Violations Committed by the Warring Parties against Yemen’s Cultural Property

The Degradation of History

November 15, 2018

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This excerpt is from Mwatana’s most recent report which can be found here. We, at YCIHA, believe this report to be one of the most critical reports documenting the vandalism committed against Yemen’s historical sites, artifacts, and museums. In the organization's commitment to witness and record the truth, they documented 1) airstrikes by the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition, 2) ground attacks, bombing, vandalism, demolition by Ansar Allah armed group (Houthis) and forces loyal to President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, and 3) terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaida.

The targeting of cultural property and monuments is one of the areas of agreement for all warring parties in Yemen. The destruction of historical monuments and artifacts and archeological and religious buildings is the main manifestation of the country’s descent into the abyss of a war without a resolution; a war that has affected everything and has not spared the life and property of Yemenis, including their ancient past and their unifying culture. Similarly, the damages caused by the war even affected the collective memory of Yemenis that is represented by their historical heritage and unique construction style, which is evident in their imposing fortresses, castles and high towers, and their original decorations on the walls of their places of worship.

Since the outbreak of armed conflicts in the middle of 2014[34], cultural objects in Yemen have been subjected to many different types of violations and attacks. These violations have affected many historical monuments, buildings and museums and took various forms, such as aerial bombardments, shelling attacks, vandalism, destruction and damage, as well as conducting hostile acts from the vicinity of these cultural objects or using them deliberately for direct military purposes. In addition, some cultural property has been subjected to composite violations; some have been subjected to airstrikes and ground shelling, military use and even destruction and damage.

All parties to the conflict have engaged in violations and attacks on cultural property. These attacks have caused enormous damage to some of these properties and even amounted to the destruction of two religious landmarks in Taiz (Al Sudi Dome – Al Rumaymeh Dome) by an extremist group active in areas under the authorities of President Hadi’s government.

During the period covered by this report, Mwatana for Human Rights documented 15 historical and archaeological sites – some of which were being used by Ansar Allah group (Houthis) – that were directly targeted by air attacks launched by the fighter jets of the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Among these sites are the historic town of Baraqish and the northern gateway to the old Ma’rib dam.

Frequent air attacks by coalition aircrafts have also damaged historical buildings in the old city of Sana’a. The first air strike targeting the ancient city of Sana’a, listed on the World Heritage List[35], was on June 12th, 2015, and the latest strike was on September 20th, 2016, according to the incidents documented by Mwatana in the context of this report. The airstrike of the Arab coalition fighters also took place in other historical sites, such as the famous Kawkaban fortress, which is known for its wall and its unique construction. Religious landmarks were not immune to the missiles of the coalition strikes. Al-Hadi Mosque in Sa’ada was severely damaged by two coalition air strikes on Saturday, May 9th, 2015 and Sunday, May 10th, 2015. Al-Hadi Mosque is one of the most important religious landmarks in the ancient city of Sa’ada and the most important one at a religious level. In addition, Arab Coalition fighters attacked other cultural objects, including the Military Museum in Aden on July 15th, 2015. The same museum was previously attacked by a military force affiliated with Ansar Allah group (Houthis) and its former ally, former president Saleh. They shelled the museum with artillery shells as they stormed the Crater District in mid-April 2015, before taking over it and staying inside.

On the other hand, the Ansar Allah group (Houthis) and the forces of former President Saleh launched ground attacks with tanks and artillery, targeting archaeological sites, historic buildings and museums. These attacks clearly damaged and destroyed these monuments. On March 28th, 2015, an Ansar Allah (Houthis) tank targeted the Dar al-Hajar Palace in the Al-Houta district, the capital of Lahij governorate. The attack resulted in extensive destruction of parts of the palace. More than three years ago, many ground attacks by Ansar Allah group (Houthis) and the forces of former President Saleh focused on archaeological sites in the city of Taiz, which is known for its famous historical mosques with adorned domes and high minarets. On Wednesday, June 17th, 2016, at 4:30 pm, the historical Madrassa and Mosque of Al-Ashrafiya were subjected to sudden artillery bombardment by the Ansar Allah group (Houthis). The shelling targeted the eastern minaret of the mosque and resulted in a large gap in the center. The Ansar Allah group (the Houthis) has the highest rate in terms of using cultural objects for military purposes and carrying out hostile acts, starting with some historic fortresses and archaeological sites. On August 16th, 2014, the group’s fighters took control of the ancient city of Baraqish and used it for purely military purposes. Prior to their withdrawal, in early April 2016, they planted land mines on the borders of the archaeological city.

Other cultural properties were destroyed and vandalized by militant groups. On Friday, November 20th, 2015, a car bomb attack on the southwestern outskirts of the historic city of Shibam-Hadhramaut, caused minor and severe damages to around 240 houses, built of rammed earth[36].

In Aden, members of the Ansar al-Sharia group attacked the historical Hindu temple. They came aboard three military vehicles, stormed the temple, and destroyed the statues and paintings that it contained. The churches of the city of Aden were also affected, with many of their statues and icons destroyed by the Ansar Allah group (Houthis). More than 15 archaeological and historical sites and landmarks in the city were also affected, either by being used directly for military purposes, for carrying out military operations inside these sites or from areas adjacent to them or for refuge.

For a detailed list of sites, click here.