Human Rights in Yemen and the Houthi insurgency

Written by Iasmina-Măriuca Stoian

The short history of the Houthi movement 

The Houthi movement, or Ansar Allah, is a Zaydi Shiite group that emerged in the northern part of Yemen in the early 1990s. This group was born as a response, partially, to the financial development and religious expansion in the region of Saudi Arabia. Since 2004, the group has been in conflict with Yemen’s government which is majoritarian Sunni. However, in November 2009, the Houthi movement expanded its operations in Saudi Arabia, when, after the launch of multiple air strikes, more than 130 Saudis died.i The horrors continue, as in September 2014 the capital in Yemen, Sanaa, was controlled by Houthis, and seized control over almost all northern regions of Yemen by 2016. In parallel, the Houthi also continued their attacks against Saudi Arabia, most notably in 2017, when a ballistic missile was fired at Riyadh’s airport.ii By 2018, Houthi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia became common, leading to a protracted and complex war in the region. 

The current situation in Yemen 

Even if there has been a decrease in the number and intensity of the attacks compared to the previous years, Yemen continues to suffer, and civilians continue to be victims of unlawful attacks and targeted killings. Both the internationally recognised Yemeni government and the Houthi de facto authorities are responsible for serious human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, harassment, and forced disappearances. People were not only targeted depending on their political beliefs but also on their religion. For instance, according to an Amnesty International report,iii multiple members of the Baha’i religious minority forcibly disappeared, violating their right to freedom of religion and belief. 

The Houthi’s recent attacks on the Red Sea have also disrupted the maritime security in the region. Between November and December 2023, Houthi groups targeted 24 commercial and military ships in the Red Sea, publicly announcing that these attacks would not cease until Israel ended its military campaign in Gaza.iv This conflict has drawn in multiple foreign countries, making the situation even more complex. Thus, the Saudi-Arabia coalition, along with the United States, supports the Yemeni government with their military aid and airstrikes. On the other hand, Iran is currently accused of supporting the Houthi groups by providing weapons and training. 

Apart from the political arena, civilians face most of the consequences of the conflict, adding to the environmental challenges currently existing in the country. Extreme weather and water scarcity, food insecurity and restriction of humanitarian aid are some of the examples that will be further discussed below.  

Humanitarian Rights Violation 

One of the most important objectives of International Humanitarian Law is the protection of civilians during armed conflicts. Under these rules, civilian individuals enjoy certain protection against the actions carried out by organised armed groups. Of course, certain exemptions exist, in cases of active participation in hostilities, for example. However, even those rules exist, we can see that in Yemen, the articles show that over 100 civilians are killed or injured monthly, one example being October 2021v. Between April 2015 and May 2024, the statistics show that there have been over 166,000 fatalities in Yemen, out of which 16,400 were civilians who died because of the attacksvi

Impact on Education 

The war in Yemen has also affected the education in the country. Schools across Yemen have for all intents and purposes become centers of indoctrination. The Houthi groups have systematically transformed regular public schools into a “prison” for children, charging tuition fees and implementing a very strict curriculum promoting both their political and religious ideologies. Not only the children are affected, but also the teachers, who have been intimidated by the Houthis. Thus, many teachers quit their jobs because of the violence against them and the irregular and unequal payment of their salaries. As a consequence, the numbers show the devastating landscape in education, with over 2,900 schools and universities in Yemen destroyed to ruins, over 2.4 million children who do not have access to education, and another 8.5 million at risk of dropping out.vii 

Humanitarian Crisis and Aid Restrictions 

Currently, the Yemen government and the Houthi groups are impeding humanitarian aid, leading to huge delays in offering resources and aid to the victims. The main travelling corridors from and to Taizz have been blocked by the Houthi, violating the right to free movement, as well as the flow of essential resources, food and medicines. Despite the UN efforts and multiple protests against Houthi, these roads remain closed until today. Moreover, different humanitarian female staff struggled to conduct fieldwork in the affected areas because of the mahram requirement, preventing visits or providing aid. In many traditional interpretations, it is considered forbidden for a woman to travel alone for long distances (usually defined as a journey that takes more than a day and night without a mahram, namely a male relative whom she cannot marry). 

Environmental challenges 

The environmental issues further worsen the already existing tensions in Yemen. The country suffers from heavy rains and floods, but also water scarcity in some areas, most notably in Taizz. Yemen is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, with over half of its population lacking access to sufficient and safe water for personal and sanitary uses. This issue of water shortage has also contributed to the spread of water-borne illnesses and diseases, further risking the health and well-being of the population. Furthermore, the Houthi groups have weaponized the water scarcity, by preventing water from flowing into government- controlled Taizz city from the two basins they oversee, where the primary water treatment station is situated. The Houthis have cut off access to this water source even though they are aware that the people of Taizz city depend on water from these reservoirs. 

International involvement and legal framework 

The current conflict in Yemen has drawn international attention due to its allegations of violations of human and humanitarian rights, and its impact on national security and regional stability. The involvement of multiple parties, including not only the recognized government of Yemen and the Houthi authorities, but also external actors, for example, the Saudi Arabia- led coalition and the Southern Transitional Council, has complicated the situation and raised concerns about violations of both international humanitarian and human rights law. 

From a legal perspective, the conflict in Yemen is governed by international humanitarian law, which includes the four Geneva Conventions and their supplementary protocols. These legal documents govern how parties behave during times of armed conflict, safeguarding the well-being of civilians and guaranteeing the fair and humane treatment of prisoners of war. By breaking these laws, like illegally targeting civilians and civilian objectives, the implicated actors may face legal repercussions on a global scale, including possible trials for war crimes. Additionally, the conflict has also implications for international human rights law, particularly regarding the rights of women, children, and minority groups. The restrictions imposed by the Houthi de facto authorities, such as the mahram requirement for women and the targeting of religious minorities, among others, raise concerns about violations of fundamental human rights principles. 


To summarize, it is clear that the Houthi movement in Yemen has severely impacted regional stability through the ongoing conflict in Yemen. The civilian population is subjected to denationalization, schools destroyed, inaccessibility to education, limited humanitarian access due to their race, and continuous conflicts and wars leave Yemen as a failed state with an uncertain future. The involvement of multiple foreign actors complicates the conflict, raising serious concerns about widespread violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws, potentially leading to global legal repercussions for the involved parties. International involvement is expected to continue, as the international community must support comprehensive peace talks to foster long-term and sustainable stability and prioritize humanitarian aid. 


  • Alquhaly, H. Y. H., & Basir, S. M. (2023). The Potential Violations of Civilians’ Rights in Armed Conflicts in Yemen from the Perspective of International Law. OAlib, 10(10), 1–24. 

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