Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1989

* The United States maintains no diplomatic mission in the
People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, which severed diplomatic
relations with the United States in 1969. It is difficult,
therefore, to comment authoritatively on conditions in that
The People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) is a one-party
state governed by the avowedly Marxist Yemeni Socialist Party
(YSP) , President Haidar Abu Bakr al-Attas came to power in
January 1986, following the violent overthrow of President Ali
Nasir Muhammad al-Hasani, who continues to live in exile in the
Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) . The current regime has purged the
Government and YSP of Ali Nasir supporters. The efforts of the
YSP to establish a Marxist-Leninist state along Soviet
administrative lines have overwhelmed some traditional social
and cultural values. An estimated 25 percent of the population
has departed the PDRY, mostly to the YAR, since the country
gained independence from Great Britain in 1967. In 1989 the
ruling party debated political and economic reforms that would
more clearly distinguish between party and state, allow a
degree of economic incentives to employers and employees,
modify the legal system, streamline administrative structures,
and permit multiple political parties. While meeting in Aden
on November 30, 1989, YSP Secretary General al-Bidh and YAR
President Salih ratified a 1981 draft constitution for a
unified Yemeni state. The two leaders agreed to submit the
constitution to the PDRY and YAR legislative authorities for
ratification within 6 months and then to the Yemeni people for
approval in a referendum during the following 6 months.
The Ministry for State Security is charged with overseeing
internal security operations. The army, regional militias,
and the police play subsidiary roles, but in some areas tribal
authority effectively supersedes government rules and
Approximately 40 percent of the 2.3 million inhabitants work as
farmers, and their crops account for about 12 percent of the
gross national product. The economy remains hampered by severe
shortages of basic consumer items and commodities. The
Government continues to regulate most sectors of the economy
and makes it difficult for even PDRY citizens to import
capital. Small shops and service industries remain privately
owned and operated. In 1989 the Government allowed limited
private ownership of dwellings for the first time in many
years. The Government also expressed interest in attracting
Western investment and technology, particularly in the oil and
mineral resources sector.
The human rights situation overall remains grim, with many
rights, such as freedom of speech, association, and the press,
sharply curtailed. Other problem areas are abuse of prisoners
and detainees, arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention,
lack of fair trial, and inability of citizens to change their
government. There appeared to be some modest improvements in
1989, continuing the trend observable over the past three
years. Some PDRY citizens believe that the improvement---in
particular, liberalized travel measures and a somewhat freer
press—is the result of internal pressure on PDRY officials to
follow the liberalizing trend in the Soviet Union and Eastern
Europe. The regime issued an amnesty for all but the top Ali
Nasir supporters with the proclaimed goal of promoting
national reconciliation.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
The Ali Nasir exile movement's YAR-based newspaper and an
affiliated human rights committee charged the PDRY with the
politically motivated killing of several PDRY citizens,
including military officers and government officials. The
movement regularly accuses the PDRY of political killings, but
there is no independent confirmation of these accusations.
b. Disappearance
There were continuing reports of disappearances. As in the
past, some apparently were the result of tribal and factional
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Amnesty International (AI) and the Arab Organization for Human
Rights (AOHR) noted in their 1989 reports the deaths in
custody of three persons under circumstances strongly
suggesting ill-treatment had caused the deaths. The Ali Nasir
exile movement and an affiliated committee frequently charge
that torture is still practiced by PDRY security services.
There is no independent confirmation of these charges.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Incommunicado detention and arbitrary arrests are common. A
committee affiliated with the Ali Nasir exile movement
identified 23 persons, including some exiles who had returned
from North Yemen under a general amnesty first announced in
March 1986, who were detained in 1989 without charges. There
was no independent confirmation of this allegation. In its
1989 Report covering 1988, AI notes it repeatedly expressed
concern about the detention without trial of suspected
government opponents.
With regard to forced or compulsory labor, see Section 6.c.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Many persons are believed to have been imprisoned without
trial. Legal procedures for the protection of the accused are
routinely ignored or manipulated as in the case of the 1987
show trials of former President Ali Nasir and his followers.
The Ali Nasir exile movement charged the PDRY Government with
conducting a show trial in 1989 of 14 persons charged with
treason before the same judges who convicted and sentenced to
death other Ali Nasir supporters in 1987. A committee
affiliated with the movement further charged the Government
with conducting a show trial of four pilots of Yemda , the
national airline. There was no independent confirmation of
either allegation.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
National security is frequently cited as the justification for
the pervasive invasion of personal privacy. PDRY security
services routinely inspect mail, tap telephones, and
arbitrarily search residences and businesses.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Freedom of speech and press is severely restricted. The
state-owned electronic media and party newspaper faithfully
reflect government views and priorities. In 1989 the
state-controlled press reportedly allowed more extensive
debate and airing of opinions on draft party and government
political and economic reforms. PDRY citizens visiting the
YAR have commented that the press appears to be somewhat freer
than in previous years.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
No public or professional associations, except those sponsored
by the State or party, are permitted to operate openly.
Unauthorized gatherings are forbidden.
