We write in advance of the 73rd Session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and its review of the Republic of Yemen’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Protection of Adequate Health, and Adequate Standard of Living, including the Right to Food During Armed Conflict (articles 2, 3, 11, and 12)
The protracted armed conflict in Yemen has had grave impacts on the right to health and the right to an adequate standard of living. According to UNICEF, over 23 million people in Yemen, out of a population of about 30 million, are in need of humanitarian assistance, including nearly 13 million children. Parties to the conflict have attacked civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and food and water infrastructure, and blocked access to humanitarian aid. This has gravely inhibited peoples’ access to water, food, and medicine, and has consequently had dire consequences for health and standard of living.
Specifically, by the end of 2022, UN agencies reported that 17.8 million people in Yemen did not have access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene services, and 17 million were food insecure, with 6.1 million facing “emergency” levels of food insecurity. According to Mwatana for Human Rights and Global Rights Compliance, the Saudi and UAE-led Coalition has repeatedly carried out attacks on food and water infrastructure across Yemen, including targeting farms, irrigation works, and fishing boats. These attacks violate international humanitarian law’s prohibition on attacking, destroying, removing, or rendering useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population. Furthermore, the attacks have contributed to widespread food insecurity and increased the humanitarian crisis.
Parties to the conflict have repeatedly attacked hospitals and healthcare facilities, as well as medical workers. From the start of the conflict through March of 2020, there were at least 142 documented attacks on medical facilities across the country. The International Committee of the Red Cross stated in March of 2022 that “only 51% of health facilities are in service” in Yemen.
In addition to direct attacks, parties to the conflict, in particular the Houthi forces (also known as Ansar Allah), have also obstructed access to humanitarian aid, further exacerbating humanitarian needs. Human Rights Watch has documented many cases of aid interference and obstruction by the Houthis, including lengthy delays for approval of aid projects, blocking aid assessments to identify peoples’ needs, attempts to control aid monitoring and recipient lists to divert aid to those loyal to the authorities, and violence against aid staff and their property. An aid worker, discussing the obstacles the Houthis had put in place to the delivery of aid, told Human Rights Watch: “It’s very simple; we can’t reach communities where people are dying.”
The Yemeni government has also impeded aid through the imposition of complex bureaucratic requirements on aid agencies that have impacted millions of civilians’ ability to access much-needed aid. Partly in response to the obstruction of aid by both the Yemeni government and the Houthis, donors have significantly cut their support to UN aid agencies, creating even further aid shortages.
The city of Taizz in particular has been severely impacted by Houthi aid obstruction. Residents have faced a dire humanitarian crisis since 2015 when the Houthis closed off all major roads into and out of the city, and the International Committee of the Red stated in March 2022 that “the severity of food and water needs is dangerously acute in Taizz.” The road closures have severely restricted the flow of essential goods, including medicine and food, as well as humanitarian access into the city. As part of the negotiated truce in force between April and October 2022, the UN shared a proposal on July 3, 2022 to re-open the roads, but the Houthis promptly rejected the proposal and the roads remain closed.
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call on the government of Yemen to:
- Provide more resources to healthcare facilities and government bodies managing water and sanitation, so that they may work to address many of the gaps in access to medical care, clean water, and sanitation.
- Prohibit all attacks on hospitals, water and food infrastructure, and other civilian objects, per international law, and prioritize rebuilding and rehabilitating previously damaged water and food infrastructure.
- End all unnecessary obstacles and interference of humanitarian aid and work closely with UN agencies and non-UN aid organizations to expeditiously process all future aid project proposals and travel requests.
- Facilitate meetings in Yemen with donor government officials at senior levels to help secure the maximum donor support to address the humanitarian crisis.
- Avoid government regulations on medicine, fuel, and other goods that disrupt humanitarian assistance without justification.
Children and People with Disabilities’ Right to Health, Adequate Standard of Living, and Education during Armed Conflict (articles 11, 12, and 13)
Children and people with disabilities often face increased risk of harm during armed conflict and crises. In 2020, Humanity & Inclusion reported that conflict-related deterioration of infrastructure, health care, and other services in Yemen, including because of the use of explosive weapons in areas with civilian populations, had a disproportionate impact on children and adults with disabilities. They found that 86 percent of people with disabilities surveyed had experienced problems obtaining services due to physical barriers, lack of security, and economic and social discrimination. Increased prices of medications and denial of humanitarian assistance are also serious concerns.
