Yemeni and international officials and rights groups have strongly condemned a Sunday (April 5th) attack on the central prison in Taez province that left six women and a child dead and more than two dozen wounded.
The Yemeni government blames the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) for the attack, although the militia has so far denied it was involved.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the Taez attack could amount to a war crime, AFP reported Monday.
"We understand three shells, allegedly fired by the Houthis, hit the women's section of the prison," she said in a statement.
"This attack appears to be in breach of international humanitarian law, and depending on the circumstances could amount to a war crime," she said.
The Houthis targeted the women’s section of the prison with mortar shells, local media reported.
According to the Taez local authority, six women were killed, including a child who had been visiting her mother in prison, while 28 others were wounded.
UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths condemned the “heinous” attack.
“Civilians and civilian objects including prisons must be protected as per international humanitarian law,” he said in a social media post.
The office of Lise Grande, UN resident co-ordinator and humanitarian co-ordinator in Yemen, also issued a statement condemning the attack.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) each condemned the attack in social media posts.
MSF said Al-Thawra Hospital in Taez city, which it supports, had received the casualties.
"These attacks on civilians, whether indiscriminate or targeted, are unjustifiable breaches of international humanitarian law," MSF said.
The ICRC said attacks on prisons were banned under international law.
"Prisons and their inmates are protected under international humanitarian law and can not be a target", it said.
Yemenis denounce 'heinous' attack
In a statement carried by local media, the Ministry of Human Rights described the attack as “a war crime that violates all national norms and laws and international treaties", and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez denounced the "brutal" crime that targeted the most vulnerable segment of the population -- women and children.
He told Al-Mashareq that prisons "are protected areas that cannot be targeted in wars".
Information Minister Muammar al-Eryani described the attack as “horrific".
Al-Eryani told local media the Houthis are committing crimes against civilians on a daily basis, "without any discrimination between women, men, children, young people or old people".
The Yemeni Network for Rights and Freedoms, Rasd Coalition, and the Human Rights Information and Training Centre condemned the Houthis for the crime.
They called for a firm stance against crimes that target unarmed civilians.
“Women are the most vulnerable segment both economically and politically,” political analyst Adel al-Shujaa told Al-Mashareq, describing the attack as "a crime against humanity".
Hadi approves prisoner release
In implementation of an order by President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the Taez local authority on Monday approved the release of 124 male and female prisoners who are serving terms on minor financial charges.
The move comes as part of measures intended to protect the prison population from the potential spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
In a phone call with Taez governor Nabil Shamsan, after the Sunday attack, Hadi ordered the release of male and female prisoners who were serving terms for minor charges, with the guarantee of their families.
No prisoners serving terms for criminal or major offenses are to be released.
“The Iran-backed Houthis do not care a bit about any commitments, agreements or sanctities in their continuous targeting of innocent people, including women and children," Hadi said.
Taez, a city of 600,000 people in southwest Yemen, is under government control but has been under siege by the Houthis in recent years.