While the world focuses on the ongoing civil war in Syria, another war continues unabated. This war, between Saudi Arabia and Yemen has more-or-less slipped beneath the radar of the West's mainstream media, however, a recent report by Amnesty International shows that the ongoing violence by one of America's key Middle East allies has led to the killing of hundreds of civilians, many of them school children. Amnesty International received permission from Huthi authorities to visit five schools that had been targeted by Saudi-led coalition air strikes even though there was no evidence that the schools had been used for military purposes and validated their findings using local witnesses. In some cases, schools had been targeted more than once even though they were located at a significant distance from possible military objectives. As background information, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates are participating in the Saudi-led coalition with the United States and the United Kingdom providing both logistical support and intelligence to the coalition.
Let's open with this map of Yemen showing the nation's governates:
Here is a map showing the current military situation in Yemen:
Here is a photograph of the Science and Faith School located in the Sana'a Governorate:
The Science and Faith School normally has an enrolment of 1200 students. The facility was struck by four separate aerial strikes during October 2015; fortunately, classes were not in session at the time, however, the attacks rendered the building unusable. The school was stuck twice on October 27th, injuring and killing some of the residents who went to examine the damage to the building from the first strike that day. After the attacks, Amnesty International viewed the site and noted that there was no evidence of military materiel and that there were no secondary explosions that would have indicated the storage of explosives. The school director told Amnesty International that the nearest military objective was located several kilometres away and that it had not been the target of any coalition strikes.
Here is a photograph of the al-Shaymeh Education Complex for Girls located in Hodeidah (or Hudaydah), the fourth largest city in Yemen:
The al-Shaymeh Education Complex is a primary and secondary school for girls with an enrolment of 3200 students. The school was struck multiple times on August 25th and 27th. The school director told Amnesty International that the students had finished exams on August 24th so the only people present in the school were the school guard and his family. Despite stories to the contrary, the school guard told Amnesty International that there were no weapons or Huthi fighters located in the school prior to the attacks. The closest potential military target, the Hodeidah International Airport which is also used for military purposes, is located five kilometres from the school.
Here is a video showing the damage to the school:
Since the hostilities began in March 2015, 34 percent of Yemeni children have not gone to school and by October 2015, 1.8 million children were not in school because of the fear of Saudi airstrikes. As of October 30, 2015, the Sana'a-based Ministry of Education claimed that, throughout Yemen, 254 schools had been completely destroyed, 608 had been partially damaged and 421 were being used by displaced persons. In many cases, it appears that the only reason that students weren't killed was that the school year had not yet started. Had the schools been operating, the situation in all cases could have been far worse.
Although Saudi Arabia is a party to the principal instruments of international humanitarian law cited in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 as well as the Additional Protocol for the Protection of Victims of Non-Interantional Armed Conflicts, it appears that the Saudi-led coalition is quite willing to indiscriminately attack non-military targets. They do not appear to be taking precautions to spare civilians or their infrastructure. Unfortunately for students, the Houthi side of this civil war have a record of occupying schools as you can read here. In addition, under international law, intentionally attacking schools in which there are no fighters, soldiers or military objectives constitute direct attacks on civilian objects and are war crimes. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack notes the following:
"In the majority of countries with armed conflicts, armed forces or armed groups use schools and other education institutions. Between 2005 and 2015, they used education institutions in conflicts in at least 26 countries: Afghanistan, Burma / Myanmar, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, India, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nepal, Nigeria, Occupied Palestinian Territory/Israel, Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Uganda, Ukraine, and Yemen."
The group's Safe Schools Declaration has been signed by 51 nations including coalition partners Jordan, Qatar and Sudan . Only time will tell whether or not this will have an impact on Yemen's educational system and its schools.