Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1986

The military has played a preeminent role in the Yemen Arab
Republic (YAR) since the 1962 revolution which overthrew the
theocratic Imamate and opened the YAR to the world. The
current Government was largely shaped and influenced by
8 years of civil war followed by political turbulence which
persists in the south Arabian region. The Government remains
unable to extend its full authority over the entire country,
much of which is isolated by rugged terrain. Tribal leaders
in the outlying areas have been reluctant to give up their
traditional authority.
The current leader of the YAR, Colonel Ali Abdullah Salih,
assumed office in 1978 following the assassination, within
8 months, of his two immediate predecessors, both of whom came
from the senior ranks of the army. No ranking national
government official currently serving in office has been
elected in a truly competitive process, and President Salih
relies heavily on military and security forces to maintain his
Government in power. There are unconfirmed reports that Salih
has escaped several attempts on his life. An invasion by its
neighbor, the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY), in
1979 was followed by an insurgency by the National Democratic
Front (NDF) , a Marxist group created by the PDRY. Fighting
continued until 1982. A violent coup in the PDRY in January
1986 has contributed to YAR security concerns. Thousands of
political exiles now live just inside the YAR border with the
PDRY. As a consequence of these developments, fears about
state security have created an atmosphere which has not been
conducive to improving human rights and which has slowed the
evolution of more democratic institutions.
The YAR is a poor country with a limited industrial
infrastructure. Remittances from Yemeni workers abroad are a
major source of foreign exchange. A sharp drop in these
remittances has caused the Government to intervene to limit
the outflow of foreign exchange, a step which is contrary to
its usual laissez-faire policies.
There was little change in the state of human rights in 1986.
However, the potential for increased violence exists.
Continued unrest in the PDRY has resulted in concern over the
possible resumption of NDF activity in the YAR. More than
15,000 PDRY refugees, many of them military professionals,
were in the YAR by the end of 1986, and the number is expected
to grow. In the wake of this development, security forces
have been particularly active in the border areas and in
Sanaa. Detention without charges and other abuses have
occurred. The National Security Organization (NSO), charged
with protecting the Government from subversion, has inevitably
gained in power and influence.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
a. Political Killing
There were no reports that government forces executed
individuals for their political beliefs. There was a
terrorist attack against a member of the U.S. Embassy staff in
April. There were also unconfirmed reports of armed attacks
by the NDF on YAR security forces and exiles in the border
areas .
b. Disappearance
There were continuing reports of secret arrests by national
security officials. In rural areas, there were also reports
that both government security forces and tribesmen resorted to
hostage-taking. There were also several reports of kidnaping
for purposes of intimidation. The persons abducted were
eventually released unharmed.
c. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
The YAR Constitution, the National Charter, and Yemeni legal
statutes all proscribe the use of torture. However, security
authorities reportedly continue to resort with impunity to
force and intimidation to extract information or confessions
from persons accused of criminal activity, particularly where
matters of security are believed involved. Most informed
Yemenis believe that the NSO engages in torture on occasion.
The Yemeni legal code is based on Islamic Shari'a law which
calls for such punishments as amputation and stoning, but
these penalties are now rarely applied. Harsh conditions
prevail in most Yemeni jails, but some prisoners are able to
receive food, clothing, and medicine from their families.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
There were continuing reports of arbitrary arrest. Prisoners
were also held without charge for extended periods despite
provisions of the Constitution which limit the time police may
hold suspects without explicit judicial authorization.
Established procedures through which detainees may contact
their families and lawyers are not always observed. Legal
safeguards are sometimes ignored, most often when matters of
security are at issue. The practice of long-term imprisonment
of political opponents continues. In 1986 such cases
reportedly exceeded 100, with many more kept under virtually
constant surveillance by the NSO.
There were also continuing reports of incommunicado detention,
many of them relating to cases involving state security.
However, family and friends are usually able eventually to
determine a detainee's whereabouts.
There is no forced labor.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
There are several types of courts in the YAR, including
traditional Shari'a (Islamic) courts, commercial courts, and
special security courts. The Shari'a courts have jurisdiction
in all cases that do not fall into the latter two categories,
although there is overlapping jurisdiction in some commercial
law cases. The Shari'a courts appear to be fair and
impartial, within the context of the Islamic tradition. The
judge plays an active role in questioning the witnesses,
seeking to establish the guilt or innocence of the accused.
Attorneys may counsel their clients, but do not address the
court or examine witnesses. If the defendant is to be brought
to trial, he is informed of the charges against him at the
conclusion of the police investigation.
There is a possibility of appeal to political authorities
outside the Shari'a system. Persons often seek to bring the
influence of prominent people or governnient officials to bear
in a case. The ability to do so varies according to the
status of the defendant. In a commercial court, litigants can
generally expect a fair and open trial with legal counsel.
