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Thursday, 20 July 2017 - 7:52

As the UN prepares to release its annual report on child rights violations in conflict, a new briefing lays out the pattern of grave violations against children committed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

The briefing – by Save the Children and Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict – details a series of 23 attacks in 2016, each confirmed by independent international organisations. 

In every case the coalition killed or maimed children, or bombed schools and hospitals.

They include a deadly airstrike on a funeral which killed more than 140 people; an attack on a crowded marketplace in which 25 children died; the bombing of a school for the blind; and multiple airstrikes on NGO medical facilities.

One-year-old Zuhoor was forced to have the fingers of her right hand amputated after being seriously injured by an airstrike near Sana’a

More than 4,000 children have been killed or injured by all sides in the conflict, including the coalition.

Save the Children and Watchlist are calling for the Saudi-led coalition to be added to a list of parties committing grave violations against children in armed conflict – known as the ‘list of shame’ – in the UN Secretary-General’s annual Children and Armed Conflict report.

The list is expected to be published in August, and already names all other parties to Yemen’s conflict.

Stigma attached to the list acts as an international ‘naming and shaming’ process. To date, it has compelled 27 parties from across the world’s conflicts to sign up to UN-monitored action plans to end violations against children. 

In some cases appearing on the list can also lead to international tribunals and sanctions – including arms embargoes.

The Saudi-led coalition was briefly named on last summer’s list for violations in 2015 – but was removed following intensive lobbying by Saudi Arabia and reported threats by its supporters to withdraw funding from the UN.

The 23 attacks in 2016 detailed in the report include:

  • January – an attack on a school for the blind in Sana’a and an airstrike that hit an MSF-supported hospital in Saada governorate
  • February – an attack on a market in Hajjah in February last year which killed 25 children and injured four.  Multiple strikes hit the market as children were shopping with their families, leaving burned corpses scattered across the open ground.
  • August – ten children killed when their school was hit in Saada Governorate in August 2016
  • October – an airstrike on a funeral led to the deaths of least 140 people and wounded about 600 in Sana’a, with children among the dead. The intensity of the bombing and brutality of the impact meant many victims could not be identified.

Save the Children’s teams are helping a 13-year-old boy, who was severely burned in the October attack. He put out flames that engulfed his clothes with his bare hands – and told our field staff he wakes in the night, screaming.

"I saw people scattered on the floor. They were dead. I saw only half bodies. My clothes were burnt, my hands, my legs, and my face. I was completely burnt," Zuhair said.

Zuhair, 13, injured in an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition in Sana’a, Yemen

His mother told our field staff about her family’s attempt to treat his burns, but the family was so impoverished by two years of war that they were initially forced to turn to creams and tomato paste rather than seek medical care.

"Now he screams while sleeping. He would be asleep and his eyes are closed yet he screams so much and says things that would scare you: 'Mum, the missile will hit. Mum, look after my sisters. Mum, hold me. Mum please do something.' He has changed a lot," she said.

George Graham, Save the Children’s Director of Humanitarian & Conflict Policy, said:

“Everywhere you go in Yemen you see the devastation caused by airstrikes. Just last week two children were brought into a hospital we support with serious injuries from a cluster bomb attack. One child was killed. Bombs are destroying schools, homes and lives.

“All parties have been responsible for the unnecessary deaths of children in Yemen, and the Saudi Arabia-led coalition is among them. The UN Secretary-General must put the interests of children first – and hold all of those responsible to account.

“In the light of these findings we renew our calls for the UK to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia immediately. The Government may have won a legal victory but the moral case is clear: the Saudi-led coalition is killing children, and Britain is supplying Saudi Arabia with arms.”


  • States or groups can be listed in the UN Secretary-General’s annual report for any of five ‘grave violations’ in the previous year: killing and maiming children, attacks on schools and hospitals, abduction, child recruitment, and sexual violence.
  • Save the Children has previously detailed more than 160 attacks on medical facilities and personnel by all parties to the conflict in Yemen over the past two years.
  • According to OHCHR between March 2015 and June 2017, 4,971 civilians killed and 8,533 injured (total 13, 504 civilian casualties)
  • According to UNICEF’s latest Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) figures, between 26 March 2015 and 31 March 2017, at least 1,595 children were killed and 2,542 others maimed. There were also 1,657 verified incidents of military recruitment and use of children, there were also 216 verified attacks on schools and 98 on hospitals. Moreover 237 cases of abduction and arbitrary detention of boys have been verified. These verified cases are just considered to be the “tip of the iceberg”.
  • In 2016, five parties to Yemen’s conflict were listed: the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah; Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula / Ansar al Shariah; government forces, including the Yemeni Armed Forces, Military Police and others; pro-government militias; and the Saudi-led Coalition (SLC)

For more information or to arrange interviews with spokespeople in London or Yemen please contact r.villar@savethechildren.org.uk or call +44 20 7012 6841 (+44 7831 650 409 out of hours)