Yemen: Gunfights in hospitals

October 29, 2012

In the past months, state security forces in Yemen have repeatedly attacked hospitals in the southern port city of Aden and removed wounded alleged militants, Human Rights Watch reported.

During these occasions, there has been exchange of fire between security forces and gunmen seeking to prevent the arrests. Also, hospital staff has been attacked. One hospital in Aden has suspended operations as a result. According to Human Rights Watch sources, most of the arrested patients are members of the Herak (‘Southern Movement’), a coalition of groups seeking greater autonomy or independence for former South Yemen.

Politically sensitive patients

“Gunfights in hospitals put patients and medical workers at grave risk and threaten to shut down health care in Aden,” said Letta Tayler, senior Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Both security forces and their opponents are showing callous indifference to human life.”

On October 7, 2012, state paramilitary forces allegedly beat hospital guards and shot a 16-year-old fruit vendor in the head during an exchange of gunfire with gunmen. A seriously wounded patient was removed from the intensive care unit after pulling out his drainage tubes. For fear of similar attacks, medical officials told Human Rights Watch that nearly all hospitals in Aden now generally refuse to admit politically sensitive patients.

Right to health care

Patients in hospitals are not immune from lawful arrest, Human Rights Watch stresses. However, they retain their right to health care as provided under international law. The forcible removal of seriously wounded patients from a hospital, placing their lives or health at risk, violates this right, the organisation writes. It also condems the actions of the armed men who try to prevent security forces from making arrests in hospitals, as they are seriously risking the lives of patients and medical personnel. “Whatever their agendas, gunmen should not turn hospitals into shooting galleries,” Letta Tayler said. “At the same time, the government should minimize risks to patients and hospital staff and stop depriving alleged militants of their right to medical treatment.”

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