Mwatana: Warring Parties Disappear, Torture and Arbitrarily Detain Hundreds at Unofficial Detention Centers Across Yemen
Arbitrary Detention, Enforced Disappearance and Torture Committed by All Warring Parties in Yemen between May 2016 and April 2020
Sana’a – All parties to the conflict in Yemen must release all those arbitrarily detained and disappeared, and should do so with the utmost urgency given the risks from the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in Yemen, Mwatana for Human Rights said today. In a statement today announcing the release of its new report, “In the Darkness,” Mwatana confirmed that all parties to the conflict have detained hundreds of Yemenis at unofficial detention centers. Detainees have been disappeared, have been tortured, and have died in detention. Some of these acts may amount to war crimes. Mwatana reiterated its calls for the Ansar Allah group (Houthis), the government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, authorities loyal to the Islah Party in Marib and Taiz, and UAE forces and UAE-aligned armed groups, including the Southern Transitional Council, to immediately release all those arbitrary detained, to end the use of torture and to reveal the fate of those forcibly disappeared.
Today, Mwatana published a report entitled, “In the Darkness: Abusive Detention, Disappearance and Torture in Yemen’s Unofficial Prisons.” The report documents cases of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and torture between May 2016 and April 2020 by all parties to the conflict in Yemen. The report consists of two parts: The first part examines 11 unofficial detention centers where people were arbitrarily detained, tortured and, in some cases, died in detention. The second part highlights cases of enforced disappearance in areas under the control of the following three parties: The Ansar Allah group (Houthis), the government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, authorities loyal to the Islah Party in Marib and Taiz, and UAE forces and UAE-aligned armed groups, including the Southern Transitional Council.
Since 2016, Mwatana has documented 1605 incidents of arbitrary detention, 770 incidents of enforced disappearance and 344 incidents of torture, including 66 deaths in detention centers, across Yemen.
The warring parties continue to insult Yemenis’ dignity by committing such violations, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and torture, Victims have been subjected to appalling patterns of torture. Urgent action is needed to release all those arbitrarily detained as one of the most crucial steps given the looming spread of Covid-19 in detention centers, and the danger the disease poses to detainees
The Ansar Allah group (Houthis) bears responsibility for 904 incidents of arbitrary or abusive detention, 353 incidents of enforced disappearance, and 138 incidents of torture, including 27 deaths in detention centers. The internationally recognized Yemeni government bears responsibility for 282 incidents of arbitrary or abusive detention, 90 incidents of enforced disappearance and 65 incidents of torture, including 14 deaths in detention centers. UAE forces and UAE-aligned armed groups, including the Southern Transitional Council, bear responsibility for 419 incidents of arbitrary or abusive detention, 327 incidents of enforced disappearance and 141 incidents of torture, including 25 deaths in detention centers.
All parties to the conflict in Yemen have used arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and torture against perceived opponents, and those they believe to be followers or supporters of their opponents. The warring parties have also used such violations against civilians in order to impose their authority in the areas under their control.
“The warring parties continue to insult Yemenis’ dignity by committing such violations, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and torture,” Radhya Al-Mutawakel, Mwatana for Human Rights Chairperson said. “Victims have been subjected to appalling patterns of torture. Urgent action is needed to release all those arbitrarily detained as one of the most crucial steps given the looming spread of Covid-19 in detention centers, and the danger the disease poses to detainees.”
The report includes recommendations for the parties to the conflict and authorities in Yemen, as well as a number of countries and relevant actors such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, the United States and the Security Council. Among the most critical recommendations addressed to all parties to the conflict and authorities in Yemen is the urgent release of all those arbitrarily detained in light of the risks arising from the spread of Covid-19.
The report documents cases of arbitrary and abusive detention, including torture and cruel treatment during interrogation, in 11 unofficial detention centers run by various parties to the conflict across Yemen. These detention centers are located in the capital city of Sana’a, Aden, Taiz, Marib, Al-Hudaydah, Dhamar, Hadramout, Abyan and Ibb.
While conditions of detention across Yemen, including in official detention sites, are often appalling, access to unofficial detention sites for independent observers and family members of detainees is often limited to non-existent. Torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are particularly prevalent in these centers, and many of these sites are used to disappear people for lengthy periods.
The warring parties used different forms of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, including withholding food and water, sleep deprivation, electrocution, kicking, whipping, hitting with the butts of weapons, hitting with hammers, severe beatings, burning with cigarette butts, pulling out nails, forced drinking of urine and prolonged hanging from the ceiling. Some detainees were subjected to the burning of their genitals, sexual humiliation and threats of rape or rape of their relatives. Others said they were subjected to degrading treatment, such as being denied from performing religious services and forced nudity.
In addition to the appalling and degrading conditions of detention, and the detention of dozens in cramped facilities and narrow cells, coalition airstrikes have struck detention centers, at least four times, at detention centers in Dhamar, Al-Hudaydah and Sana’a.
The most recent attack occurred on the evening of Saturday, 31 August 2019, when the Saudi/UAE-led coalition bombed four buildings belonging to the Dhamar community college, where the Houthis had used at least one building as a detention site. The attack killed and injured about 170 civilians and prisoners protected under international humanitarian law. In a statement following the attack, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Yemen said it was aware of the site and had periodically visited it before the attack.
On 10 April 2020, authorities in Hadramout announced the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in Yemen. While it is impossible to measure the true extent of the virus’s spread in Yemen, given the country’s extremely limited testing capacity, and warring parties’ refusal to provide transparent information about the disease, particularly Ansar Allah, social media pages have filled with condolences, and graveyards with bodies, as humanitarian organizations have noted the Covid-19 virus is spreading at the community level with grave consequence.
These steps are even more important given the generally poor conditions in detention centers across Yemen. In December 2019, Mwatana released a study on the situation of detention centers, finding that detention centers are overcrowded, unsanitary, lacking adequate ventilation, toilets and shower facilities. Detainees are often unable to access materials such as soap. Routine health care is non-existent, and in some cases, detainees are denied access to healthcare all together.
In February, the ICRC and Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Yemen announced that a plan had been agreed on to complete the first large-scale formal exchange of prisoners and detainees since the beginning of the conflict. However, since the announcement, the plan has not been implemented. Still, several areas in Yemen have recently seen the release of arbitrarily detained persons by various warring parties. While these steps seem positive, they are not sufficient given the number of people arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared since the beginning of the conflict in Yemen when Ansar Allah and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh seized the capital city of Sana’a in September 2014, and after the conflict escalated with the Saudi/UAE-led coalition’s launch of military operations in March 2015 .
“The international community must support efforts to achieve accountability for these horrific violations. The mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts in Yemen must be renewed and strengthened to include collecting and preserving evidence of violations and related crimes,” Al-Mutawakel added. “The international community must be aware that accountability is one of the key factors needed to achieve sustainable peace in Yemen.”
For more information, please contact:
Ali Jameel, Researcher at Mwatana, firstname.lastname@example.org, (+967772844655 “WhatsApp/Signal”), Sana’a, Yemen.
Kristine Beckerle, Legal Director (Accountability and Redress) at Mwatana, email@example.com, (+961 78 971 959), twitter @K_beckerle, New York, United States.
Osamah Alfakih, Director of Media, Communications and Advocacy at Mwatana, firstname.lastname@example.org, (+967775546904 “Signal”/ +967711404790 “WhatsApp”), twitter @osamahfakih, Sana’a, Yemen