The Shari'a and commercial courts remain largely independent
of the executive, though all decisions are subject to review
and confirmation by the President.
Those formally charged with espionage or other antigovernment
activities are tried in special security courts. These courts
are convened at the direction of the President to handle
specific cases. Rights normally afforded the accused may
be suspended in security cases. All decisions made by the
security court are subject to review and confirmation by the
President .
f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
Correspondence .
National security forces operate under an open mandate to
search homes, monitor telephone conversations, read personal
mail, or otherwise intrude into private lives when security
interests are believed involved. Automobiles are routinely
stopped and searched, and identification is often demanded at
intersection checkpoints.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Restrictions on free speech exist, but their effect is limited
to the urban population by the Government's incomplete control
over the countryside. The Information Ministry controls the
management and content of radio and television programing, and
all the major, widely circulated newspapers. The few privately
operated, nondaily newspapers remain unable to voice opinions
different from those of the Government. The Government freely
removes articles from newspapers and periodicals published in
the YAR if the censors deem them inappropriate or offensive.
Publications from outside the country which carry offensive
articles are withheld from distribution. The Government has
also suspended publishing rights for extended periods as
punishment for printing material the censors find
objectionable. Individual Yemenis believe they may experience
difficulties if national security officials overhear comments
critical of the Government.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Political parties are illegal. The General People's Congress
was established by President Salih as a substitute for party
politics. It is intended to promote regular discussion and
endorse political activity within the scope of the National
Charter, the nation's guide to political activity and personal
rights. As such, it has become the country's only mechanism
for legitimate popular political expression. At the General
People's Conference of the Congress in late August 1986,
President Salih reiterated the prohibition against any other
form of political activism, declaring in the Conference's
opening speech that there was no place for partisan politics
in Yemen.
Political demonstrations, although ostensibly not illegal, are
rare, and most of the few that are held are organized by the
Government. One which was not was a rally in support of the
Afghan mujahidin, organized by Islamic conservatives at Sanaa
Unions and professional organizations play a minor role in the
country. Legislation prohibits the establishment of unions
independent of government control. Strikes are illegal, and
there is no right of collective bargaining. Shari'a law
weighs heavily in labor disputes and provides relief for some
employee grievances.
Association of Yemeni citizens with foreigners is closely
monitored by NSO officials. Embassies are required to furnish
lists of Yemeni guests at all functions, a procedure evidently
intended to monitor Yemeni contacts with foreigners which also
discourages fraternization. Invitations for high ranking
officials must be sent through the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs. Appointments with Yemenis must be made for most
employees of foreign embassies through the Foreign Ministry as
well. Some Yemeni citizens, invited by various embassies to
social functions, have been denied entry by NSO officials
waiting outside the embassy. Others have been taken away for
qxiestioning upon their arrival. Some Yemenis have been
detained for several hours' interrogation for merely speaking
with foreign embassy officials or visiting their homes.
Tribal councils, which formerly provided a forum for relatively
free expression, are losing their ability to decide local
affairs as government authority and NSO influence expands into
the countryside.
c. Freedom of Religion
Islam is the state religion and that of the vast majority of
Yemenis. Members of the Zaydi (Shi 'a) sect have historically
enjoyed greater political influence than those of the Shafei
(Sunni) sect, although this distinction has often been as much
based on geographic and tribal considerations as on sectarian
grounds. For the most part, the two major Islamic coiMtiunities
coexist without friction and seek to minimize the significance
of doctrinal differences. Muslim associations with ties to
pan-Islamic or foreign organizations enjoy some degree of
freedom, including the right to operate schools which are
largely independent of the national education system.
Although almost all of the once substantial Yemeni Jewish
population has emigrated to Israel, a small number of Jews
remain, perhaps 1,000 or fewer, living mostly in the north of
the country. There are no synagogues, but Jews are permitted
to practice their religion in private homes unmolested. The
Government has made a point of ensuring that no impediments to
this right exist. Jews usually live in relative harmony with
their Muslim neighbors. There are no reports of government-
inspired harassment or intimidation, although violent incidents
have been reported from time to time. Such incidents, however,
are not dissimilar to the violence which is a fact of life in
much of the countryside. Communications between the Yemeni
Jews and their coreligionists in Israel are strictly
There is no indigenous Christian population. Foreign
Christians are allowed to conduct private services, although
the establishment of churches is not permitted. Foreign clergy
are not permitted into the country for missionary purposes;
however, a few work in social service fields. Public
celebration of non-Islamic religious holidays is discouraged.
Proselytizing is forbidden by law, but Christian missionaries
have operated hospitals without serious hindrance for many
d Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Many Yemenis historically have sought employment abroad. The
Government has not restricted this large-scale emigration in
view of the importance to the economy of foreign remittances.
