Geneva - The SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties said that the siege imposed by the Houthi group on the city of Taiz since July 13, 2015, severely restricted the flow of goods, services and freedom of movement, which contributed to creating a humanitarian catastrophe in the governorate and thus directly affected the most basic rights guaranteed by international law.
SAM stated that the numbers and incidents monitored by the international organization team showed that civilians were directly affected by the imposed siege, especially patients, the elderly, children and women, as the siege turned the city of Taiz into a large prison where collective punishment is practiced on everyone who lives in it without distinction between civilians and military personnel. The siege also affected freedom of movement between villages and cities and targeted the right to life of civilians, whether by sniping, landmines, or indiscriminate shelling.
The organization pointed out that the siege imposed by the Houthi group has turned the governorate of Taiz into a large prison, and the city has been divided, as armed points are deployed at the entrances to the city in a way that affected the movement of civilians to and from the governorate. These complications also affected the movement process within the city and made it more expensive and tiring, especially for patients and people with special needs, which also cast a shadow over the prices of goods and basic materials necessary for civilians. For instance, the road that used to take an hour from the city to the Al-Hawban area, which is under the control of the Houthi militia, has turned into a road that takes 8 hours, with an estimated cost of twelve thousand Yemeni riyals per person.
"SAM" indicated that, according to its field survey, the estimates of the cost of transportation on the tortuous roads to and from the city have become cumbersome and beyond the citizen's ability, as it is estimated that the Taizi citizen spends about 70 billion Yemeni riyals from his own money. He also loses nearly 500,000 hours spent on detours to reach his destination.
Al-Hawban Road connects Taiz with the rest of the northern and southern governorates alike in record time. Only two and a half hours separate Taiz from Aden through Al-Hawban instead of 10 hours in the exhausting dirt bypass roads, and the distance to Sana'a is shortened to 4 hours instead of 10 hours.
However, after the Houthi group closed the main roads leading to the northeast towards the Al-Hawban area, as well as the roads leading to the north and northwest that connect the city of Taiz with the rest of Yemen, the simplest roads now take more than 6 hours. For example, the trip from the city of Taiz to the Al-Hawban area used to take about 10 or 15 minutes before 2015, but now it takes 6 to 8 hours. The residents of the city of Taiz are forced to take the unpaved Al-Aqrudh mountain road, which is a detour around the city that is more than 60 kilometers long. It is also a narrow and winding road, with many sharp turns and many government and Houthi checkpoints.
Exhaustion of the Economy
The Houthi group deprives citizens in Taiz of access to goods and their basic needs and imposes severe restrictions on the entry and exit of goods. Therefore, the commercial movement in Taiz was affected by the siege imposed on the city, and it caused a significant increase in prices, which exceeded the purchasing power of civilians.
To provide some context, we will mention an example of the scale of the fare for transporting a ton of goods, which costs about 45,000 Yemeni riyals to the city currently through Haijat al-Abd. If the goods are transported through the Karba al-Subaihi road, which is the alternative road to Haijat al-Abd, the transportation price will rise to 70,000 Yemeni riyals per ton, while the transportation price will not exceed 15,000 Yemeni riyals if the main roads are opened.
As for the prices of local goods from Al-Hawban, the rent per ton rose to about 20,000 Yemeni riyals. While it will not exceed 4,000 Yemeni riyals in case the main roads are opened for the transportation of goods. Moreover, these goods are exposed to damage due to the rugged mountain roads and the length of the road that lasts for several days, or weather fluctuations such as torrential rains, rockslides and accidents, etc., as goods such as cheese, frozen chicken, fish and milk are exposed to damage due to these factors.
The organization also noticed an unprecedented rise in the prices of goods and the rise in the currency exchange rate to 500%. Sometimes the price of a 50-kilo bag of rice reached about 55,000 Yemeni riyals, with a difference of more than 300%, and the price of wheat flour rose to about 50,000, with a difference of more than 250%. The price of 12-liter oil also rose to 50,000 Yemeni riyals, in addition to increasing the prices of medicines in a way that exceeds the ability of the citizen whose salary has been cut, with the weakness of the labor market to its minimum level.
It is noteworthy that there are several reasons for the rise in prices, as the cost of transportation through these roads increases by 10 to 15% for goods packed in cartons, and by about 5% for basic materials “wheat, flour and sugar” packed in bags. Thus, the percentage of the increase is added to the value of the goods, knowing that the increase and the high transportation costs from the port of Aden are borne by the people of Taiz, whether in the city or Al-Hawban, in addition to the damage incurred by the commercial sector to its facilities and properties or the suspension of its work. This naturally reflects on the citizens because the continuation of the siege and the prolonged war led to this inevitable result (the rise in prices and heavy economic and commercial losses that affected several areas and sectors).
In addition, this siege affected many workers who work in "Hail Saeed" factories, located in the Al-Hawban region, by depriving them of their jobs or forcing them to transfer their families to the Al-Hawban area, in an arduous journey that caused the dissolution of families.
The Health Sector... an Accelerating Collapse
As for the health level, local medical reports showed that the health conditions in the war-stricken governorate and the siege of the Houthi militia have reached the point of collapse, in parallel with the scarcity of capabilities and medicines, the lack of doctors, the departure of some of them, and the refusal of hospitals to receive patients in light of the outbreak of epidemics, including the Corona virus. The information showed that the intensification of battles in the seam zones from time to time between the government forces and the Houthi militias contributed to the deterioration of the health sector, especially with the departure of a large number of medical personnel, including specialists and consultants, from the governorate to other countries or the neighboring governorates of Taiz.