Humanity and Inclusion’s 2020 findings confirmed that challenges identified by Human Rights Watch research in November 2015 had not tangibly improved. At that time, Human Rights Watch interviewed 29 Yemenis with disabilities and their families. Hanan, a 4-year-old girl with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, needed medications that had become unaffordable. Her father said: “Her medication is important for her health because when she takes it regularly, she only experiences an epileptic seizure once every two weeks. But when she does not take the medicine, she experiences a seizure twice a day…. It’s hard to feel useless.” Human Rights Watch found that damage to existing infrastructure and roads made parts of Yemen difficult to navigate for people with disabilities. Hind, a 25-year-old woman with a physical disability, told Human Rights Watch that life is “very tiring… Most of the time I prefer to stay home rather than go out… Due to my disability I regularly fall on the ground if I don’t watch where I’m putting my legs.”
In a June 2020 address to the UN Security Council, Raja Abdullah Almasabi, a disability rights activist from Yemen, said: “Denial of humanitarian access has created chronic health conditions, especially among children, such as malnutrition. This is one of the primary reasons why many children in Yemen have acquired a disability.”
Research also indicates that all children living in conflict and crises zones are at high risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. In 2020, Save the Children reported that over half of the children they surveyed in Yemen reported feelings of sadness and depression, “with more than 1 in 10 saying they feel that way constantly.”
In April 2022, the Houthis signed an action plan with the United Nations pledging to end recruitment and use of children as soldiers, killing and maiming of children, and attacks against schools and hospitals. "By then, according to the UN, the parties to the conflict, including the Houthis, were responsible for killing and maiming more than 10,200 children, and close to 3,500 children had been verified as recruited and used in Yemen in the eight years of the conflict. Houthi rockets, indiscriminate artillery attacks, and use of landmines have caused thousands of child casualties. The Houthis have attacked scores of schools and hospitals, used schools for military purposes, and blocked humanitarian assistance. Pro-government Yemeni forces have also carried out indiscriminate missile strikes, deployed children into combat, and attacked schools and hospitals.
While UN action plans have been a powerful tool to prompt warring parties to end violations against children, parties to the conflict in Yemen have a poor record of keeping such commitments. Houthi leaders pledged in 2012 to end use of child soldiers, as did the Yemeni government in 2014. Despite these promises, the UN verified 8,526 violations against children in Yemen in 2019-2020.
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call on the government of Yemen to:
- Ensure access to affordable medication and humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of people with disabilities, including children.
- Conduct rights-based public information campaigns to raise awareness about rights of people with disabilities, especially among mental health service providers and the broader community, in partnership with people with lived experiences of physical and psychosocial disability.
Corporal Punishment of Children (articles 12 and 13)
In May 2021, Human Rights Watch found that Yemen’s laws do not prohibit corporal punishment of students at school and permit violent discipline of children in the home: article 146 of the Children’s Rights Act of 2002 confirms “the legal and legislative rights of parents to discipline their children.”
Countries began to ban corporal punishment in the 1970s, as research showed it not only failed to improve children’s behavior but was also linked to increases in suicidal thoughts, anxiety, aggression, criminality, and other harms that impact the right to education. These include school avoidance and drop-outs, as well as difficulty with concentration, cognitive problems, and increased aggression in school. Medical associations have called for the abolition of corporal punishment on the basis that it harms students’ school achievement.
This Committee, as well as the Committees on the Rights of the Child, and on Civil and Political Rights, have repeatedly called on Yemen to explicitly and effectively prohibit corporal punishment of children by law in all settings, including in schools. 
Recent reports on the prevalence of violent discipline in Yemen are unavailable, but a 2013 UNICEF survey found that around 90 percent of children aged 2-14 had experienced physical punishment by caregivers in the month prior to the survey, with more than 85 percent being subject to severe physical punishment, such as being “hit or slapped on the face, head or ears” or “beat up as hard as one could.”
Houthi and Southern Transitional Council Areas
As of January 2021, eighty percent of Yemenis lived in territories where Houthi authorities exert control, including over schools. The Houthi authorities did not reply to Human Rights Watch requests for information about laws or policies on violent discipline of children sent in early December of 2020.