Procedures for obtaining passports and compulsory exit permits
are sometimes onerous, particularly for Yemeni males who have
not fulfilled their military service obligations. Political
dissidents have frequently chosen self-imposed foreign exile
or have accepted government appointments abroad rather than
face possible difficulties at home stemming from their
political views. There are no restrictions on travel by
Yemenis within the country despite the presence of numerous
security checkpoints on all major roads. Foreign tourists
must obtain travel permits from the tourist office, which
usually issues them with little delay or difficulty. Strict
controls on the issuance of passports help to regulate travel
outside the country.
The coup in the PDRY in January 1986 resulted in the influx of
approximately 15,000 to 20,000 political exiles and refugees
to the YAR. The Government has temporarily settled most of
these people in refugee camps along the border. Others appear
to have been taken in by villagers in the area or gone to stay
with relatives. There are reportedly 2,500 Eritrean refugees
and displaced persons living in a camp at Khokha . Political
activity by both these groups is closely monitored by NSO
officials and the YAR military. Most of the Palestinians who
came to the YAR from Lebanon in 1982-83 are gone. The
remainder still live in camps. The Palestinians are watched
closely by the NSO, which restricts their movement and
activity. There has been no assimilation of the Palestinians
into Yemeni society, mainly because of the tribal organization
of the country.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
The Government does not permit partisan political activity,
and there is no legal mechanism whereby Yemenis may change
their government. The President makes all key decisions,
appoints all government ministers, and controls entry into the
General People's Congress (GPC), either through direct
appointments or through influence over candidacies. The
Congress has no actual legislative authority, and there is no
legal opposition. Full-fledged opposition to the Government
is dealt with as subversion. The people have a limited
consultative role through the GPC and other channels, and
criticism and debate of government operations and policies are
tolerated in the Congress.
The GPC was first convoked in 1982, ostensibly to formulate
and ratify the National Charter. It has met twice since that
time, in 1984 and in August 1986. The President by law
appointed approximately 40 percent of the membership while the
others were elected from all parts of the country and included
men and women from all walks of life.
Although some latitude existed in the selection of candidates,
much of the process was coopted by the Government. It was left
to the populace to confirm the Government's selections.
Control of the Permanent Committee of the Congress, the
200-person executive element of the Congress, remained
essentially in the same hands. The Permanent Committee
consists mostly of government officials, loyal supporters of
the President, or important personages who would be slighted
by omission.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
There are no human rights organizations in the YAR, and no
human rights investigations were conducted in 1986. The
Government appears unwilling to entertain dialogue from any
quarter on the subject of human rights, which it regards as an
internal matter.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Language, or Social Status
Minority groups in the YAR, such as the small Jewish population
in the north, do not appear to be officially discriminated
against because of their religion. The Government has tried,
insofar as its limited authority in rural areas allows, to
ensure that their rights are not violated. However, because
of the prevailing tribal structure, tribesmen and members of
prominent families enjoy an economic advantage over the less
well-organized, minority elements of society — for example, in
the sharing of business opportunities. Discrimination in
favor of family members of tribal kinsmen is a longstanding
practice .
A limited number of Yemeni women are employed outside the home
or farm, in spite of the YAR's conservative Islamic society.
Some women play an active role in public life, holding
positions in the Government and the General People's Congress.
Women now work in the middle levels of several ministries such
as the Central Planning Organization, and one woman is in the
Constituent Assembly. A few were elected to Local Development
Councils. The Government does not restrict women's access to
employment, and women work in banks and other businesses.
Prevailing social norms frequently dictate, however, that women
defer to the guidance of their male colleagues and accept close
supervision of their activities by male relatives. Women
seeking exit permits for travel outside the country are
frequently asked to provide evidence that male relatives pose
no objection.
Education for women in significant numbers began only at the
end of the civil war in 1970. The Government is trying to
expand their educational opportunities. However, staffing
shortages continue to inhibit the opening of new schools and
the staffing of existing institutions. Traditional Islamic
norms, more strictly followed in rural areas, as well as the
considerable time expended by rural women in water and fuel
collection, limit the ability of women to take advantage of
educational opportunities.
Workers' rights are defined by Yemeni law, but the regulations
are virtually unenforceable. Hiring practices favor relatives
or tribal associates. There is no minimum wage. Wage
standards are set by the market. The generally accepted pay
scale for unskilled workers is about $10 a day. There is no
minimum age for employment although there are compulsory
educational requirements. These regulations are often
observed more in the breach than in practice.
Much of the local production is based on agrarian or "cottage
type" industry in which children often work. The presence of
children in the workplace is more a reflection of family
values and expectations than an exploitation of available
labor. Children, especially outside urban centers,
traditionally learn their trade or occupation from their
parents rather than from formal educational experiences.
While working conditions are sometimes harsh, reflecting the
subsistence economy which generally prevails, the Government
has set general safety requirements and occasionally inspects
to ensure that industrial producers have established safety
standards for their employees. Although not strictly enforced,
these safety standards are generally observed for reasons of