Human Rights and Democracy: The 2011 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report -Quarterly Updates: Yemen

Quarterly Updates: Yemen

Latest Update: 30 September 2012

The second phase of political transition is now into its seventh month and President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi continues to demonstrate real commitment to implement necessary change in Yemen.  Meeting all the requirements of the GCC Initiative and its Implementation Plan presents the best opportunity for the restoration of peace and stability.  We are confident that political, economic and security sector reform will create a platform for the promotion of human rights in Yemen.  But so far we have seen only limited action by the Yemeni government to respond to continuing concerns over the human rights situation, reflected in the latest update by the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The UK Government and our international partners, principally the UN, US, EU and the Gulf States, are actively engaged to ensure transition continues uninterrupted and fundamental human rights are promoted and respected.  The Friends of Yemen, a group of states and international organizations, held its fourth meeting in New York on 27 September to review progress and maintain high level focus on Yemen.

The lives of Yemenis are still blighted by conflict, instability and poverty.  Whilst in June the Yemeni security forces successfully removed al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from its bases in the south and a degree of normality returned, there are still vast numbers of internally displaced persons in Yemen.  It is estimated that there are over half a million Yemenis who have been forced from their homes throughout the country.  Humanitarian aid agencies are working to protect the most vulnerable, but the challenge is significant with the World Food Programme estimating around10 million people go hungry each day.  The delivery of aid is complicated by the presence of unexploded ordnance in parts of the south.  The latest OHCHR report highlights the urgent need for compliance with international norms on human rights, and specified where action is still required to fulfill both the pledges made by the Yemeni government and elements of the Human Rights Council resolutions 18/19 and 19/29.

On 27 September, the British Foreign Secretary, with President Hadi and the Saudi Vice Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, hosted a meeting of the Friends of Yemen attended by 38 states and international organizations as well as the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  This was an opportunity to review progress since the last meeting in Riyadh in May and to cement further political support for Yemen as it continues to implement change.  The UK was pleased that preparations for a conference of National Dialogue are well advanced and the preparatory committee includes women, southerners and Houthis.  Yemen’s fractured economy and budget deficit forms a huge obstacle to creating jobs and prosperity to millions of Yemenis.  The extra $1.5billion pledged at the meeting, together with the $6.4billion committed earlier at the donor meeting in Riyadh, will go some way to rebuild Yemen’s economy and provide much needed support for transitional development projects.  With an agreed Mutually Accountable Framework in place, there is renewed confidence that funds will be quickly disbursed.

There was also welcome progress at the Friends of Yemen meeting on early preparations for elections. The government of Yemen has undertaken to complete by October the setting up of a new electoral commission to start updating the register of new entitled voters.  This is an important step to ensure that all eligible Yemenis can participate in next year’s referendum on a revised constitution and full parliamentary and presidential elections in 2014.  National Dialogue is on track to begin in November and the Yemeni delegation emphasized its commitment to women’s participation in all of its structures.

The UK actively participated in discussions on Yemen at the 21st Session on the Human Rights Council in September.  We co-sponsored a further resolution, welcoming the Memorandum of Understanding signed on 26 September between the Yemeni government and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to formalize the opening of the OHCHR office in Yemen.  We noted the written update presented by the OHCHR, and key elements were reflected in the resolution, in particular on detainees, the recruitment of children into government security forces and the armed opposition.  We helped to secure language in the statement which seeks to ensure the participation of women in the political process, crucial to the success of national dialogue, and also participation at all levels in public life.  Before discussions, the Yemeni government took the important step of announcing the setting up of a transparent and independent body to investigate allegations of human rights violations in 2011.  This is significant progress towards meeting the legitimate demands of the Yemeni public and responds directly to elements of previous Human Rights Council resolutions.  The latest resolution acknowledges this development.

The UK Government and officials in Sana’a are working closely with other partners to encourage and support the Yemeni government in its work to implement reform.  Keeping transition on track is the principal method by which we can help provide the necessary environment to protect and advance the fundamental freedoms all Yemenis should enjoy.  To this end we support the UN Assistant Secretary General’s role to facilitate inclusive national dialogue and the early passing of a law on transitional justice.  In this period we have approved two projects, one to tackle discrimination against women and another to help women participate in the political process.  In June the Ministry of Human Rights launched the Human Rights Task Force (HRTF).  The HRTF aims at creating a harmonized, integrated and comprehensive network of all the concerned International NGOs, public, mixed and private sectors and international agencies that guarantees human rights for each individual in Yemen.  The UK is a founder member of the HRTF.  The HRTF has met twice since its inauguration and the UK is influencing and encouraging it to focus on effective deliverables, including cross government anti-corruption units, access to justice and the mainstreaming of human rights in the civilian security sector.  The Yemeni Ministry of Human Rights requested that the UK sponsor and co-host the third meeting which is due to be held in December.  And we look forward to supporting the OHCHR country office, including on the establishing of an independent national human rights institution.

