According to the Yemeni Observatory For Landmine Removal, an organization that documents mines, 370 civilians have been killed by landmines, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and explosive ordnance laid by the Houthis from mid-2019 to May 2022. Additionally, over the past six years, The Yemeni Coalition for Monitoring Human Rights Violations has documented the deaths of more than 1,929 civilians, as well as the destruction and damage of more than 2,872 public and private facilities in a number of Yemeni governorates, as a result of the use of anti-personnel or anti-vehicle mines.
During the first phase of the United Nations Mine Action Service’s project, land survey and clearance operations were conducted in 21 governorates and 233 districts, and over 23 million square meters of land were cleared. The second phase began in October 2021 and is expected to run until the end of December 2026. Furthermore, the latest statistics of the Saudi “Masam” demining project, which was launched in 2018 with the aim of removing mines planted by the Houthis, indicate that the number of mines dismantled since the beginning of the project has reached 322,789. There are reports that Yemen needs roughly eight years to completely get rid of these mines, and the American Center for Justice (ACJ) has noted that 75 percent of those affected by mines will suffer from permanent disabilities, mutilation, and lifelong psychological trauma.
Yemen has been plagued by landmines for decades as a result of repeated political and military conflicts that have provoked instability. From the 1960s to the 1990s, landmines were laid by conflicting sides during rebellions and civil wars. Despite this long and exhausting history, at the turn of the century, Yemen was the first Arab country to destroy its stockpile of anti-personnel mines completely. A source at the Yemeni National Mine Action Center confirmed that Yemen—first by signing the Ottawa Demining Treaty which prohibits the laying, manufacturing, and importing of mines, and then, by destroying its stockpile of mines by 2007—was close to declaring itself a mine-free country. However, as the conflict between the Houthis and the Yemeni government escalated, mine laying dramatically increased, particularly in 2014 when the Houthis stormed Sanaa. From then until the recent announcement of a truce in April 2022, mines were laid in areas of engagement in multiple Yemeni governorates as well as in areas near the Red Sea. Unfortunately, because of the disorganized fashion in which mines were planted, removing them has become an extremely difficult endeavor. Yemen now tops the list of countries where internationally banned landmines prevail.
Impact of Mines on Civilians
Landmines and explosives pose a direct threat to the lives of civilians, specifically children. According to figures verified by the United Nations, as of August 2021, nearly 10,000 children were either killed or injured as a result of the conflict in Yemen, and a large number of them were landmine victims. Human Rights Watch reports that Houthi mines continue to indiscriminately kill civilians and cause psychological and social trauma. Travelers, herders, farmers, children, women, displaced persons, and even animals are not spared the evils of these dangerous explosives.
Mines have far-reaching repercussions, not only for individual families, but for society as a whole. Families that depend on grazing and farming lose their livelihood when the primary breadwinner becomes disabled or maimed because of a landmine. Many farmers are even refraining from plowing their farms out of fear for their lives. Furthermore, neurological diseases and physical abnormalities have become prevalent in the country, but are almost impossible to treat because of Yemen’s poor healthcare system which struggles to provide basic medical services, let alone modern prosthetic centers.
Responsibility for Demining
Since the beginning of the conflict, the Houthis have randomly laid mines in areas of engagement in Taiz, Saada, Hodeidah, Marib, Abyan, Lahj, Dhale’, Aljawf, Albayda, Sanaa, Shabwa, and other areas. A Yemeni de-mining official claims that the Houthis have laid two million mines throughout the country. Similarly, a New York Times report noted that “all or almost all of the land mines and other explosive devices buried in Yemen appear to have been planted by the Houthis,” and a publication from The Washington Institute for Near East Policy pointed to “the sheer scale of Houthi landmine use” and raised questions about “their source and supply [as] Yemen is not supposed to have domestic stockpiles of landmines.” The same report also noted the long-term impact of these mines, concluding that “their sheer number and irregular distribution will make clearing them slow and dangerous.” Other challenges stem from the continued control of armed groups over some areas of the country, the lack of records or clear patterns that can help locate the mines, the quality of the used mines, the lack of trained professional demining teams on the ground, the lack of modern devices needed to detect the mines, and, furthermore, frequent cyclones, floods, and other natural disasters that scatter mines from their original positions.
As a state party to the Mine Ban Treaty, Yemen must commit to preventing and suppressing all prohibited activities related to the use of landmines. Article 4 of the treaty regarding the destruction of the stockpile of anti-personnel mines clearly stipulates that “each state party [must] destroy, or ensure the destruction of, all stockpiled anti-personnel mines it owns, possesses, or that are under its jurisdiction or control.” Thus, maps of existing mines must be submitted, and once the war is over, a comprehensive mine risk awareness campaign must be undertaken to inform the population of the areas affected by these explosives and equip communities with information about their dangers.
Unfortunately, current local, regional, and international efforts are insufficient to eliminate the mine issue within a short period of time. As for the efforts of the Yemeni government, they are falling behind because of the fragility of the country’s institutions. Therefore, it is imperative for the Yemeni state to cooperate closely with regional and international donors to appoint a single body responsible for mapping out terrain where the landmines are located, clearing these areas, and informing communities.
In short, landmines and IEDs scattered throughout the country will remain a formidable challenge in the post-war era, threatening the lives of Yemenis. This issue requires the urgent intervention of the UN’s Special Envoy for Yemen and his specialized team to address the dangers still present in areas of engagement, the Red Sea area, and the Saudi Arabia border region. The international community should support the demining project in Yemen by assisting the National Demining Center, training and deploying local and international demining teams, establishing an independent body for landmine risk education, developing a practical post-war plan, and creating a fund for landmine victims.
Adel Dashela is a Yemeni researcher and freelance writer with a PhD in English Literature. Follow him on Twitter: @AdelDashela.