Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports that current or former members of the security forces committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Politically motivated killings by non-state actors, including Houthi forces and terrorist and insurgent groups claiming affiliation with AQAP or ISIS, also increased significantly during the year (see section 1.g.).
As many as 27 clerics were killed in Aden and nearby areas. On May 9, an unknown gunman killed cleric Safwan al-Sharjabi as he walked along a crowded road in Aden. Many of the assassinated clerics, including Sharjabi, were members of Yemen’s influential Islamist political party, known as Islah. Brig. Gen. Shalal Ali Shaiya, head of Aden’s security and a top leader of the secessionist Southern Transitional Council, denied speculation that his forces were behind the killings. He blamed Islamist extremists. Secessionist officials said the Islah party was responsible for the clerics’ assassinations. These officials alleged Islah was killing the moderate clerics to replace them with more extreme voices. No group claimed responsibility for any of the assassinations, and no perpetrators were arrested.
Following their assassination of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh in December 2017, Houthis actively targeted members of his political party, the General People’s Congress (GPC). Press reported that during the year Houthis either abducted or executed hundreds of GPC members in a crackdown on Saleh loyalists.
There were reports of politically motivated disappearances and kidnappings of individuals associated with political parties, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and media outlets critical of government security forces and the Houthi movement (see section 1.g.). Houthis and their allies sometimes detained civilian family members of government security officials. Non-state actors targeted and detained foreigners, including those believed to be working for foreign diplomatic missions.
The government’s National Commission to Investigate Alleged Violations to Human Rights (NCIAVHR) documented 3,697 cases of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearance committed by parties to the armed conflict from February 1 to July 31. Of these, 3,036 cases were committed by Houthi militias and 661 cases were committed by the ROYG and Coalition forces.
An Associated Press (AP) investigation in June alleged that 18 United Arab Emirates (UAE)-administered clandestine detention centers operated by Yemeni guards in eastern Yemen held hundreds of prisoners suspected of terrorism without charge or trial. The ROYG stated it had no control over the alleged UAE-run prisons. Several dozen detainees were reportedly released in the days following publication of the AP report.
The Baha’i International Community reported armed soldiers linked to the Houthis in Sana’a seized Abdullah Al-Olofi, the spokesperson for the Yemeni Baha’i community, on October 11 and took him to an unknown location. He was released several days later.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits torture and other such abuses. Although the law lacks a comprehensive definition of torture, there are provisions allowing prison terms of up to 10 years for acts of torture.
According to multiple NGO and press reports, Yemeni guards working at detention centers allegedly administered by forces aligned with the UAE (see section 1.b.) used sexual torture and humiliation to “break” inmates. In a letter to Human Rights Watch (HRW) in April, the ROYG acknowledged that some security forces were not fully under their control, and confirmed they had issued an order to close one facility and terminate the employment of its director. President Hadi ordered an investigation into the reports of torture. The UAE denied any involvement in torture of prisoners.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) reported that Security Belt Forces (SBF), part of the ROYG yet reportedly funded and directed by the UAE, committed rape and other forms of serious sexual violence targeting foreign migrants, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and other vulnerable groups. The SBF have since 2017 controlled the Al Basateen area of the Dar Saad district of Aden, which hosts a population of at least 40,000 refugees and IDPs. Residents reported that SBF regularly abducted and raped, or threatened to rape, women to extort money from their families and communities. The authorities did not conduct investigations or make arrests in relation to these violations, which were still being reported in May.
During the year UNOHCHR continued to receive information concerning ill-treatment and torture of detainees at the Political Security Organization (PSO) and the National Security Bureau (NSB), as well as the Criminal Investigation Department and in the Habrah and al-Thawra prisons in Sana’a, as well as other facilities under Houthi control.
Torture and other forms of mistreatment were common in Houthi detention facilities and by Houthis, according to NCIAVHR, international NGOs, and media reporting. An HRW report released in September documented 16 cases in which Houthis treated detainees brutally after arbitrarily arresting them, often in ways that amounted to torture, including whippings and hanging on walls with arms shackled behind the back. A December 7 AP report documented numerous cases of torture, including hanging prisoners by their genitals and burning them with acid. In some cases, Houthi minders would torture detainees to obtain information or confessions. An advocacy group associated with families of detainees alleged that 126 individuals died from torture in Houthi detention since 2014.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening and did not meet international standards. The ROYG exercised limited control over prison facilities. In past years, government officials and NGOs identified overcrowding, lack of professional training for corrections officials, poor sanitation, inadequate access to justice, intermingling of pretrial and convicted inmates, lack of effective case management, lack of funding, and deteriorating infrastructure as problems within the 18 central prisons and 25 reserve prisons (also known as pretrial detention centers). Without special accommodations, authorities held prisoners with physical or mental disabilities with the general population. The UNOHCHR reported during the year that conditions of detention facilities deteriorated, including overcrowding, damaged buildings, and shortages of food and medicine.
