Amnesty International says Saudi-backed militants fighting in Yemen are leading a “campaign of harassment and intimidation” against hospital staff and using civilians as human shields.
Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International Philip Luther said on Wednesday that the Saudi mercenaries are stationing fighters and military positions near medical facilities.
“By positioning fighters and military positions near medical facilities they have compromised the safety of hospitals and flouted their obligation to protect civilians under international law,” he said.
Luther said the Saudi-backed militants are also harassing medical staff and preventing doctors from carrying their work.
“Attacks targeting health professionals or medical facilities are prohibited by international humanitarian law and can constitute war crimes,” he said.
Ex-president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is strongly aligned with Saudi Arabia, resigned and fled the capital Sana’a to Riyadh in March last year. His loyalists have been waging a destructive war against the impoverished country since to restore the former administration to power.
The Saudi military has been lending them air power, which has so far killed thousands of Yemenis. They are fighting the Houthi Ansarallah movement and its allies in the Yemeni army to restore Hadi to power.
In its Wednesday report, Amnesty cited cases in which hospitals were shut down because of threats against staff by Saudi-backed forces.
In one incident on 21 November, the militants closed the biggest medical facility of al-Thawra in Tai’zz apparently after hospital staff treated three injured Houthi fighters.
“According to eyewitnesses three armed men stormed an office at the hospital and threatened to kill medical staff if it was not shut down immediately,” the rights group said.
Loyalists also tried to drag two surviving Houthi fighters — one a minor — out of intensive care and recovery units, Amnesty said, calling it “outrageous and unacceptable.”
The report cited 15 doctors who described abuses by the pro-Hadi militants, including requesting preferential medical treatment, insulting the staff and diverting electricity for personal use.
“Doctors told Amnesty International that if anti-Houthi fighters were turned away due to lack of capacity at the hospital in some cases they turned violent or abusive,” the organization said.
“In other cases, medical staff said that doctors were forced to carry out their work at gunpoint,” it added.
According to one doctor, one militant opened fire inside the al-Jamhouri hospital’s compound after being told his son did not require emergency care and could be treated by a nurse. The gunfire injured hospital staff and killed a patient.
Amnesty quoted an administrative work as saying that pro-Hadi militants had threatened medical staff and interfered with the hospital’s administration and its decision-making “hundreds of times”.
“When we stand up to them, they threaten us with being killed,” the unnamed worker said.