe were chiefly responsible for the attacks. As noted below (see Military use of schools), both government and anti-government forces used schools for military purposes, which reportedly provoked numerous attacks. The attacks and school closures due to fighting disrupted the education of 200,000 children in 2011.1707

In November-December 2011, there was a steep rise in reporting of attacks on schools to the UN due to rapid assessment missions conducted by the Child Protection Sub-cluster and the Yemeni Department of Education. They reported 204 incidents of schools being looted, shelled, aerially bombarded and set on fire; education personnel being threatened; and schools being used for military purposes.1708

In January-February 2012, 13 schools used as polling stations were attacked or otherwise damaged, for example, when government forces clashed with members of the southern separatist movement Al-Hirak in or around school buildings. In other cases, militants looted schools or threw sound bombs to prevent people from entering to vote.1709

On 24 April 2012, a grenade was launched at a school in which IDPs were sheltering in Aden district.1710

Attacks on education in 2012 peaked in May and June, with 181 of the 252 incidents reported that year.1711 Half of those took place in Sana’a, where the government continued to fight anti-government forces intermittently, including 44 cases of bombs exploding in the vicinity of schools.1712 In the same period, there were 78 incidents affecting Abyan’s schools as the military cracked down on AQAP fighters in the area.1713 Those responsible included the Republican Guards, anti-government tribal groups and Ansar Al-Sharia (a militant Islamic group connected to AQAP).1714

Between July and October 2012, a few isolated incidents were reported. For instance, on 27 July 2012, Houthi armed militants stormed into Omar Ibn Al-Khattab primary school where students were attending summer classes, and demanded that they study the Houthi handbook.1715 On 29 September 2012, in Abyan, a group of armed students allegedly associated with Ansar Al-Sharia entered school facilities, burning textbooks and destroying furniture to disrupt the classes.1716

Attacks on school students, teachers and other education personnel
From 2009 to 2012, attacks on students, teachers and other education staff included killings, torture, assaults, illegal detention and threats of violence.

Some 122 teachers were killed and 300 injured in 2009-2012, nearly all of them during the 2011 protests or during conflict between tribes and Houthi rebels in Jawf governorate in the far north, according to the Yemeni Teachers’ Syndicate (YTS).1717 It is not known how many of those attacks were targeted.

In addition, the YTS documented other abuses by Houthi rebels, mostly in Sa’ada governorate, also in the north, as well as by state armed forces or security forces. Abuses by Houthi forces included four teachers allegedly killed for sectarian reasons, 29 teachers imprisoned, 11 tortured, 11 kidnapped and six assaulted. Alleged abuses by state forces included two teachers disappeared during protests; other teachers received death threats or were illegally detained or harassed.1718

The YTS said there was evidence that some abuses by Houthi rebels were carried out for sectarian reasons, against those who rejected their beliefs, as threats to teachers from Houthi rebels issued by text messages indicated.1719 Muhammad Al-Shamiri said Houthi rebels went into schools and ordered teachers and students to chant Houthi slogans and use pro-Shiite texts, and attacked them and closed down the school if they refused.1720 The Houthis follow Zaidism, a moderate school of Shia Islam.

Houthi rebels targeted leading education figures in 2012. Al-Shamiri himself, as Director of Sa’ada Education Office, received death threats and was forced to flee the city in February 2012. A threat received by text message stated: ‘Your death is very close’. He knew of no reason why he was threatened other than as a teacher who managed and supervised other teachers, at a time when teachers were being targeted. Al-Shamiri understood the threats to have come from Houthi forces who had threatened him before.1721 Ebrahim Dhaiban, the YTS chairman in Sa’ada, was illegally detained by Houthi rebels on his way home from work in late November 2012.1722

Military use of schools
According to the UN Secretary-General’s annual reports on children and armed conflict, in 2009-2012 at least 52 schools were used for military purposes, with 16 used as bases and 36 used for storage of military weapons by combatants.1723 Most of the incidents documented by the UN were related either to the Houthi conflict or the activities of opposing military forces during the anti-government protests.