Media and international NGO reporting during the year found squalid conditions in Houthi detention facilities, including food infested with cockroaches, widespread torture, and absence of any medical care. According to the UNOHCHR, Houthi-affiliated tribal militias, known locally as popular committees, operated at least eight detention facilities in Sana’a, including Habra in the al-Shu’aub District, Hataresh in the Bani Hashaysh District, and al-Thawra and the House of Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar in Haddah.
Tribes in rural areas operated unauthorized “private” detention centers based on traditional tribal justice. Tribal leaders sometimes placed “problem” tribesmen in private jails, sometimes simply rooms in a sheikh’s house, to punish them for noncriminal actions. Tribal authorities often detained persons for personal or tribal reasons without trial or judicial sentencing.
Physical Conditions: The continuing armed conflict negatively affected the condition of prisons. Observers described most prisons, particularly in rural areas, as overcrowded with poor sanitary conditions, inadequate food and access to potable water, and inadequate medical care. Limited information was available on prison populations during the year.
Prior to the outbreak of the conflict, local NGOs reported that prison authorities held juveniles with adults in some rural and women’s prisons as well as in some prisons in the capital. By custom, young children and infants born in prison remained in custody with their mothers until age nine. Prison authorities performed pregnancy tests on all female prisoners upon entry into a facility.
Political prisoners reportedly faced torture, abuse, and other forms of mistreatment, while all prisoners experienced harsh physical conditions.
In a report released by HRW in September, individuals formerly detained by the Houthis claimed prison guards beat them and described poor hygiene, limited access to toilets, and lack of food and health care. They said many formal and all informal detention facilities refused access to family members. There was no defined process for detainees to challenge their detention or report mistreatment. In many instances, Houthi guards moved detainees between facilities without notifying family members.
No credible statistics were available on the number of inmate deaths during the year (see section 1.a.).
Administration: Limited information was available on prison administration since the Houthi takeover in 2014. Poor recordkeeping and a lack of communication between prisons and the government made it difficult for authorities to estimate accurately the size of the prison population.
There was no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees. Under past practice, prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities; according to NGO reports, authorities largely ignored such complaints. Authorities generally allowed visitors to see prisoners and detainees when family members knew a detainee’s location but granted limited access to family members of those accused of security offenses. They generally allowed prisoners and detainees to engage in religious observances.
Independent Monitoring: The continuing conflict prevented substantial prison monitoring by independent human rights observers. International monitors were granted limited access to some facilities allegedly administered by UAE-aligned forces.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but both continued to occur. The law prohibits arrests or serving subpoenas between sundown and dawn, but local NGOs reported that authorities took some persons suspected of crimes from their homes at night without warrants. Ministry of Interior security forces remained largely under the control of Houthis at year’s end.
Amnesty International (AI) reported that professor and political figure Mustafa al-Mutawakel was arbitrarily arrested by ROYG forces in Marib in April 2017. At year’s end, he remained in detention without charge.
In August the Houthis detained and continued to hold Kamal Al-Shawish, a co-founder of NGO Mwatana. Mwatana has been an outspoken critic of human rights conditions in the country.
AI reported that Houthis continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain scores of critics and opponents in areas under their control. Detained individuals included journalists, private individuals, human rights defenders and members of the Baha’i community.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The primary state security and intelligence-gathering entities, the PSO and the NSB, came under Houthi control in 2014, although their structure and operations appeared to remain the same. The Yemeni government, however, maintained its own appointments to the PSO and NSB in the parts of the country under government control. By law the PSO and NSB report first to the interior minister and then to the president. The relationship and coordination efforts between the PSO and NSB were unclear. The law charges the PSO with identifying and combating political crimes and acts of sabotage. There was no clear definition of many of the NSB’s duties.
