His Royal Highness Mohammad bin Salman Al Sa`ud

Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of Defense

Ministry of Defense

Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

 

Re: Coalition Attacks at Sea

 

Your Royal Highness,

Human Rights Watch has been conducting research into alleged violations of the laws of war by all parties to the armed conflict in Yemen, including coalition forces, Ansar Allah (the Houthis), and other armed groups. Our recent research has focused on attacks by coalition forces at sea that have targeted civilian fishing boats. We have also investigated the detention of 115 fishermen in Saudi detention facilities.

To help us understand whether these attacks were carried out in accordance with the laws of war and international human rights law, we would appreciate responses to the following questions with regard to each of the attacks listed below.

  1. Did coalition armed forces carry out an attack that matches the approximate date and description provided?
  2. What weapon or weapons were used in the attack?
  3. What was the military objective of the attack? What precautions were taken to minimize civilian harm?
  4. Have coalition forces carried out an investigation into the attack? If so, what civilian harm resulted from the attack including deaths, injuries, and property damage?
  5. Were violations of the laws of war committed in the attack? If so, do the violations require a criminal investigation into possible war crimes? Has such a criminal investigation been undertaken?
  6. Has the coalition provided compensation for laws-of-war violations or ex gratia (condolence) payments for harm done to civilians in relation to the attack?

Human Rights Watch documented the following coalition naval force attacks that resulted in civilian casualties:

  1. On September 15, 2018, at around 6 p.m., coalition forces attacked a fishing vessel carrying 19 people, somewhere near the coast of Eritrea. The attack resulted in 18 deaths, with one survivor. Compensation, or humanitarian assistance, was allegedly provided.
  2. In mid-August 2018, Saudi naval forces, as part of the coalition, attacked a fishing vessel at around 3 p.m., somewhere near the coast of Eritrea. The attack resulted in 7 deaths; 12 fishermen were detained at a Saudi detention center in Jizan.
    1. In addition to the questions above, what was the basis for these detentions?
    2. Were the detained provided access to legal counsel? To a representative of the Yemeni government? Were they allowed to contact family members?
  3. On the same day in early or mid-August 2018, coalition naval forces attacked two fishing vessels at around 4 pm. Both attacks took place near Zuqer Island, a Yemeni island. The first boat contained 14 fishermen, 7 of whom died in the attack. The boat caught on fire, and the surviving fishermen jumped into the water. Four more died after several days at sea without rescue. The second boat contained 10 fishermen, of whom 4 were killed.
  4. On or around August 1, 2018, a group of three fishing boats set out from the port of Khawkha, Yemen. At around 11:30 a.m., about 22 nautical miles from the port, one of the boats carrying 9 fishermen was attacked by a helicopter. Seven of the fishermen died, and 2 survived. The survivors were rescued by a passing civilian boat.
  5. In mid-March 2018, a group of six fishing boats set out to sea from Hodeida port in Yemen. Near al-Swabe’a island, a Yemeni island, a coalition warship stopped the group. All 91 fishermen were ordered to sail their boats alongside the warship until they reached Jizan, in Saudi Arabia. The group was detained in Jizan for about 40 days. Members of the group say they were interrogated and beaten while in Saudi custody.
    1. What was the basis for these detentions?
    2. Were the detained provided access to legal counsel? To a representative of the Yemeni government? Were they allowed to contact family members?
    3. Can you comment on the allegations of beatings while in Saudi government custody?
  6. On or around October 2, 2016, a group of 50 fishermen were stopped by a coalition naval vessel at around 8 a.m. near Difnen Island, an island off the coast of Eritrea. They were escorted to a coalition naval frigate, and 12 members of the group detained. The detainees were taken to Saudi Arabia and detained first in a center in Jizan, then at Abu Arish prison, then at Khamis Mashit prison. Some of them remain in Saudi government custody.
    1. What was the basis for these detentions?
    2. Were the detained provided access to legal counsel? To a representative of the Yemeni government? Were they allowed to contact family members?
    3. Can you comment on the allegations of beatings while in Saudi government custody?

Any other information you can provide on any of these incidents would be appreciated.

To meet our publication schedule, we request your response by July 7, so that your answers and comments can be reflected in our reporting.

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to your response and are ready to discuss with you our findings.

Sincerely,

 

Priyanka Motaparthy

Acting Director, Emergencies Division

Human Rights Watch