On the night of March 16, 2017, fifty kilometers off the coast of Hudaydah in Yemen, thirty-two innocent refugees and migrants fleeing for their lives were gunned down by an Apache helicopter. The boat was carrying 145 Somali refugees and migrants most of whom were carrying official UNHCR documents. They were on their way to safety in Sudan. No country has yet take responsibility for this attack. And if the two-year history of the Yemen war is anything to go by, this latest slaughter of civilians will also go unpunished.
“We couldn’t find a place to put the bodies, so we had to put them in the place where we store the fish," said Daoud Fadel, Head of Hudaydah Port in his interview with Human Rights Watch.
All parties involved in the Yemen war have denied carrying out the attack. The Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group that has received some Iranian support, have accused the Saudi-led coalition of carrying out the strike. The Saudi government has denied any involvement in the deadly incident. The United Arab Emirates and the US military who have been conducting their own air strikes in Yemen have also denied responsibility for the attack.
What started two years ago as civil strife has evolved into an international proxy war involving multiple states, a well-armed rebel group, and the terrorist organization ISIS.
The war has plunged Yemen, already the poorest country in the Arab world, into a “humanitarian catastrophe.” According the United Nations, 10,000 people have died in the war; 40 thousand have been injured; and an estimated 17 million Yemenis are currently facing severe food shortage.
The strike on the refugee boat is the latest in a string of attacks against civilians that human rights organizations have called “likely war crimes.” With no coalition-member state taking responsibility for this latest attack, it is unlikely there will ever be justice and compensation for the families of the victims.
I recently spoke with Kristine Beckerle, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. She investigates international human rights and humanitarian law violations in Yemen. She was in Amman, Jordan. Here is my conversation with her.
Hassan Ghedi Santur is a contributing editor at Warscapes. He is a Somali-Canadian journalist based in Nairobi and the author of the novel Something Remains and Maps of Exile. He holds a Master's degree in politics and global affairs from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Twitter @hgsantur