The Criminal Investigation Division reports to the Ministry of Interior and conducted most criminal investigations and arrests. The ministry’s paramilitary Special Security Forces, often responsible for crowd control, was under the direct authority of the interior minister, as was the counterterrorism unit. The Ministry of Defense also employed units under its formal supervision to quell domestic unrest and to participate in internal armed conflicts.
Impunity for security officials remained a problem, in part because the Yemeni government exercised limited authority and in part due to the lack of effective mechanisms to investigate and prosecute abuse and corruption. The SSF, the Yemen Special Operations Forces, the Presidential Guard (formerly the Republican Guard), the NSB, and other security organizations ostensibly reported to civilian authorities in the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and Office of the President. Civilian control of these agencies continued to deteriorate, however, as regional efforts to promote national reconciliation stalled. Exacerbating the problem of impunity, interest groups–including former president Saleh’s family and other tribal and party entities–expanded their influence over security agencies, often through unofficial channels rather than through the formal command structure.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Since its relocation in 2015 the ROYG lost control over much of the court and prison systems, and both deteriorated. The law provides that authorities cannot arrest individuals unless they are apprehended while committing a criminal act or being served with a summons. In addition, authorities must arraign a detainee within 24 hours or release him. The judge or prosecuting attorney, who decides whether detention is required, must inform the accused of the basis for the arrest. The law stipulates authorities may not hold a detainee longer than seven days without a court order. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, provides detainees the right to inform their families of their arrest, and allows detainees to decline to answer questions without an attorney present. The law states the government must provide attorneys for indigent detainees. United Nations, NGO, and media reporting concluded that these stipulations were frequently ignored by all parties to the conflict during the year. The law contains provisions for bail, and Houthi authorities in particular were accused of allowing bail only if they received a bribe. Tribal mediators commonly settled rural cases without reference to the formal court system.
Detainees often did not know which investigating agency arrested them, and the agencies frequently complicated matters by unofficially transferring custody of individuals between entities. Prior to the Houthi takeover, security forces routinely detained relatives of fugitives as hostages until the fugitive was located. Authorities stated they detained relatives only when the relatives obstructed justice, but human rights organizations rejected this claim.
Arbitrary Arrest: Prior to the outbreak of conflict, authorities did not record many detainees’ names, did not transfer some detainees to official detention centers, and arrested and released many detainees multiple times during the year. In September the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen reported their investigations confirmed widespread arbitrary detention throughout the country, with most detainees receiving no information of the reasons for their arrests or the charges against them, denial of access to lawyers or a judge and held incommunicado for prolonged or indefinite periods. The UN Group of Eminent Experts further reported that parties to the conflict were using undeclared detention facilities in an apparent attempt to put detainees outside the reach of the law.
Between October 2016 and April, Coalition forces arrested 148 fishermen, who were reportedly taken to detention facilities in Saudi Arabia and were held incommunicado. Most were released, but 18 fishermen, all held for more than one year, remained missing.
In many areas, Houthi forces and their allies arbitrarily detained persons and kept them in temporary prisons, including at military sites. Other non-state actors also arbitrarily detained persons. NGOs reported that Houthi forces denied detainees family visits or legal representation. In an HRW report released in September (see section 1.c.), former detainees recounted instances where Houthis held individuals unlawfully to extort money from relatives or to exchange them for those held by opposing forces. The report documented dozens of such cases since 2014.
The UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen concluded the Houthis had “committed acts that may amount to war crimes, including cruel treatment and torture [and] outrages upon personal dignity.” The experts documented the Houthis detaining students, human rights defenders, journalists, perceived political opponents and members of the Baha’i community.
Pretrial Detention: Limited information was available on pretrial detention practices during the year, but prolonged detentions without charge or, if charged, without a public preliminary judicial hearing within a reasonable time were believed to be common practices despite their prohibition by law. Staff shortages, judicial inefficiency, and corruption caused trial delays.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Information was limited on whether persons arrested or detained were entitled to challenge the legal basis of their detention in court. The law provides that authorities must arraign a detainee within 24 hours or release him. It also provides that the judge or prosecuting attorney must inform the accused of the basis for the arrest. The ROYG, however, lacked the capacity to enforce the law.
UNOHCHR reported that in Aden and Mukalla, areas controlled by the Hadi-government, detainees carried out hunger strikes protesting the absence of due process. HRW noted that in several cases in which individuals disappeared into detention centers allegedly run by UAE-supervised forces in the South, the Aden prosecutor’s office issued release orders that were not respected.
