Returned to Zero

The Case for Reparations to Civilians in Yemen

Publish Date
June 28, 2022
Pages Count
Returned to Zero
Warring Parties Fail to Provide Reparations to Civilians in Yemen
Press Release
Warring Parties Fail to Provide Reparations to Civilians in Yemen
June 28, 2022

The Case for Reparations to Civilians in Yemen

The Case for Reparations to Civilians in Yemen, was researched and written by Mwatana for Human Rights and the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School.

It is the first detailed study of the international legal obligations of State members of the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition, the internationally recognized government of Yemen, and the Ansar Allah (Houthi) armed group to provide reparations for the international wrongs for which they are responsible in Yemen.

For years, civilians in Yemen have sought to communicate the devastating impact that warring party abuse has had on them, their families, and their communities. Through this report, Mwatana and the Lowenstein Clinic seek to shed light on the right of individual civilian victims of international wrongs in Yemen to receive reparation.


This Report is the product of many years of research. The report’s findings and recommendations are based on information that Mwatana collected as part of a wider effort to document violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law during the ongoing conflict. Mwatana has interviewed thousands of civilians that have been harmed by the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition, the internationally recognized government of Yemen, the Ansar Allah (Houthi) armed group, the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC), the UAE-backed Joint Forces, the United States and others in Yemen.

In international law, the right to reparation stems from the legal obligation of the violator to make the victim whole. For this report, Mwatana actively sought information on any reparations-related steps taken by key warring parties in Yemen. Mwatana reviewed public statements, reports, and documents produced by the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition, by the internationally recognized government of Yemen, and by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) armed group, and the report’s authors analyzed public statements, reports and documents produced by the redress-related bodies that warring parties have set-up.

Between May 2020 and January 2022, Mwatana conducted 81 reparations-focused interviews with civilian victims, their family members, and human rights lawyers in Yemen.

Mwatana focused these interviews on those that had either been promised some form of assistance or reparation by warring parties or that had sought some form of assistance or reparation from warring parties.

Coalition condolence payments  

nce 2016, Yemen and Coalition officials have repeatedly promised to provide assistance to civilian victims of airstrikes. In its first set of findings, the Coalition’s investigative body, the Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), recommended that the Coalition provide “compensation” to civilians affected by an airstrike. JIAT made similar recommendations in 2016, 2017 and 2018. By 2018, victims of the relevant airstrikes said they had received nothing, not even a phone call.

In August 2018, immediately before the UN Human Rights Council was set to begin its annual discussion of Yemen, the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition and Internationally Recognized Government of Yemen announced a new joint committee to distribute “voluntary aid” to victims of Coalition airstrikes in Yemen. In June 2019, the Coalition and Internationally Recognized Government of Yemen said the “voluntary aid” committee had provided condolence payments to civilian victims of six airstrikes. By June 2019, Mwatana, other human rights groups, and UN experts had reported on hundreds of Coalition airstrikes, many of which appeared unlawful, that had caused significant civilian harm.

For this report, Mwatana interviewed dozens of civilians who lost family members, were injured, or had property damaged or destroyed in 20 airstrikes for which JIAT  recommended the Coalition provide some sort of assistance. As of 2021, based on Mwatana’s research, the Coalition and Internationally Recognized Government of Yemen had made condolence payments in only four of these 20 attacks. Some civilians who lost family members, had been wounded, or had suffered property damage in these airstrikes received smaller amounts than government documents said they were meant to receive. Others received no payment at all. In all cases, payments came without an apology or acknowledgment of fault.

Only a tiny fraction of civilian victims of airstrikes have received condolence payments. Even civilians who received condolence payments distinguished the one-time condolence payments from reparation and justice.

Ansar Allah committees to hear petitions for redress

The Ansar Allah (Houthi) armed group has created redress-related bodies, most notably, the Authority to Lift Injustice and the Redress Committee. Both bodies were publicly tasked with hearing complaints against Ansar Allah members and petitions for assistance and redress.