To help tackle the appalling humanitarian crisis, the Department for International Development (DFID) has provided £28million.  A small element will help to protect Yemenis’ rights through the provision of legal services and counselling, to over 4000 people.  This is part of DFID’s three-year operational plan that was announced at the donor conference in September, committing £196million to tackle poverty and support the transition. An element is devoted to promoting human rights.  The UK continues to urge other nations to pledge support for the UN Humanitarian Appeal which is only 50% funded.  Within this, the protection sector is just 24% funded.

Latest Update: 30 June 2012

President Hadi and the National Unity Government are making some progress in tackling the multitude of political, economic and security sector challenges in accordance with the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative for peaceful transition. In recent months we have not witnessed the scenes of violence common under the former regime, but progress to address outstanding human rights grievances remains limited. International commitment to supporting Yemen remains strong and this period has seen the reinvigoration of the Friends of Yemen group with it holding multiple meetings, including the first meeting at ministerial level in nearly two years. On 12 June the UN Security Council sent a strong message to those seeking to disrupt ongoing political  transition, including comprehensive reform and full parliamentary and presidential elections, by adopting resolution 2051 (2012), reaffirming international support for Yemen and making clear that any attempt to derail the process would not be tolerated.

The UK has a leading role in the Friends of Yemen, a group of 39 countries and institutions, which aims to coordinate political focus on Yemen and find concrete ways to enable the completion of transition. This process includes a commitment to improving human rights conditions. We hosted preparatory meetings both in London and Sana’a and co-chaired a meeting at ministerial level in Riyadh on 23 May. These presented opportunities to take stock of progress, to respond to Yemeni plans for reform, and to discuss ways the Friends can provide technical assistance and guidance. The Friends of Yemen also recognised the urgency of tackling the ongoing humanitarian crisis. The UK has committed £28 million in response to the UN Humanitarian Appeal and has urged others to contribute.

Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, in his statement as co-chair of the Friends of Yemen meeting in Riyadh, raised the urgent need to for all parties in Yemen to prioritise respect for human rights, freedom of expression and Yemen’s obligations under international law. Attention was drawn to the social and legal challenges facing women and children in Yemeni society, to political detainees yet to be released, and to the necessity to enact a law on transitional justice and reconciliation. These points were echoed in the UN Security Council resolution passed in June.

We welcome the Yemeni government’s agreement to the opening of a country office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and its promise to draw up a transitional justice law. The latest resolution on Yemen at the UN Human Rights Council in March looked forward to the Yemeni government starting transparent and independent investigations into credible allegations of human rights violations and encouraged the implementation of the recommendations of the latest OHCHR report on Yemen.

Whilst tensions have reduced significantly, we have continued to receive credible reports, including from Reporters without Borders, of actions against journalists, including prison sentences, intimidation and violence. Recent attacks by AQAP including the appalling attack in Sana’a on 21 May which killed 120 people, and more recently on 18 June when a senior army commander was killed in Aden, underline the scale of the challenge the Yemeni government is facing on security. Re-establishing security and removing the threat posed by AQAP is vital to creating the conditions for those affected by conflict to return home and to reduce the exposure to armed conflict. We welcome recent reports that this is starting to happen in Abyan province. We are concerned that military operations in Abyan risk further displacement of civilian populations, will create additional humanitarian needs, and further restrict access by humanitarian agencies. We support the call in UN Security Council Resolution 2051 (2012) for all parties to uphold rights of access for international agencies, protect civilian populations and uphold their obligations under International Humanitarian Law.

Bilaterally and alongside key partners, including the UN, we continue to support President Hadi in his commitment to reform. In Sana’a, Embassy officials have looked for opportunities to support progress on human rights, including through engaging civil society activists seeking greater participation for women in transition, meeting with the Yemeni Human Rights Minister to discuss progress on a proposed human rights institution, and funding projects. The British Embassy is a founder member of the Human Rights Task Force, a body aiming to raise awareness of issues, build capacity and ensure conformity to human rights obligations. On 6 June, Embassy officials attended its launch by the Ministry of Human Rights. And the UK, alongside the EU, will support Yemeni-led civilian security sector reform, which aims to focus on policing and responding to public grievances.

Quarter One Update: 31 March 2012

The first phase of political transition in Yemen was successfully concluded with the inauguration on 25 February of the country’s first new head of state in 33 years. We welcome progress made so far by the new government, but are clear there is much more to achieve. We continue to encourage the authorities, bilaterally and through the UN and Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and alongside our international partners, to increase the pace of change on human rights. Acts of violence by government, tribal and dissident forces continue, and there has been only a limited response by the Yemeni government and other non-state parties to the international community’s concerns about the human rights situation in Yemen.