"SAM" stated that the Health Office in "Taiz" is facing a challenge in providing medicines and medical supplies in operating government hospitals, for the siege caused the destruction of many medical equipment, due to the lack of spare parts, in addition to the scarcity of capabilities. The main hospitals in Taiz hardly have the most modern medical equipment. There is no government hospital in the governorate that has a CT or MRI machine. However, there are some private hospitals that have this equipment but with very old specifications, not to mention the very high cost.
According to health sector officials in Taiz, the population of the governorate is close to five million, which represents 15 or 20 percent of the total population of Yemen and 50 percent of the total population of areas under the legitimate government. This means that they need dozens or even hundreds of respirators, for example.
Excluded from the Truce
Despite the announcement of the Stockholm Agreement in September 2018 and the inclusion of the issue of Taiz as one of its main clauses, as the third clause of the agreement stipulated a “declaration of understandings on Taiz,” the province was forgotten and left to its worsening human suffering. In April 2022, the UN envoy, "Hans", announced a truce between the parties to the war in Yemen, in which he stipulated "the immediate entry into force," and the Special Envoy invited the parties to the conflict to a meeting to agree on opening roads in Taiz and other governorates to facilitate the movement of civilians. However, the situation remained the same, as two delegations representing the legitimate government and the Houthi group held direct negotiations in the Jordanian capital under the auspices of the UN envoy "Hans" in order to implement the clause of lifting the siege on Taiz. The two parties did not reach an agreement, as the delegation of the legitimate government holds the Houthi group responsible for the failure to reach understandings about lifting the siege on Taiz.
The absence of the international community's role in including Taiz in any truce agreements has led to an increase in the Houthi group's violations against individuals inside the city. Human rights activist Dalia Muhammad says: “Any talk of a truce in Taiz means more massacres, shelling, sniping and terror because we have come to know the Houthis through our experience with them in previous truces over the past years. The same thing happened in the last truce, which entered into force in April 2022. The Houthi group violated it in the middle of night by shelling the al-Gharbia neighbourhood in Al-Dhabab area and the eastern neighbourhoods, in addition to the deaths of many civilians as a result of the shelling and sniping of homes and the targeting of civilians, especially women and children.”
The activist continued her speech, “May 2022 witnessed the most notable crimes, as the Houthi group targeted a house in the village of Al-Saila, where a child was killed and the father and mother were injured and fractured to varying degrees. Then they committed the Eid massacre in the Al-Rawda area, in which children were killed. To this day, the violations continue, the latest of which was the attack that claimed the lives of 10 soldiers, along with the wounded, while they were repelling the attack, which aimed to close the only artery of the city. From September 31 to this very day, the indiscriminate shelling and targeting of the Al-Dhabab line, which is the city's only artery, continues.”
The organization's Response
The organization stresses that the prolonged siege has greatly affected the course of life in the city, but the most serious consequences of this siege are its great harm to the right to family life, as it led to the separation of members of the same family. This reflects negative effects on the family as a basic cell in building society, and on the child - the weakest member in the family - who must be protected and not be separated from his/her family. Families in Taiz were divided into two parts, some of whom live inside the besieged areas, while others live in the areas controlled by the Houthis. Since the siege started, some families have been prevented from visiting and seeing each other. It is an illegal practice that must be viewed from a purely humanitarian perspective.
Furthermore, as a result of the suffocating siege imposed on Taiz, the city was deprived of its international airport, which could have been an important outlet to save many humanitarian cases that are forced to take long and exhausting detours to reach Aden airport or Sana'a hospitals. It was also deprived of its port in Mocha, which could have contributed to stimulating commercial movement and the arrival of goods, basic materials, medicines and medical equipment. This thing should be a matter of concern, as peace is an integrated system that cannot be fragmented by neglecting the human aspect of it.
"SAM" confirms that the city of Taiz has incurred many huge economic losses, as shown by the financial and statistical figures on the level of revenues or individual expenditure on health and transportation. Taiz also bore the brunt of the human cost of the victims of indiscriminate shelling, deliberate sniping, and anti-personnel mines planted by the Houthi group, with significant disregard by the government and the international community.
International covenants have confirmed that practices of mass siege, extrajudicial killings, and the use of unjustified force to attack civilians are considered war crimes and crimes against humanity, according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, in addition to violating the Hague rules and the Geneva Conventions, especially the fourth, which recognized the full and special protection of civilians during Armed conflicts.
SAM stresses that international humanitarian law and relevant international agreements oblige the forces and members of the Houthi group in particular, and the parties to the conflict in general, to respect the legal rules that guarantee protection for civilians, especially the standards of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights, which all affirm the protection of the rights of civilians and criminalize any assault, behavior, or practice of collective punishment or siege that targets or poses a threat to civilians in their places of residence and gatherings.
According to what was mentioned and monitored by SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties regarding the effects of the suffocating and continuous siege imposed by the Houthi group on Taiz Governorate, it calls on the international community to do the following:
- Putting pressure on the Houthi group to stop its illegal and inhuman siege of the city of Taiz and announce the cessation of its military operations without any conditions.
- Forming a UN committee for the Taiz file and sending it to find out the extent of the violations and to examine the deteriorating living conditions inside the governorate.
- Allowing international parties to establish a safe food and humanitarian corridor in order to transport the wounded and the injured to receive treatment in nearby hospitals or outside the country, as well as allowing food and urgent medical supplies to enter the city.
- Forming an investigation committee to find out the serious repercussions of the military operations and the siege against the city of Taiz.