However, information provided by a UN respondent and other sources suggests that the total number of schools used for military purposes may have been much higher than the figures appearing in the UN Secretary-General’s reports.

In 2009, during fighting between Houthi rebels and Yemeni forces in Sa’ada governorate and neighbouring areas, there were reports that dozens of schools were being used by combatants from both sides.1724 This equated to most schools in the affected areas and halted the education of some 30,000 primary and secondary schoolchildren.1725 The presence of combatants also resulted in some schools being attacked and 17 were completely destroyed. The Ministry of Education had to cancel the school year in the affected areas, Sa’ada and Harf Sufyan.1726

In October 2011, Reuters, the international news agency, reported that at least 50 schools in Sana’a had closed because of the unrest that followed protests for reform. Of these, the majority were reportedly seized by armed gunmen.1727 Similarly, UNICEF documented that armed forces and armed groups had occupied at least 54 schools in 2011.1728

In addition, Seyaj Organization for Child Protection reported that, during March-October 2011, schools came under direct attack after they were used by pro-uprising tribal fighters, pro-former regime forces and Al-Qaeda-linked militants as fighting positions, places of military training and ammunition stores.1729

In 2012, according to a UN respondent, at least 58 schools were occupied; six of them in Hasaba, a district of Sana’a, were used by armed forces and various armed groups, and 52 were used by Ansar Al-Sahria in Abyan for about four months until mid-June, when the group lost control over the governorate. According to the source, the majority of these schools were heavily contaminated with explosives and became targets of attacks by opposing forces.1730 The UN Secretary-General reported that during an offensive in the first half of 2012, Yemeni armed forces allegedly shelled schools in Abyan that were occupied by Ansar Al-Sharia. At least 19 schools were either partially or totally destroyed.1731 A similar incident was reported in Aden.1732

In March 2012, Human Rights Watch visited five schools in Sana’a that were partially occupied, two that were completely occupied, seven that had previously been fully or partially occupied and one that was closed because of the military presence near the school. By early September, all of the schools had been cleared. The occupiers were: the Al-Ahmar tribal militia, the renegade First Armoured Division and the Yemeni army.1733 It found that two buildings at Asma’a School, a girls’ school near Change Square, were being used by between 70 and 100 soldiers of the First Armoured Division, who were living on the campus. They first moved onto the school campus in July 2011 and did not leave until August 2012, despite classes continuing at the school. At another school, Al-Faaruq School, close to the President’s residence in Sana’a, Presidential Guards set up sandbag and concrete fortifications on the roof and used them as observation points and firing positions, despite classes for 2,000 children continuing at the school. Both of these schools were subsequently vacated.1734

There were reports in December 2012 of Houthi forces taking over an unknown number of schools in Al-Saif and Haja for use as detention facilities.1735

Child recruitment from schools
The general phenomenon of recruitment of children by armed forces and armed groups in education settings has been documented but the numbers of children recruited have not been established, nor have the numbers recruited from schools or en route to or from school.

Shawthab Organization, a local child rights NGO, reported Houthis handing out leaflets to schoolchildren encouraging them to join the armed group Shabab al-Mo’mineem (Believing Youth).1736 They said the recruitment campaign focused on teenagers in grades 8 to 12 on the grounds that they would be easier to influence than adult recruits.1737 Muhammad Ezan, a political analyst, noted that students and teachers were used as Houthi recruiters in Sa’ada. He added that there was no evidence of forcible recruitment or abduction.1738

Attacks on higher education

Attacks on higher education facilities

There was one reported direct attack on a higher education institution during 2009-2012. On 27 November 2011, Houthi rebels reportedly killed 20 people and wounded 70 others in an attack on a Sunni Islamist school in northern Yemen.1739 The school, Dar al-Hadith, an institute for Islamic Salafi teachings, trained Sunni preachers in the Houthi stronghold of Dammaj, Sa’ada governorate. One teacher speculated that the attack was motivated by a fear of Sunnis converting Shias in the area.1740 It was reported by the Switzerland-based human rights NGO Alkarama that the centre was under siege for two weeks before the attack, preventing the delivery of food and medical supplies.1741 One 18-year-old student was shot on 4 November 2011 while playing football with colleagues in the institute’s courtyard.1742

