Yemen - Country of Concern: latest update, 30 September 2014

0.1 Latest Update: 30 September 2014

Violations of human rights in Yemen have continued. These include attacks against journalists and media institutions, enforced disappearances, contravention of the Convention Against Torture, harassment and detention of religious minorities, and the alleged use of children in armed conflict.

Over the past few months, fighting in Sana’a and northern governorates between the Houthis, government forces, and militia groups has impeded the government’s ability to address human rights issues. A peace agreement signed on 21 September now presents an opportunity for the government to refocus its efforts on implementation of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) outcomes, including those relating to human rights. This will require the cooperation of all parties. Since our last quarterly report, the UK has supported human rights efforts in Yemen by co-sponsorship of the UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Yemen in September, and through multi- and bilateral lobbying of senior government figures.

Free and fair elections are the only way to secure a long-term political settlement in Yemen, and the UK is following with concern the work of the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum (SCER) to prepare a new Biometric Voter Registry. We now urge the SCER, which has benefitted from funding from the Department for International Development, to finalise the new voter registry ahead of the referendum next year, and for all political parties to pledge their full support.

In the first half of 2014, the Freedom Foundation (FF) reported a number of attacks against journalists, ranging from verbal harassment and threats, confiscations, looting, destruction of property, politicised prosecutions, unlawful detention and murder. The FF reported that the government was either complicit in the attacks, and/or failed to investigate cases or provide protection to journalists. This trend has continued this quarter, when in June two outlets, Al-Yemen Al-Youm TV and the Al-Yemen Al-Youm newspaper, were raided and closed by government forces, and a number of western journalists were deported. In response, the UK lobbied the Minister of Interior and co-sponsored a G10 statement calling on the government and media bodies to agree a code of conduct to hold organisations to high ethical standards whilst maintaining media freedoms, as well as to investigate cases of violence against journalists and review cases of detention. In September, the state-owned TV compound in Sana’a and the privately-owned Suhail TV station were attacked by Houthis during the recent fighting, causing a number of deaths and casualties, as well as extensive damage.

In August, Human Rights Watch reported the enforced disappearance of a southern movement activist. We urge the government to release or charge suspects, as well as to give access to legal advice and family members. In September, at least eight Houthi protesters were killed, and 67 injured, when demonstrators attempted to raid the Cabinet building in Sana’a. We urge the government to investigate this incident immediately and hold those involved to account. We also continue to urge the government to begin investigations of the alleged violations of human rights in 2011.

Historically, Yemen has executed offenders for crimes they committed whilst under the age of 18. Whilst the UK welcomes that fact that no juvenile offenders have been sentenced or executed in 2014, we remain concerned that the death penalty for adults remains in use for murder and other crimes. We again urge the government to introduce an immediate moratorium on executions, with the intention of abolishing the death penalty altogether.

Following the Human Rights Watch report on migrant torture camps, the UK welcomes the government raids against smugglers, and its request for assistance to international organisations to help meet rescued migrants’ needs and facilitate their voluntary return home. However, Human Rights Watch report that government raids had ceased by July and that camps had continued to function. We therefore urge the government to continue the raids and to work with international organisations to provide assistance to rescued migrants.

In June, British National Andargachew Tsege was removed from Yemen to Ethiopia. As a signatory to the Convention Against Torture, the Yemeni government was obliged to seek assurances from the Ethiopian government that Mr Tsege would not be subjected to torture, and to notify the British Embassy in Sana’a of the removal. It does not appear that assurances were sought by the Yemenis, and the British Embassy was not notified of the removal in a timely manner, including after we had raised the case with the Yemeni authorities. We have repeatedly raised our concerns with the government about the removal, and continue to request clarification of the process followed at Sana’a Airport.

In August and September, there was intense fighting between the Houthis, government forces and militia groups in the northern governorates and Sana’a. The UK welcomes the 21 September agreement between President Hadi and the Houthis and urge all signatories to implement it in its entirety, including those articles relating to security and military issues. The UK used its co-chairmanship of the Friends of Yemen Ministerial Meeting on 24 September, and role as signatory to G10 and UN Security Council statements, to reinforce these messages. It is vital that humanitarian agencies are allowed free access to areas affected by the conflict, in Amran, Sana’a, Al Jawf and Marib, in order to conduct needs assessments and provide lifesaving humanitarian support.

There have been reports of harassment and detention of Christians and more recently members of the Baha’i community. Following the NDC recommendation to allow every citizen the freedom to practise religious rites according to their religion, belief and doctrine, the UK urges the government to investigate these claims and hold those involved to account.

Yemen is currently listed by the UN Secretary General as one of eight countries whose national security forces recruit and use children. Despite Yemen’s Action Plan to prevent the recruitment of children by the Yemeni Armed Forces, there continue to be reports of non-state actors recruiting and using children in conflict, as well as the occupation and destruction of some schools. The UK therefore urges the government to implement the action plan, and all parties to put an end to the practice.

Women in Yemen continue to face discrimination in law and in practice. The UK welcomes the draft Child Rights Law from earlier this year which includes a minimum age for marriage of 18, and provides criminal penalties for any individual knowingly authorising, or witnessing, the marriage of anyone under the age of 18. The UK notes with concern that there has been some delay in approving the draft law, and urges for it to be passed by Cabinet and parliament.