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(Beirut) – Landmines laid by Houthi forces and others in Yemen continue to kill and cause serious injuries to civilians in areas where active hostilities have ceased and are preventing farmers from accessing their land, Human Rights Watch said today. Yemeni law and the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty prohibit any use of antipersonnel landmines under any circumstances.

“Houthi forces flouted the landmine ban for years and Yemeni civilians are paying the price as these weapons kill and wound indiscriminately,” said Niku Jafarnia, Yemen and Bahrain researcher at Human Rights Watch. “There is an urgent need to step up clearance of landmines to save lives, prevent unnecessary suffering, and ensure people can safely access their homes and livelihoods.” 

The presence of uncleared landmines has had a devastating impact on residents of al-Shaqb, a village in Sabir Al-Mawadim district on the mountainous outskirts of Taizz city. Out of a few thousand residents—there has been no census since 2004—28 have been injured and six killed by landmines in the years immediately following a 2015 siege of Taizz and the surrounding areas, according to the community leader. 

Location map of al-Shaqb in Sabir Al-Mawadim district on the mountainous outskirts of Taizz city, Yemen. © OpenStreetMap  © 2024 Human Rights Watch”

Human Rights Watch researchers visited al-Shaqb in April 2024 and interviewed seven residents, including four landmine survivors, two people whose family members were killed by landmines, and al-Shaqb’s community leader. All four survivors have a permanent disability from their injuries. Everyone interviewed had been displaced from their homes to a nearby village.

Human Rights Watch also interviewed officials from two national mine clearance coordination agencies, the Yemen Executive Mine Action Center (YEMAC) and the Yemen Mine Action Coordination Center (YMACC), and a member of the Yemeni National Commission for Human Rights who has documented landmine use in the area.

Al-Shaqb is located in a valley between two mountain peaks, one controlled by the internationally-recognized Yemeni government (Mazaal Peak) and the other controlled by Houthi armed forces (Al-Saleheen Peak), the adversaries in Yemen’s conflict since 2014. While al-Shaqb is on a front line, most active fighting ceased several years ago, though snipers remain in the area and sporadically shoot at and sometimes kill civilians. Most recently, on March 23, residents said a Houthi sniper shot and seriously injured a child who was coming home from school. 

Military positions and approximative frontline in al-Shaqb, Sabir Al-Mawadim district, Yemen.  Image © 2024 Airbus. Google Earth. Analysis and graphic © 2024 Human Rights Watch.

Most of al-Shaqb’s residents, many of whom are farmers or herders, were displaced from their land earlier in the conflict. According to al-Shaqb's community leader, over 257 families have been displaced. With the decrease in active fighting in the past few years, several residents trying to return to their homes, tend to agricultural land, or graze their livestock have been killed or seriously injured by antipersonnel mines, and their animals have also been killed. Many of those injured have a permanent disability.

Several residents said that starting in 2018, Houthi forces began entering their land at night to place landmines in and around their homes and farmland. According to the mine clearance organizations, al-Shaqb is contaminated by a significant number of antipersonnel mines.

One man interviewed said he was displaced from his home in 2016 due to the fighting. In August 2022, with the fighting reduced, he returned home to retrieve some wheat stored in his house. He stepped on what he said was a yellow bottle in front of the front door and the bottle exploded. He lost several fingers in the blast, which severely injured his leg, other body parts, and his eyes, leaving him with a permanent disability and scarring.

The landmines have also made it more difficult for villagers to feed themselves and maintain their incomes. According to the World Food Programme, as of February 2024, 64 percent of Taizz governorate’s population do not have sufficient food, and Taizz is one of four governorates in Yemen facing “high risk and deteriorating” food insecurity. 

One woman interviewed said that a landmine killed her father when he returned to his farm in February 2021. She said that even though the farm was on the front line, her father and other agricultural workers continued to go there to farm because it was their source of income and that there were “only snipers” in the area. “He used to go to the valley every day to farm, and he had no idea there were landmines there,” she said. 

A woman holds up remnants of the landmine that killed her father, Al-Shaqb, Yemen, April 27, 2024. © 2024 Niku Jafarnia/Human Rights Watch

Abdullah, a 35-year-old man, lost both his legs to a landmine in June 2022, when he took his goats to graze at a farm in the area. “I used to feed my goats in the same farm every two or three days,” he said. “It was my land and nobody lived there. My life became very difficult after the incident. I used to work as a driver and in other jobs, but I'm not working anymore, just sitting in the house.” People with disabilities in Yemen face barriers to accessing quality health services, education, and employment opportunities. 

Abdullah, 35, who lost both of his legs to a landmine while taking goats to graze, with his two children, Al-Shaqb, Yemen, April 27, 2024. © 2024 Niku Jafarnia/Human Rights Watch

A child interviewed said that a landmine killed both of his parents in 2022. His mother was killed just outside their front door in February 2022. His father was killed one month later while farming. “He would farm every day,” the boy said. “Then one day he entered his land in the morning to farm as usual and was blown up.” 

The use of landmines has also exacerbated extreme food insecurity. “We have agricultural lands that we used to cultivate with qat [and vegetables for our personal use], and then sell it to get the money that we need to cover our needs and expenses,” the first man said. But now, these lands in the front lines are contaminated so we can’t go there anymore. The people who went to these lands and who were [seriously injured or killed by mines] were forced to do so because of how significant their needs are and due to the poor situations they are in.”

A total of 164 nations are party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which prohibits use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines and requires their clearance and assistance to victims. The use of antipersonnel landmines is banned in all circumstances, as they are indiscriminate weapons that cannot differentiate between civilians and combatants. 

Yemen ratified the treaty on September 1, 1998, committing to never use antipersonnel mines under any circumstances and to prevent and suppress activities prohibited by the treaty. In April 2002, Yemen reported to the UN secretary-general that it had finished destroying its stockpile of antipersonnel mines as required by the Mine Ban Treaty.

Human Rights Watch has monitored Yemen’s policy and practice on antipersonnel mines since 1999 and has documented in depth numerous incidents of Houthi use of antipersonnel mines in Taizz and other governorates, including in 201520162017, and 2019. Houthi authorities informed Human Rights Watch in April 2017 that they consider the treaty binding. In addition to the prohibition on use in the Mine Ban Treaty, individuals responsible for using prohibited weapons or carrying out indiscriminate attacks may be prosecuted for war crimes.

The Landmine Monitor initiative by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines reported that at least 582 people were killed or wounded by landmines or other explosive remnants of war in Yemen in 2022, up from 528 in 2021.

Al-Shaqb's location on the front line presents a security challenge for demining organizations, due to the sporadic sniper activity. However, Human Rights Watch also spoke to people in areas that are no longer on the front lines who are still displaced due to the continued presence of landmines. 

Greater international assistance is urgently needed to equip and assist clearance personnel to systematically survey and clear mines and explosive remnants of war from Yemen, Human Rights Watch said. The Yemeni government, the Houthis, who are the de facto authorities in much of Yemen, and international agencies should provide appropriate compensation, assistance, support, and employment opportunities to those injured and to the families of those injured or killed, as well as to other landmine victims in Yemen. Assistance should include medical care, including reconstructive surgery and psychosocial support, prosthetics and other assistive devices where appropriate, and ongoing rehabilitation if needed. 

Human Rights Watch is a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, 1997 Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate for its efforts to bring about the Mine Ban Treaty.

“The devastating impact of landmines in Yemen will not end until there’s a major mobilization to clear and destroy these weapons,” Jafarnia said. “People in Yemen are facing catastrophic levels of hunger and desperately need access to essential agricultural and grazing lands, but these lands are often contaminated by mines.”

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