Mwatana interviewed 16 civilians and human rights lawyers who interacted with these Ansar Allah redress-related bodies. All of them sought assistance in cases of abusive detention or disappearances. In most cases, they received no ascertainable assistance. Mwatana conducted 16 additional reparations-related interviews with civilians harmed by Ansar Allah. None had received redress.

One lawyer said, “Although the committee is called the Redress Committee, we did not find redress from it except for those who have personal power against them. Redress is only for people with power.” Another lawyer offered, “All we received back [from the Redress Committee] were promises that never happened…. It was like the previous committees.”

Mwatana found that Ansar Allah’s redress-related bodies exposed petitioners to risk, including abuse related to their original petitions, for example, exposing an abusively detained person to further cruel treatment in detention. Ansar Allah has also retaliated against people who accepted Coalition condolence payments.

A few days after Ansar Allah started a deadly fire in an overcrowded migrant detention facility in Sana’a that killed and wounded scores of people, Ansar Allah promised to investigate and compensate those harmed. Instead, Ansar Allah attacked migrants protesting about the fire. “Ifa” (a pseudonym), who was injured in the fire, said, “They don’t treat us as humans, all of them. That is why we don’t expect reparations from them.”

As part of its research, Mwatana sent letters to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the internationally recognized government of Yemen, Coalition Forces, the Ansar Allah (Houthi) armed group, and the Southern Transitional Council requesting information on any steps they had taken to provide reparations to civilian victims of their international law violations in Yemen. None responded.

The Lowenstein Clinic conducted international legal research, focusing on the right of individuals harmed as a result of war-time wrongs to receive reparations, the obligations of State and non-State armed groups to provide reparations, and questions relating to attribution for international wrongs. The Lowenstein Clinic also drafted the report, assisted in drafting the letters to warring parties, and analyzed the warring parties’ civilian harm responses in Yemen, based on Mwatana’s investigations.

“Returned to Zero” examines the most significant ad hoc mechanisms that the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition, the internationally recognized government of Yemen, and the Ansar Allah (Houthi) armed group have established to investigate and respond to
civilian harm caused by their forces in Yemen since the conflict began. Mwatana did not identify redress-related mechanisms set-up by other warring parties, for example, the The Case for Reparations to Civilians in Yemen Southern Transitional Council. The report compares existing warring party responses to civilian harm in Yemen with international standards for reparations to civilian victims.
The report finds these responses to be grossly inadequate, both in relation to the scale and severity of the harms done to civilians and in comparison to the international legal obligations that warring parties hold.

International standards

Under international law, reparations should endeavor to restore, to the greatest extent possible, the injured party to their situation before the violation. Reparations may take one or several forms, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition. Full, adequate and effective reparation may require a combination of several forms and should be promptly delivered and proportional to the gravity of the violation and the harm suffered.

Restitution is an attempt to restore the victim to their situation before the violation. Restitution might not always be possible, particularly for wrongs that are irreparable, as are many in Yemen. Compensation involves financial payment, which should cover any economically assessable damage. Rehabilitation involves measures aimed at mending the harm that a victim suffered, for example, the provision of medical, psychological, legal and social services. Satisfaction encompasses a variety of actions designed to address injuries that are not financially assessable, such as rights to truth, recognition and remembrance. Guarantees of non-repetition involve appropriate measures to ensure that the unlawful action will not repeat.

Modern developments in international law suggest that individuals may seek reparation directly from the actor responsible for the international wrong, which may be a state, a non-state armed group or an individual, as well as through their own state or through a mechanism created by the international community, for example, an international claims commission. The state in whose territory the violation occurred—in this case, Yemen—has an obligation to help individuals realize their right to reparation.

The obligation to provide reparation does not replace or negate other aspects of states’ obligations to ensure accountability for serious international law violations, including the obligations to investigate alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law and to prosecute alleged perpetrators of war crimes. The prosecution obligation is not subject to negotiation or waiver. Amnesties for war crimes, for example, are prohibited. In some cases, judicial and administrative sanctions against persons responsible for violations may be a crucial component of reparations.