Human Rights

Houthis force city elders to send youth to fight

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden


A Yemeni man shoulders a PK machine gun during a tribal meeting in Sanaa on September 21st, 2019, as tribesmen donate rations and funds to fighters loyal to the Houthis. [Mohammed Huwais/AFP]

The Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) have been forcing neighbourhood leaders to pressure young men in their communities to join the militia's ranks as fighters, in a move that has drawn deep criticism.

Detractors say the Houthis intend to use the new recruits as human shields on the battlefronts, and note that this effort comes amid a global health crisis.

"Iran's mercenaries are forcing neighbourhood leaders in Sanaa to conscript four civilians from each neighbourhood, to train them on the use of weapons and send them to the battlefronts," said Yemen's Information Minister Muammar al-Eryani.

In this way, the Houthis aim to "make up for the hundreds of elements they lost in the provinces of al-Jawf, Marib and al-Bayda", he told local media on May 4th.

The militia is using these recruits "as human shields for its fighters in the service of the Iranian expansion project", he said, noting that new fighters are needed "to make up for the constant attrition of its elements on the frontlines".

It is wrong to pressure civilians to fight, he said, especially in light of international appeals for a ceasefire intended to unify efforts to fight the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has warned that six years of war have wrecked Yemen's health system and left it facing a "catastrophe" from the pandemic.

Forcibly recruiting youth

Aziz Saleh, the son of a neighbourhood leader in the Sanaa administrative district, told Al-Mashareq the Houthis have tried to forcibly recruit youth before.

Militiamen have forced local leaders to turn over their young men, he said, adding that children are often recruited without their parents' knowledge or consent.

"Many of the families of these children are shocked when their children are returned to them either dead, in coffins, or wounded, and sometimes the parents are informed that their children were martyred on the fronts," he said.

"The Houthis are following the Iranian model in the recruitment of children and using them as fuel for war, just as the Iranian regime used children as tools of killing and destruction in past wars," said Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez.

Any time the Houthis lose fighters, he said, they force families to send their sons to boost their ranks, and even have been known to kidnap children and send them to the frontlines.

In so doing, he said, the Houthis are violating UN conventions and international agreements on the protection of children.

As the world works to contain the coronavirus pandemic, the Houthis are "concealing the truth about the health situation and real numbers of infections in the areas under their control", he said.

"The Houthis have worked to compound the suffering of residents in the areas under their control by using the suspension of salary payments and stoppage of all work activity to pressure the families to agree to the conscription of their sons," said political analyst Faisal Ahmed.

The majority of children and youth who are sent to fight in the ranks of the Houthis are either killed or wounded, he told Al-Mashareq.

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