Over million land and sea mines laid by Houthi militia in Yemen
Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED)
Earlier this month in Yemen, five foreign experts working for the Saudi-funded Masam demining project were killed while transporting mines from the organisation’s headquarters in Marib. A mine they were carrying went off in the truck, causing a powerful blast that killed the five men and injured one ( 22 January 2019). This incident, however, is not isolated and is revealing of the wider risk that the largely unmapped mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) continue to pose to Yemeni civilians countrywide. According to some estimates, Houthi militias have laid more than a million land and sea mines since the war started, turning Yemen into “the most-mined nation since World War II”).
ACLED recorded at least 267 civilian fatalities in 140 reported incidents attributed to Houthi-planted mines and IEDs since 2016. Yet Saudi sources claim that up to 920 civilians may have been killed, along with thousands injured and maimed.
Mine blasts have intensified since the Arab Coalition backed Yemeni forces in the western province of Hodeidah, which accounts for nearly 60% of total civilian deaths linked to mines planted by the Houthis in 2018 (ACLED, 6 June 2018).
Mine incidents have gradually increased over the past year and culminated in December 2018 and January 2019, the deadliest months since ACLED started to record violent events in Yemen.
A closer look at the data, however, could help explain the drivers behind this increase. Between January and May last year, Houthi-planted mines reportedly killed an average of three civilians each month in Hodeidah.
After the Arab Coalition -backed Yemeni forces, the figure jumped to twelve between June and December 2018, marking a significant 279% increase. The districts of At Tuhayat, Ad Durahyimi, Al Khawkhah, and Hays – all situated south of Hodeidah – account for more than 70% of the total mine incidents recorded across the province. This spike does not appear to be a mere by-product of flaring violence, but rather seems to replicate a pattern observed in Aden in 2015, when Houthi- militias retreating from the southern port city indiscriminately deployed thousands of anti-personnel and anti-tank landmines to obstruct the movement of troops (UN Security Council S/2016/73: 36).
In addition to spreading insecurity, the pervasive use of explosive devices is also impairing economic activity. Landmines disseminated in grazing lands have frequently hit farmers and animals, which constitute the main source of livelihood for many families in rural areas (Masam, 12 December 2018). In the Red Sea, the Houthis have reportedly laid sea mines threatening commercial shipping and fishermen.
According to ACLED data, improvised sea mines have killed at least thirteen fishermen off the coast of Hodeidah since last July. Although the Houthis reject claims of using anti-personnel mines, and instead attribute civilian casualties to unexploded munitions dropped by the Saudi-led coalition, the indiscriminate use of mines and IEDs is contributing to civilian suffering, while also constituting a violation of the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution as laid out in humanitarian international law.