At Sana’a University, students with opposed political stances forcibly shut down their rivals’ classes in March 2011.1743

Attacks on higher education students, academics and personnel

Between February and October 2011, 73 higher education students were killed nationally and 139 wounded, 38 of whom were permanently disabled as a result of their injuries, according to the Wafa Organization for Martyrs’ Families and Wounded Care.1744 It is not known how many of these killings and injuries occurred on campus or in the vicinity of universities, or because the victims were being targeted as students. However, the Yemen Students Union reported that there were some deaths and high numbers of injuries from gunshot wounds among the students camped in Change Square, in front of Sana’a University’s entrance, who were boycotting lectures as part of a protest demanding a change of president.1745 According to University World News, pro-government gunmen killed or injured students protesting near the university,1746 and clashes erupted in front of the university between students and youths and government supporters armed with daggers and batons.1747

Military use of higher education facilities

There were at least two cases of the use of higher education facilities by combatants. The First Armoured Division rebel forces occupied Sana’a University’s Old Campus in 2011. The university was closed from February 2011 until January 2012 when the first students started to return, but the rebels remained on campus, even using the cafeteria, until April 2012.1748 From early June to December 2011, Central Security forces and Republican Guards occupied the Superior Institute for Health Science in Ta’izz, a college for pharmacists and physicians’ assistants that was located on high ground.1749

Attacks on education in 2013

According to a UN respondent, attacks on schools fell significantly in 2013 compared to 2012.1750 The UN verified that on 23 February, Houthi fighters stormed into the Imam Hadi primary school in Sharmat, Sa’ada, demanding to keep one prisoner inside the school temporarily and, when the request was refused, opened fire, wounding a teacher;1751 and that in July, Houthi rebels armed with machine guns occupied a school in Dammaj district.1752 On 27 September 2013, Jabir Ali Hamdan, a teacher at the Sa’ada School in Maeen area in Razih, was reportedly imprisoned and threatened with death after he had broken a stick on which the Houthi slogan of Al-Sarkha (‘God is Great/Death to America/Death to Israel/Curse the Jews/Victory to Islam’1753) was written. He was later released.1754

There were continuing local media reports of incidents of Houthi rebels shooting school staff, threatening teachers and taking over schools, mostly in Sa’ada governorate,1755 and of attacks on students and teachers by other armed groups or armed gangs in other Yemeni governorates, but these have not been confirmed by UN or human rights sources. They included the shooting of teachers and students as well as bombings and shootings at examination centres. The incidents were reported in Sana’a1756 and the Ta’izz,1757 Hodeida and Hajja governorates,1758 as well as in Lani province.1759


1684This profile covers attacks on education in 2009-2012, with an additional section on attacks in 2013.

1685“Parliamentary Elections to be Postponed Two Years,” Yemen Post, 10 April 2010.

1686HRW, “Armed Conflict in Northern Yemen,” 28 August 2009; “Yemen ‘close to crushing rebels’,” Al Jazeera, 14 October 2009; and Rule of Law in Armed Conflicts Project, “Yemen – current conflicts,” Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law.

1687Ahmed Mohamoud Elmi, “YEMEN: Student protests gather strength after deaths,” University World News, 25 February 2011.

1688“Clans and Tribes Forge New Yemen Unity,” New York Times, 16 June 2011.

1689HRW, Classrooms in the Crosshairs: Military Use of Schools in Yemen’s Capital (New York: HRW, 11 September 2012), 9.

1690Mohammed Mukhashaf, “Yemen army says seizes Qaeda bastion in major advance,” Reuters, 15 June 2012; and “Eleven Islamist militants killed in southern Yemen,” Reuters, 20 June 2012.

1691International Foundation for Electoral Systems, “Next steps in Yemen’s transition,” IFES Briefing Paper – March 2012.

