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World must act after horrific Yemen school bus attack

10 August 2018

Yet again our television screens are flooded with images of children killed in conflict in the Middle East, this time in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, and the countries that provide Saudi Arabia and its military coalition with arms and other logistical support, must uphold their responsibility to protect civilians. It is unacceptable to see barbaric acts like this happen in the modern world.

Trócaire is responding on the ground, providing support to organisations in Yemen to fight the deadly outbreak of cholera since the war has worsened in the country. Photo : Islamic Relief

Horrific attacks amid ongoing conflict

Dozens of civilians, including at least 29 children, were killed yesterday in Yemen in an attack from the air on a school bus. The military alliance led by Saudi Arabia, which is at war with Yemen's Houthi rebels, has been blamed for this horrific attack.

Saudi Arabia has responded saying that the attack was against a legitimate target. It beggars belief that a bus full of children could be a legitimate military target. International Humanitarian Law forbids the targeting of civilians but this is being flouted time and time again with no repercussions.

The Yemen conflict has been ongoing for four years, and a staggering 22 million people are in need of humanitarian aid and protection, making it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. 

The situation in Yemen is a heart-breaking example of an entirely human-made disaster in which conflict and the deliberate blocking of relief has brought the population to the brink of famine and exposed people to the dangers of preventable diseases. 

The responsibility to protect civilians

Attacks such as this are unacceptable. They show a reckless disregard for the responsibility to protect civilians. The Saudi led coalition has a legal and moral responsibility to prevent attacks like this. 

Saudi Arabia’s allies in this conflict, including the US and UK, also bear a heavy responsibility. Ministers and officials in Western countries who sign off on arms deals worth billions can no longer claim impunity. Providing political, military, technical and logistical support to the Saudi war in Yemen must have consequences. 

Questions need to be answered about this attack. Was this a Saudi aircraft piloted by Saudi pilots? Where did the missiles come from? Were they from France, UK or US? How was the decision to fire the missiles made? Was this decided by the Saudi military, coalition partners or in a US military facility? 

Answers are needed, and Trócaire supports the call from UN Secretary General António Guterres for an urgent independent investigation by the United Nations into this attack. 

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, should immediately condemn this outrage on behalf of the Irish people and call for the protection of civilians in Yemen. 

Ireland should also use its diplomatic representation in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, to say strongly that actions like these are unacceptable. International support for Saudi Arabia should only be provided when it complies with its responsibility to protect civilians. 

Children should not be put in harm’s way and they are paying an unacceptable price in this conflict. 

Now is the time for the world to act.

Éamonn Meehan is Executive Director of Trócaire.

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