Nearly 2,000 children recruited by Yemen’s Houthi rebel group died on the battlefield between 2020 and mid-2021, according to United Nations experts who said children as young as seven years old had been trained in camps as fighters.
The damaging report comes as the United Arab Emirates, which is part of a Gulf military coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen, said it had intercepted another Houthi rocket fired at the country early Monday during a landmark visit by Israel present Isaac Herzog to the Emirates.
It is just the latest in a string of missile attacks by the Iran-backed group on the Gulf state. Two weeks ago a drone-and-missile attack struck an oil facility fuel depot, killing three people and wounding six as South Korean president Moon Jae-in visited the UAE.
Over the weekend, UN experts circulated a 303-page document submitted to the UN Security Council which detailed multiple violations of international law during the seven-year conflict in Yemen, including the rampant deployment of child soldiers by Houthis.
The annual report, which also investigated deadly airstrikes by the Gulf coalition on Yemen, said in total it had received a list of 1,968 children, some as young as 10 years old, recruited by the Houthis who died on the battlefield between January 2020 and May 2021.
The Houthis have repeatedly denied the formal conscription of children.
“They were aged between 10 and 17 years old,” the experts said.
The report said that the Houthis had set up summer camps in schools and mosques to recruit child fighters and offer basic military training.
“In these summer camps, hate speech and violence against specific groups are encouraged. The children are instructed to shout the Houthi slogan ‘death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews, victory to Islam,’” the four-member panel of experts said.
“In one camp, children as young as [seven] were taught to clean weapons and evade rockets.”
It said in several instances children were told they would be enrolled in cultural courses but were instead taken to the battlefield. They said humanitarian assistance had also only been provided or had been denied to families on the basis of whether their children participated in the fighting. They also documented sexual violence against children in the camps.
Yemen has been torn apart by a ruinous civil war since 2014 when the Houthis seized Sanaa, the capital, and much of the northern part of the country, forcing the government to flee to the south, then to Saudi Arabia.
A Saudi-led coalition that included the UAE and was backed at the time by the United States, entered the war in 2015, seeking to reinstate their allies in the Yemen government fearing the encroachment of Iranian influence in the region.
Seven years on there is little hope of an end to the fighting that has sparked the one of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and pushed millions to the brink of famine.
The conflict has also fuelled ongoing tensions in the wider Persian Gulf, seeing a slew of Houthi long-range attacks on both Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
On Monday, the state-run WAM news agency reported that the UAE intercepted a missile adding “the attack did not result in any losses”. It came as Israel’s largely ceremonial president Herzog was in the UAE on the first official visit by an Israeli head of state to the Gulf Arab nation.
The day before, he had held extensive talks with Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in the capital, where he stressed Israel’s support for the UAE’s “security requirements” and condemned the recent Houthi attacks.
It wasn’t immediately clear where the remnants of Monday’s missile fell or what the target was.
The Emirati Defense Ministry released black-and-white footage it said showed the destruction of a ballistic missile launcher in Yemen’s al-Jawf province some 30 minutes after the attack.
Houthi military spokesperson Yehia Sarei claimed later on Monday that the rebels had targeted “sensitive sites” in Abu Dhabi and Dubai with both Zulfiqar ballistic missiles and drones, without offering evidence for his assertions.
He repeated the group’s warnings that the headquarters of international companies will be targeted in further attacks.
Last week a similar attack saw both Emirati and American forces fire interceptor missiles to bring down a Houthi missile near Al-Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi, which hosts some 2,000 American troops.
The week before, a Houthi drone-and-missile attack had targeted Abu Dhabi’s international airport and oil facilities resulting in multiple casualties.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price condemned Monday’s attack.
In Tehran, Saeed Khatibzadeh, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson, condemned the Israeli president’s visit to the UAE.
There has been growing pressure on all sides to end the ruinous war in Yemen which has pushed the impoverished Gulf state to the brink of collapse.
The UN expert report warned that in the Yemen violations of international humanitarian and human rights law are “the norm rather than the exception”, citing arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment “committed by all parties”.