1692UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/64/742 S/2010/181, 13 April 2010, para 163; UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/65/820–S/2011/250, 23 April 2011, para 200; UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/66/782–S/2012/261, 26 April 2012, para 168; UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/67/845–S/2013/245, 15 May 2013, para 168. The total of 720 includes a figure of 311 incidents in 2010 calculated from the figure given in the UNSC CAC report of 43% of Sa’ada schools attacked in 2010 (of which there were 725). The other figures by year were 2009: 33, 2011: 211; and 2012: 165.

1693The figure 853 derives from 509 attacks in 2011 and 2012 reported by a UN respondent plus 17 schools reported destroyed in 2009 and 16 reported used for military purposes in the UNSG CAC report in 2010; and an additional figure of 311 schools (43% of Sa’ada schools in 2010 – of which there were 725) hit by mortar shells and crossfire in 2010 without specifying how many of those were targeted and how many were caught in crossfire, reported in the UNSG CAC report in 2011.

1694Information provided by a UN respondent, 23 April 2013.

1695UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), “Education (all levels) Profile - Yemen,” UIS Statistics in Brief (2011).


1697Muhammad Abdul Rahim Al-Shamiri, Director of Sa’ada Education Office, interviewed by Fuad Rajeh, 9 March 2013.

1698“YEMEN: Sa’ada Schools Reopen: 220 Destroyed, Damaged or Looted,” IRIN, 28 February 2010. This figure was also confirmed during an interview by Fuad Rajeh for Education under Attack 2014 with the Committee on Education Emergency at Ministry of Education, Yemen, 3 March 2013.

1699Ahmed Al-Qurashi, CEO of Seyaj, interviewed by Fuad Rajeh, 4 March 2013.

1700Information provided by a UN respondent, 23 April 2013.

1701UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/65/820–S/2011/250, 23 April 2011, para 200.

1702UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/66/782–S/2012/261, 26 April 2012, para 168.

1703Ahmed Al-Qurashi, CEO of Seyaj Organization for Childhood Protection, interviewed by Fuad Rajeh, 4 March 2013.

1704Information provided by Seyaj Organization for Childhood Protection to Fuad Rajeh, 4 March 2013.

1705UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/66/782–S/2012/261, 26 April 2012, para 168.

1706Information supplied by a UN respondent, 23 April 2013.

1707UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/66/782–S/2012/261, 26 April 2012, para 168.

1708Information supplied by a UN respondent, 23 April 2013. Separate specific figures for the types of incidents were not provided.

1709Information provided by a UN respondent, 23 April 2013.








1717Yahya Al-Yanai, Spokesman for Yemen Teachers’ Syndicate, interviewed by Fuad Rajeh, 7 March 2013.

1718Yemeni Teachers’ Syndicate officials, and former Head Fuad Dahaba, interviewed by Fuad Rajeh, March 2013.

1719Yahya Al-Yanai, Spokesman for Yemen Teachers’ Syndicate, interviewed by Fuad Rajeh, 7 March 2013; Ibrahim Thaiban, Head of Yemen Teachers’ Syndicate’s Sa’ada branch, interviewed by Fuad Rajeh, 8 March 2013.

1720Muhammad Abdul Rahim Al-Shamiri, Director of Sa’ada Education Office, interviewed by Fuad Rajeh, 9 March 2013.


1722“Houthi militias arrest 14 persons in Sa’ada,”, 1 December 2012.

1723Sixteen cases were reported in UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/64/742 S/2010/181, 13 April 2010, para 163; and 36 cases were reported in UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/67/845–S/2013/245, 15 May 2013, para 168.

1724UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/64/742 S/2010/181, 13 April 2010, para 163.

1725“Yemen: Rebel Occupation of Schools Threatens Northern Ceasefire,” IRIN News, 10 May 2010.

1726UNSC, Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, A/64/742 S/2010/181, 13 April 2010, para 163.

1727“In Yemen, schools become hostages of rising crisis,” Thomson Reuters, 19 October 2011.

1728“UNICEF Yemen – Bi-Weekly Situation Report,” 1-15 November 2011.

