On Thursday, 9 August, an airstrike by the Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE)-led coalition in Yemen targeted a bus carrying children through a market in Sa’ada Province. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, at least 51 people were killed, including 40 children, most of whom were under 13 years old. In response to international condemnation of the airstrike, Saudi Arabia wrote to the President of the UN Security Council (UNSC) claiming that the attack was a “legitimate military action” targeting Houthi leaders “responsible for recruiting and training young children, and then sending them to battlefields.”
Attacks targeting civilians, including children, constitute a blatant violation of International Humanitarian Law and amount to war crimes. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has documented over 17,000 civilian casualties in Yemen since March 2015, including 6,592 fatalities, although the actual death toll is assumed to be much higher. The majority of these casualties – approximately 10,500 – were a result of Saudi/UAE-led coalition airstrikes.
Despite a growing death toll, ongoing atrocities, and the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, the UNSC has not passed a substantive resolution on Yemen in over three years. On 9 August the Executive Director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore, questioned whether the death of dozens of innocent children would mark a turning point in Yemen, a “moment that must finally push the warring parties, UN Security Council and international community to do what’s right for children and bring an end to this conflict.”
The conflict in Yemen requires a political solution. The UNSC should demand an immediate ceasefire and call for an independent investigation into the Sa’ada airstrike. The Council should also impose sanctions on those responsible for potential war crimes, including the targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure. In keeping with the Arms Trade Treaty all UN member states, including the United States and United Kingdom, should immediately halt the sale of weapons to parties to the conflict who routinely violate International Humanitarian Law.
On Friday, 10 August, a new video surfaced online showing Cameroonian security forces shooting dead at least 12 unarmed people during an operation in Achigaya village in the country’s Far North region. In the video, filmed in May 2016, a number of villagers are forced to lay in front of a wall before several soldiers open fire on them.
This is the second video to emerge from Cameroon in less than a month depicting members of security forces carrying out extrajudicial killings. The Cameroonian government is currently battling the armed extremist group Boko Haram in the remote north of the country, and also violently suppressing an armed rebellion in the Anglophone part of the country.
Following international condemnation of the previous video – in which two women and two children were summarily executed by Cameroonian soldiers – the Minister of Communication said that the government had opened an investigation and arrested seven military personnel. A government spokesperson said they would now investigate the second video.
On 10 August the UN Security Council adopted a Presidential Statement on the situation in the Central African region. Among other issues, the Statement highlights the “worrying increase in violence in the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon.” The crisis in Cameroon has direct implications for peace and stability in the sub-region, with the risk of increased conflict in the Anglophone region in advance of elections scheduled for 7 October. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs has reported over 21,000 Cameroonians have already fled to neighboring Nigeria as a result of violence.
The videos support a growing body of evidence that the Cameroonian security forces are committing systematic and/or widespread attacks on civilians in the Northwest, Southwest and Far North regions, potentially amounting to crimes against humanity. It is imperative that all military operations targeting civilian populations cease immediately and that any personnel responsible for unlawful killings be held accountable for their actions.