The United Nations human rights office today voiced alarm at the escalating violence in Yemen, which it said may push the country to the brink of civil war, and called on the Government to stop its deadly crackdown.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said it is trying to confirm reports it has received of dozens of civilian casualties, including women and children, in the fighting over the past few days, as well as reports of shelling by Government troops in residential areas.
The death toll has reportedly approached 100 since fighting began Monday after Yemen’s President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, refused for a third time to sign a deal to transfer power amid the pro-democracy protests that began earlier this year.
“The dangerous escalation of violence in Yemen over the past few days is very alarming, especially given that the Government and opposition were so close to an agreement,” Rupert Colville, OHCHR’s spokesperson in Geneva, told reporters.
“We are deeply concerned that such violence may be pushing the country to the brink of a civil war,” he stated.
“We call on the Government to stop the excessive and disproportionate use of force, to stop targeting activists, human rights defenders and journalists, and to seriously investigate all allegations of crimes committed by security forces.”
The Government of Yemen has extended an invitation to OHCHR to conduct a mission at the end of June but the Office is seeking access earlier than that. “We are in discussions with the Government on the terms of reference of the mission,” said Mr. Colville.
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos has also voiced her alarm at the escalating violence, adding that the UN is monitoring the situation and stands ready to offer assistance if needed.
“I am concerned that continued confrontations could force large numbers of people to flee their homes, with serious humanitarian consequences,” Ms. Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in a statement.
Noting that many Yemenis already face shortages of food, fuel and other basic necessities, she called on all parties to protect civilians and to spare them from the effect of further hostilities.
On Wednesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply troubled” by the violent clashes in the centre of the capital, Sana’a, between Government security forces and armed tribesmen that left many people dead and wounded. He urged all sides to peacefully resolve the current political crisis.
The protests in Syria are part of a broader pro-democracy movement that has erupted across the Middle East and North Africa since the start of the year. Long-standing regimes in Tunisia and Egypt have been toppled and open conflict continues in Libya.