The Southern Transitional Council, which controls territory in several Yemeni governorates, also did not reply to our requests.
Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call on the government of Yemen to:
- Prohibit, by law, corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment in the home, at school, and in all alternative care settings where adults have authority over children.
- Ensure effective implementation and monitoring of ministerial decrees and decisions prohibiting the use of corporal punishment, and set out child-friendly complaints mechanisms as well as penalties for parents and guardians who engage in corporal punishment.
 Ibid.; “Situation Report #11,” WFP Yemen, November 2022, https://api.godocs.wfp.org/api/documents/58ece1ce7fb64edcb3ba4d2994fab42d/download/?_ga=2.120897793.800323441.1673251532-1636298966.1673251532.
 “Starvation Makers,” Mwatana for Human Rights and Global Rights Compliance, September 2021, https://mwatana.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Starvation-Makers-2021-En.pdf.
 Additional Protocol II, Article 14.
 “Yemen: UN Humanitarian Coordinator condemns hospital attack,” UN OCHA, March 18, 2020, https://www.unocha.org/story/yemen-un-humanitarian-coordinator-condemns-hospital-attack.
“ Yemen: Plight of Population is Growing as World Attention Wanes,” March 10, 2022, https://www.icrc.org/en/document/yemen-plight-population-growing-world-attention-wanes.
 Human Rights Watch, Deadly Consequences: Obstruction of Aid in Yemen During Covid-19, September 14, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/report/2020/09/14/deadly-consequences/obstruction-aid-yemen-during-covid-19
 Ibid., citing Human Rights Watch interview with aid worker, June 16, 2020.
 Yemen aid cuts to deepen as funds dry up, U.N. warns, Reuters, February 16, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/yemen-aid-cuts-deepen-funds-dry-up-un-warns-2022-02-16/.
 Yemen: Plight of Population is Growing as World Attention Wanes,” March 10, 2022, https://www.icrc.org/en/document/yemen-plight-population-growing-world-attention-wanes.
 “Yemen: Houthis Should Urgently Open Taizz Roads,” Human Rights Watch, August 29, 2022, https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/08/29/yemen-houthis-should-urgently-open-taizz-roads.
 “Press Statement by the UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg on Opening Roads in Taiz and Other Governorates,” Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, July 7, 2022, https://osesgy.unmissions.org/press-statement-un-special-envoy-hans-grundberg-opening-roads-taiz-and-other-governorates.
 “Death Sentence to Civilians: The Long-Term Impact of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas in Yemen,” Humanity & Inclusion, May 2020, https://www.humanity-inclusion.org.uk/sn_uploads/document/2020-05_Report-YEMEN-Explosive-Weapons-Death-Sentence-to-Civilians_EN_Web.pdf (accessed January 4, 2023), as cited in ”UN: High Risk in Conflicts for Children with Disabilities,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 2, 2022, https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/02/02/un-high-risk-conflicts-children-disabilities.
 ”People with Disabilities at Added Risk in War, Displacement,” Human Rights Watch news release, December 3, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/03/people-disabilities-added-risk-war-displacement, as cited in ”UN: High Risk in Conflicts for Children with Disabilities.”
 “People with Disabilities at Added Risk in War, Displacement,” Human Rights Watch News Release, December 3, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/03/people-disabilities-added-risk-war-displacement.
 “Statement by Raja Abdullah Almasabi to the UN Security Council, July 28, 2020,” Human Rights Watch statement, August 4, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/08/04/statement-raja-abdullah-almasabi-un-security-council-july-28-2020.
 See, for example, Patricio V. Marquez, “Mental health services in situations of conflict, fragility and violence: What to do?”, World Bank Blogs, November 1, 2016, https://blogs.worldbank.org/health/mental-health-services-situations-conflict-fragility-and-violence-what-do (accessed January 4, 2023).
 “Five Years of Fear and Loss: The devastating impact of war on the mental health of Yemen’s children,” Save the Children, 2020, https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/pdf/five_years_of_fear_and_loss_4th_pp.pdf/ (accessed January 4, 2023).