For a discussion of freedom of association as it applies to
labor unions, see Section 6. a.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution declares that Islam is the state religion and
provides for freedom of religious expression. In practice,
however, the Government attempts to minimize the influence of
religious leaders, and some sermons for Friday prayer are
reportedly provided by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. A
small Christian community of Indian origin exists in Aden and
is allowed to practice its religion.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
There are some restricted areas in the PDRY, but there were
said to be fewer checkpoints on major roads and near the
capital in 1989 than there were in 1988. The two Yemens
implemented a new accord in 1988 which permits citizens of
each country to enter the other by presenting only a national
identification card. In November 1989 the PDRY revoked the
requirement of obtaining prior police permission for South
Yemenis wishing to travel to North Yemen. For the first time
in their acrimonious relationship, the border between the two
countries is basically open to all Yemenis. Many PDRY
citizens have taken advantage of this accord to visit
relatives and shop in the YAR. Approximately 60,000 South
Yemenis have fled to the YAR since the January 1986 coup. In
1989 as many as 5,000 Ali Nasir exiles may have returned to
the south under the general amnesty first announced in 1986
and reiterated several times since. However, counterbalancing
this movement south across the YAR/PDRY border was the
movement north of approximately 5,000 wives, children, and
other relatives of Ali Nasir supporters who were in exile in
the YAR.
Regulations governing travel to other countries reportedly
have also been liberalized. The YSP Politburo approved in
November 1989 the lifting of former requirements on foreign
travel such as prior police permits, family letters of
invitation, exit permits, and travel bonds. Whether other
requirements remain is unknown.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
The PDRY has no democratic institutions, and ordinary citizens
do not have the ability peacefully to change their leaders or
the system of government. Political parties, other than the
YSP, are banned, and the YSP dominates politics. Other
organizations, such as the military and, to a lesser extent,
the National Democratic Front (NDF) , also play prominent
roles. The NDF consists largely of northern Yemenis who waged
a guerrilla insurgency against the YAR until 1982; now it is
one of several principal factions competing for influence in
Aden. Alliances are often based on tribal or regional
affiliations; natives of Aden are largely unrepresented in the
senior ranks of the YSP.
The Constitution provides for universal suffrage for those
over the age of 18, but only candidates approved by the YSP
may run for election. An election reform law, reportedly
allowing candidates independent of the YSP, self-nominated
candidates, and multiple candidates was enacted in 1989. A
number of independent candidates competed with YSP candidates
i:"! local council elections conducted in November under the new
law. The ruling party also announced its agreement in
principle to permit multiple political parties and instructed
the YSP Politburo to draft a new political parties law.
Overall, politics in the PDRY are characterized by violence
and coercion. Leading members of the losing faction can often
expect imprisonment, exile, or death.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Although AI , AOHR, and other human rights groups attempt to
monitor the situation in the PDRY, they are not permitted to
enter the country to pursue individual cases. An AI
delegation did visit the PDRY in 1987, however, to observe a
Supreme Court trial, and the delegation met with several
senior government ministers during their visit to discuss some
of the cases being followed by AI . In its 1989 Report, AI
noted that the authorities had provided some information on
cases of detention without trial and denied knowledge of
others, and failed to confirm three deaths in custody or to
explain the circumstances in which they occurred.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
The PDRY is a generally homogeneous society and there are few
ethnic or linguistic differences. Political factions are
based largely on tribal and regional affiliations. Equality
of the sexes is mandated by law.
The postindependence government introduced legislation to
emancipate Yemeni women. One 1974 law, modeled after the
divorce law of Tunisia, restricted polygamy by requiring the
official permission of the court for a second marriage,
prohibited child marriages, and provided for a considerable
degree of female protection, including egual rights in
divorce. Despite this law, there are still frequent cases of
polygamy, child marriage, and arbitrary divorce, especially in
the more traditional, rural areas.
Violence against women, including wife beating, doubtless
occurs, but there is no information available on its extent.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
There are no independent trade or labor organizations. The
General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) , the PDRY's only
labor association, is under close YSP control. The GFTU is
affiliated with the Communist-controlled World Federation of
Trade Unions and with the International Confederation of Arab
Trade Unions. The PDRY has ratified Convention 98 on the
Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining and the ILO's two
forced labor conventions, but not Convention 87 on Freedom of
Association. It has been cited by the ILO as not having
complied with its obligation to supply reports on ratified
conventions in recent years. No information is available on
the right to strike.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The State, through the YSP-controlled unions, purports to
represent the rights of workers. There is no collective
bargaining, and there are no nongovernmental bodies which
address labor grievances. A special export processing zone
has been established at Maalla Wharf in the port of Aden. Few
PDRY exports have been processed through this zone, however,
since January 1986.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
There are no reports of forced or compulsory labor.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The labor code prohibits the employment of children (defined
as between 7 and 12 years of age) and young persons (between
12 and 16 years of age). However, apprentice employment of
young persons 14 years and older is permitted. Child labor is
common but is more prevalent in rural areas than in cities,
where children must compete with adults for scarce jobs.
Child labor in rural areas is often in the context of work on
family, cooperative, or state farms.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is some legislation regulating conditions of labor, but
there is no mechanism for effective enforcement. Labor
legislation is uniform throughout the PDRY but labor practice
is not. For example, child labor is common in many rural
areas, but not in Aden. Many, perhaps most, PDRY workers are
farmers; the majority of these work in state-controlled
collectives or associations, while the others, in more
isolated rural areas, enjoy a greater degree of independence.
The labor code stipulates a 42 hour workweek. Information on
whether the labor code provides for a minimum wage is not
available. The prevailing daily wage for unskilled labor is
about $10.