Human Rights

The Great Tomb: Coalition warplanes targeted survivors at community college-turned-prison with rockets while Houthis gunned down escapees

New investigation: Saudi-led coalition and Houthi fighters hunted down prisoners who survived initial blast

The Saudi-led coalition air force deliberately targeted prisoners who survived the bombing of a community college prison in Dhamar governorate in early September, while members of the Houthi group shot the fleeing prisoners, according to a new human rights report.

The Association of Mothers of Abductees said in the report, titled "The Great Tomb," that on the morning of September 1, 2019, coalition warplanes carried out seven airstrikes on the college in which Houthis were holding 182 abductees, and targeted an adjacent courtyard, where survivors had convened. The prisoners who survived the airstrikes were also pursued by Houthi gunmen, who sought to return the men to the detention facility. 

The coalition worsened the crime when it targeted "survivors who escaped in the college square, killing many of those who survived the bombing of the prison building,” the report said, drawing on survivor testimonies of the events that day.

The report accused the Houthis of slowing down the removal of the rubble, "where a number of bodies remained to the seventh day.”

When the rights group's team visited Dhamar Hospital, they found a container with the remains of the victims and unidentified bodies. Dripping water and the smell of decomposing bodies indicated a lack of refrigeration for some time, the report said, adding that the remains of the victims had begun to decompose by the time family members recieved them.

The report said the Houthis had dealt inhumanly with the victims' families and detained some of them. 

A week after the airstrikes, an official memorandum was submitted by the National Committee for Prisoners Affairs of the Houthi Group to the Attorney General, identifying the names of 142 dead and 42 wounded. That information was "not accurate,” the report said, noting that 137 abductees had died and 45 were wounded.

Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions at the community college, which the Houthis had converted into a secret prison, caused skin diseases and the deaths of many of the detainees, the report said.

The authors of the report expressed surprise that the coalition has not yet investigated the crimes, as stipulated in the rules of customary international humanitarian law, stressing the need for an investigation in accordance with international standards of human rights organizations.

The report stressed that the Houthis continue to kidnap their opponents, establish secret and unofficial prisons to hide the abductees and brutally torture them. Saudi-led coalition aircraft, meanwhile, have continued to target prisons and places of detention.

”Dozens of kidnapped victims have been killed without taking any real measures to prevent the recurrence of this crime, to compensate the victims and their families, and to hold the perpetrators accountable," the report said.

The Houthis and the coalition exchanged accusations about the cause of the deaths of 150 abductees at the community college and both sides held the Red Cross responsible. The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Yemen denied any connection to the targeting in a special statement to Almasdar Online. 

"The transmission of war messages and information on places of detention between the parties to the conflict is not the ICRC's job," he said.



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