 “New Action Plan to Strengthen the Protection of Children Affected by Armed Conflict in Yemen Signed with the Houthis,” Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, April 18, 2022, https://childrenandarmedconflict.un.org/2022/04/new-action-plan-to-strengthen-the-protection-of-children-affected-by-armed-conflict-in-yemen-signed-with-the-houthis/ (accessed January 4, 2023).
 Jo Becker, “Houthis Commit to End Violations Against Children in Yemen,” Human Rights Watch Dispatch, April 19, 2022, https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/19/houthis-commit-end-violations-against-children-yemen.
 “Special Representative Zerrougui secures commitments from the Yemeni authorities and Al Houthi armed group to end child recruitment,” Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, November 28, 2012, https://childrenandarmedconflict.un.org/2012/11/yemeni-authorities-and-al-houthi-armed-group-to-end-child-recruitment/ (accessed January 4, 2023).
 “We Are Children Not Soldiers,” Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, September 2016, https://childrenandarmedconflict.un.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Yemen-Fact-Sheet-September-2016-rev-LF.pdf (accessed January 4, 2023).
 “Yemen: Endless suffering of children continues due to war, aid crisis,” UN Office of the SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict, September 27, 2021, https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/yemen-endless-suffering-children-after-7-years-brutal-armed-conflict-massive (accessed January 5, 2023).
 Nonetheless, various education ministry policies have aimed to prohibit corporal punishment in schools. The minister of education’s decision No. 426 of 2012 explicitly prohibits physical and psychological penalties for students in public and private schools and kindergartens and provides that “anyone who is proven to have violated this decision shall be referred to investigation.” (Letter from Minister of Education and Pedagogy, Tareq Salem Saleh al-Akbary, to Human Rights Watch, January 6, 2021). Ministerial Decree No. 648 of 1997, issuing the School Regulatory Charter, provides a list of permitted sanctions that teachers may use to improve students’ behavior, and article 68 states, “in general, physical penalties and means of insult and humiliation should not be used when admonishing a student.” (Ibid.) Corporal punishment in schools is also prohibited under Ministerial Decision No. 10 of 2001, but this does not set out a complaints mechanism or any penalties. (Violence Against Children in Schools: A Regional Analysis of Lebanon, Morocco and Yemen, Manara Network, August 2011, p. 27, https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/node/5147/pdf/5147.pdf; Fourth state party report of Yemen to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, CRC/C/YEM/4, October 23, 2012, para. 367; UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Yemen, 25 February 2014, CRC/C/YEM/CO/4, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRC%2fC%2fYEM%2fCO%2f4&Lang=en.) In our research on corporal punishment across the Middle East and North Africa, Human Rights Watch found that regulations contradicted by criminal laws that exempt violent discipline from penalty are common.
 ”Committee on the Rights of Child Examines Report on Yemen,” UN OHCHR, June 1, 2005, https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2009/10/committee-rights-child-examines-report-yemen.
 Ronald Sege, “AAP policy opposes corporal punishment, draws on recent evidence,” American Academy of Pediatrics, November 5, 2018, https://publications.aap.org/aapnews/news/6955?autologincheck=redirected.
 UK Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, “Position statement on corporal punishment,” November 2009; Australian Psychological Society, “Punishment and Behavior Change,” Legislative Questions, No. 0293, October 1996.
 E/C.12/YEM/CO/2, Concluding observations on second report, para. 22, June 1, 2011; CRC/C/15/Add.102, Concluding observations on second report, paras. 21 and 34, May 10, 1999; CRC/C/15/Add.267, Concluding observations on third report, paras. 41-43, 21 September 2005; CRC/C/YEM/CO/4, Concluding observations on fourth state party report, paras. 7-8, 43-44, January 31, 2014; CCPR/C/79/Add.51; A/50/40, paras. 242-265, Concluding observations on second report, paras. 256, 262, October 3, 1995; CCPR/CO/75/YEM, Concluding observations on third report, para. 16, July 26, 2002; CCPR/CO/84/YEM, Concluding observations on fourth report, para. 16, August 9, 2005; CCPR/C/YEM/CO/5, Concluding observations on fifth report, para. 20, April 23, 2012.
 “Violent Discipline in the Middle East and North African Region,” UNICEF, January 2019, Figures 10 and 11, https://www.unicef.org/mena/reports/violent-discipline-middle-east-and-north-africa-region (accessed January 3, 2023).