Political transition presents the best opportunity for peace, stability and reconciliation in Yemen. Since the formal signing on 23 November of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Initiative and its Implementation Plan we have seen the completion of the first phase of transition, marked by the early presidential election on 21 February, to which the UK committed funds to assist the UN Development Programme’s supporting role. The elections saw a turnout of over 50% of eligible electors voting for Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, the consensus candidate. This high turnout, in the context of widespread insecurity, for a single candidate committed to continue implementing the GCC Initiative, demonstrated support for political change and stability. President Hadi has a clear mandate to proceed with transition, working towards a referendum on changes to the Yemeni constitution before presidential and parliamentary elections in 2014. We now expect President Hadi to convene without delay a conference of national dialogue, in accordance with the Implementation Plan. This should incorporate all political parties and actors, including those representing the south and north of Yemen, youth movements and women.

The election was a constitutional requirement following the agreement by former President Saleh to step down. His resignation was conditional on the passing of an immunities law in accordance with the GCC Initiative which was ratified on 21 January. We are encouraged by the National Unity Government’s pledge to enact a law on transitional justice which will seek to address the grievances of Yemenis, including those affected by last year’s violence. According to Yemen’s Minister for Human Rights Huria Mashhour (Yemen Fox daily newspaper, Sana’a, 19/03/12), this violence resulted in over 2000 deaths, including 143 children and 20 women as well as 22,000 wounded. Human Rights Watch estimated that in 2011 over 270 protesters and bystanders were killed by government security forces and pro-government gangs. We are clear that those responsible for human rights abuses and violations must be brought to justice, and this is reflected in UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2014.

The National Unity Government announced that it would welcome the opening of an office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Yemen. The government has also started to release prisoners arrested in connection with last year’s demonstrations. But we note with concern the lack of progress, set out in OHCHR’s progress report of February, in addressing the concerns of the UN Security Council and Human Rights Council, set out in the resolutions UNSCR 2014 and A/HRC/RES/18/19. These include the need to begin transparent, independent investigations into credible allegations of human rights violations and abuses, end attacks on civilians, demobilise child soldiers, release all persons arbitrarily detained, and end the interruption of basic services. There were also reports, such as that released by Reporters Without Borders on 8 February, of restrictions imposed on the media and the intimidation of journalists, notably in the run-up to the February election.

We actively participated at the 19th Session of the Human Rights Council in March and co-sponsored a further resolution, building on the one adopted in September 2011. The resolution reiterated the need for Yemen to uphold its obligations to promote and protect fundamental human rights, welcomed Yemen’s invitation to the OHCHR to establish a country office and its announcement that it would launch investigations, and stressed the continued importance of UN Security Council Resolution 2014, which underlined the need for justice and accountability.

On 23 March we hosted a preparatory meeting in London of the Friends of Yemen (FoY) to discuss an agenda and date for the upcoming Ministerial meeting. Attendees agreed that the group’s focus should be on assisting the National Unity Government as it seeks to complete political transition, but that this must be in support of prioritised and time-bound plans put forward by the Yemeni government. Following this meeting the co-chairs confirmed the next FoY Ministerial will take place in Riyadh on 23 May. It is our hope that Yemen will respond by drawing up plans for political (including national dialogue), economic and security sector reform to create the framework for the international community to provide necessary help. The national dialogue should include all political actors, youth and women, to consider a range of key issues including the constitution and transitional justice. Early preparation for this is essential.

In this context, we see a compelling need for women to play a greater and more conspicuous role in Yemini society. Yemeni women face a multitude of legal and social constraints. Under the terms of the GCC Initiative’s Implementation Plan the National Unity government is committed to promoting the active participation by women in a conference of national dialogue. We fully support this initiative and continue to look for ways to support women’s involvement in the political process.

Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is deeply concerning, with a recent World Food Programme report revealing that there are now over 10 million Yemenis experiencing food insecurity. According to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), new conflicts in the south and north-west of Yemen resulted in an increase in the number of internally displaced persons to 465,000. And the ability of international aid agencies to reach affected areas is complicated by insecurity, threats and violence. Access to basic services, such as electricity and water, remain clear challenges for the Yemeni government to address. The UK Government, through the Department for International Development (DFID), has already responded by more than doubling its humanitarian aid in 2011/12. In March a new contribution of £6.1 million was announced. The UK provided £20 million in 2011/12, which was delivered through international NGOs and UN agencies. We were the fourth largest humanitarian donor in 2011 after the United States, the United Arab Emirates and the European Union. Further funding is expected in 2012.

We are also helping to support a range of projects in Yemen, with funding from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other government departments. These projects will help to build capacity among Yemeni civil society, instil leadership skills in youth activists, raise awareness of human rights, and promote non-violent resolution of conflict.

Our Embassy in Sana’a actively seeks ways to support and fund local initiatives, including organising a recent women’s conference, and has undertaken a wide range of activities in support of human rights in Yemen. We regularly raise our concerns along with a group of diplomatic missions in Sana’a working to support the transition process and lobby EU partners to make human rights a priority. And in support of efforts to see the release of all Yemenis detained in connection with protests in 2011, we obtained a list of suspected detainees from opposition activists; requested at the highest level that these cases be investigated; and also pressed General Ali Mohsen, dissident head of the armed opposition, and the government to reveal details of detainees and release all those held illegally.