1729Information provided by Seyaj Organization for Childhood Protection to Fuad Rajeh, 4 March 2013.

1730Information provided by a UN respondent, 23 April 2013.

1731UNSC, Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Yemen, S/2013/383, 28 June 2013, para 49.


1733HRW, Classrooms in the Crosshairs: Military Use of Schools in Yemen’s Capital (New York: HRW, 11 September 2012), 14, 17.

1734HRW, Classrooms in the Crosshairs: Military Use of Schools in Yemen’s Capital (New York: HRW, 11 September 2012), 14, 17.

1735“Houthi Militias Arrest 14 Persons in Sa’ada,”, 1 December 2012.

1736“Yemen: Rebel Occupation of Schools Threatens Northern Ceasefire,” IRIN News, 10 May 2010. For information on the roots of Shabab Al-Moumineem, see ”Hothi Al-Shabab Al-Moum-en,”

1737“Yemen: Rebel Occupation of Schools Threatens Northern Ceasefire,” IRIN News, 10 May 2010.

1738Muhammad Ezan, Analyst, interviewed by Fuad Rajeh, 6 March 2013.

173920 Killed in Attack on Yemen School,” AFP, 27 November 2011.


1741“Yemen: An Appeal to Lift The Siege of The Students in Dar al-Hadeeth in Sa’dah and Their Families,” Alkarama, 14 November 2011.


1743Ridwan Masoud, Chairman of the General Union of Yemeni Students at Sana’a and Amran Universities, interviewed by Fuad Rajeh, 5 March 2013.

1744Wafa Organization for Martyrs’ Families and Wounded Care, officials interviewed by Fuad Rajeh on 12 March 2013; updated information from provided by WAFA, December 2013. In collecting data, WAFA visited field hospitals registering details of the wounded and conducted follow-up visits to the homes of all of the victims to check on details.

1745Zaid Sabah and John Hughes, “Syria fighting kills 17 as Yemeni students say deaths reach 184,” Bloomberg, 29 October 2011.

1746Ahmed Mohamoud Elmi, “Yemen: student protests gather strength after deaths,” University World News, 27 February 2011.


1748HRW site visit to Sana’a University Old Campus, 22 March 2012; HRW, Classrooms in the Crosshairs - Military Use of Schools in Yemen’s Capital (New York: HRW, 11 September 2012), 16.

1749HRW, “No Safe Places”: Yemen’s Crackdown on Protests in Ta’izz (New York: HRW, 6 February 2012), 59.

1750Information provided by a UN respondent, 24 January 2014.

1751Information provided by a UN respondent, 24 January 2014; “Teacher seriously hurt after armed Houthis storm school in Sa’ada,” Al Khabarnow, 23 February 2013.

1752Information provided by a UN respondent, 24 January 2012; “Houthis occupy school, checkpoint in Dammaj after 14 hurt, dead in fuel truck explosion,” Al Hale, 11 July 2013.

1753Ali Abulohoom, “Who was Hussein Al-Houthi?”, Yemen Times, 17 June 2003.

1754Information from an interview conducted by researcher Fuad Rajeh with Tariq Al-Jadi, electronic media officer at the Yemeni Teachers’ Syndicate, October 2013.

1755“Houthis break into school, hold five teachers, halt examinations,” Al Sahwa Yemen, 21 January 2013; “Armed Houthis close mosque, prevent schools from teaching,” Al Sahwa Yemen, 8 April 2013.

1756“Capital Mayor affirms authorities stand by teachers, condemns assault on principal,” Saba News, 9 September 2013;

1757“School official, student wounded, others fainted after armed assault on Russia-built school in Taiz,” Almotamar, 6 April 2013.

1758“In Hodeida, an official, armed people attack school, students forced to jump from rooftops,” Yemen Press, 9 October 2013; “Powerful sheikh closes school in Hajja, attacks teachers, terrifies students with live bullets,” Yemen at, 17 September 2013.

1759“Teacher dead, student wounded and bomb detonated at school examination center in southern Lanj province,” Mareb Press, 29 June 2013.


Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country