As It Happens

Saudi-led airstrike that killed dozens of Yemeni children cannot go unpunished: advocate

Warning: Story contains graphic images

Warning: Story contains graphic images

A doctor treats children injured by an airstrike in Saada on Thursday. (Naif Rahma/Reuters)
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Canada and other western countries should immediately halt all military trade deals with Saudi Arabia, a human rights advocate said after dozens of children were killed in an airstrike in Yemen.

The airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels hit a bus in a busy market in northern Yemen on Thursday, killing least 50 people, including children, and wounding 77, according to Yemen's rebel-run Al Masirah TV.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said its team at an ICRC-supported hospital received the bodies of 29 children.

The Saudi coalition called the attack "a legitimate military operation" that targeted missile launchers, and accused the Houthis of using children as human shields.

The Saudi-led war is backed by western governments, including the United States and United Kingdom. Canada has approved a $15-billion sale of Ontario-made combat vehicles to the Kingdom. 

Sylvia Ghaly, a spokesperson for the non-profit Save the Children, spoke to As It Happens guest host Matt Galloway from the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.

Here is part of their conversation.

That's coming from Saudi Arabia's official news agency saying that this was a "legitimate military operation." What does that say to you?

Killing children and claiming that it's a military target makes me very angry.

It's either that they didn't verify their target or eventually later it will be clear that it's a mistake.

For children to be collateral damage for a conflict that they have nothing to do with is very upsetting and it really doesn't say much about us as an international community ... continuing to allow things like this to happen.

And we're sometimes supporting it and sometimes we're fuelling it with our actions.

So I think it's important to make sure that attacks like this don't go unnoticed and don't go unpunished, because there are laws, there are international humanitarian laws, that govern wars and that call for protection of civilians.

Victims, including children, rushed to hospital after attack by Saudi coalition forces 1:01

What sort of accountability would you like to see in the wake of something as awful as this?

We're calling for an independent investigation to first establish what happened.

Clearly, we can't accept for children to be killed in the name of anything. They can't be collateral damage in this war. They can't be considered mistakes. We can't just let them die because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We need to make sure we send a strong message. These attacks are not acceptable and they can't continue to go unpunished.

A man transports a child to a hospital after he was wounded in an airstrike on the Iran-backed Huthi rebels' stronghold province of Saada. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

Beyond saying that they're unacceptable, though, and beyond the independent investigation, what would you like to come out of that? What true accountability would you like to see?

What we would like to see definitely is for countries supporting this conflict to stop selling arms, to stop supporting the conflict through intelligence, through training.

Also we would like to see some stricter actions that are taken by the international community to make sure that these attacks don't happen again and that civilians are being protected, children are being protected and that this war, this conflict, stops.

Because the only people paying the price are the Yemeni people and Yemeni children.

A Yemeni child awaits treatment at a hospital. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

This coalition in Yemen is led by Saudi Arabia, but it's backed by the United States. It's backed by the United Kingdom. The Canadian government has been criticized for selling armoured vehicles to the Saudi government and now finds itself and now finds itself in a diplomatic fight with the Saudi Arabian government. What would you like to see, for example, from Canada? And from the United States?

For them to stop selling arms, for one.

This war has been unfolding for a long time now. It has been awful for a long time. What stands out to you about what happened earlier today?

This morning's attack on the children tells is there is no way to win this war in a military way. The only way to win this war is by getting the parties involved in the conflict around a negotiation table and by supporting the efforts of the UN special envoy.

That's what the international community needs to support, whether through a new resolution, whether by stopping the selling of arms or by making sure that there is an accountability mechanism that is put in place. 

And also by supporting efforts of the special envoy [UN special envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths] so that we actually reach a peace agreement as soon as possible to spare the Yemeni people and the Yemeni children from additional bloodshed and additional death or destruction.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press. Produced by Imogen Birchard. 

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