Mwatana claimed that those detained by the Houthis were often not informed of the charges against them. In some cases, detainees who were issued release orders from the Houthi-controlled courts had yet to be released.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The UNOHCHR reported the criminal justice system had become largely defunct in the areas where progovernment forces reclaimed control, with Coalition-backed forces filling the void. In most cases, as documented by the UNOHCHR, detainees were not informed of the reasons for their arrest, were not charged, were denied access to lawyers or a judge, and were held incommunicado for prolonged or indefinite periods.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but under Houthi control, the judiciary was weak and hampered by corruption, political interference, and lack of proper legal training. Judges’ social and political affiliations and occasional bribery influenced verdicts. The government’s lack of capacity and reluctance at times to enforce court orders, especially outside of cities, undermined the credibility of the judiciary. Criminals threatened and harassed members of the judiciary to influence cases.
Houthi authorities sentenced Hamed Kamal bin Haydara, a Baha’i, to public execution on January 2 after detaining him since 2013 without trial. The NSB claimed he was guilty of apostasy, proselytizing, and spying for Israel. Bin Haydara reported authorities tortured him during the first 45 days of his detention. After their takeover, Houthis kept him imprisoned and continued court proceedings against him. Bin Haydara remained in prison awaiting execution.
The Baha’i International Community and AI reported that more than 20 Baha’is, including national-level leaders, were indicted in a September 15 Sana’a court hearing without being notified of the trial. The Houthi-controlled court accused them of apostasy and espionage. Only the judge, prosecutor, and other court officials were present at the beginning of the hearing. In a subsequent hearing on September 29, the judge asked the prosecutor to publish the names of the accused in a newspaper and ordered their properties frozen until the court reached a verdict.
The law considers defendants innocent until proven guilty. Trials were generally public, but all courts may conduct closed sessions “for reasons of public security or morals.” Judges, who play an active role in questioning witnesses and the accused, adjudicate criminal cases. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants can confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. The law provides for the government to furnish attorneys for indigent defendants in serious criminal cases; in the past, the government did not always provide counsel in such cases. The law allows defense attorneys to counsel their clients, address the court, and examine witnesses and any relevant evidence. Defendants have the right to appeal and could not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. There was limited information available regarding respect for due process.
A court of limited jurisdiction considers security cases. A specialized criminal court, the State Security Court, operated under different procedures in closed sessions and did not provide defendants the same rights provided in the regular courts. Defense lawyers reportedly did not have full access to their clients’ charges or court files. The lack of birth registration compounded difficulties in proving age, which reportedly led courts to sentence juveniles as adults, including for crimes eligible for death sentences (see section 6, Children).
In addition to established courts, there is a tribal justice system for noncriminal issues. Tribal judges, usually respected sheikhs, often also adjudicated criminal cases under tribal law, which usually involved public accusation without the formal filing of charges. Tribal mediation often emphasized social cohesion more than punishment. The public often respected the outcomes of tribal processes more than the formal court system, which was viewed by many as corrupt and lacking independence.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were numerous reports of political prisoners and detainees.
An AI report stated the UAE and Yemeni militias aligned with it detained 51 men between 2016 and May in five provinces in the southern portion of the country. Of the 51, 19 were missing at year’s end. Many of those taken into custody were arrested on unfounded terrorism-related charges, activists say. AI added that many of the arrests were based on “unfounded suspicions” of being members of al-Qaida or the Islamic State. Rather, AI reported, those detained included critics of the coalition and its allies, including activists and journalists and members of Islah, a political party that is the country’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Following their takeover of state institutions, Houthis detained activists, journalists, demonstration leaders, and other political figures representing various political groups and organizations opposed to the Houthis. They did not charge detainees publicly, and severely restricted or barred information to and access by local or international human rights organizations. NGOs claimed that, absent public charges, it was often difficult to determine whether authorities held detainees for criminal or political activity.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The law provides a limited ability to pursue civil remedies for human rights violations as tort claims against private persons. There were no reports of such efforts during the year. Citizens cannot sue the government directly but may petition the public prosecutor to initiate an investigation.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits these actions, but authorities continued such interference. According to human rights NGOs, Houthi security actors searched homes and private offices, monitored telephone calls, read personal mail and email, and otherwise intruded into personal matters without legally issued warrants or judicial supervision.
The law required that the attorney general personally authorize telephone call monitoring and reading of personal mail and email, but there was no indication the law was followed in practice.
Citizens may not marry a foreigner without permission from the Ministry of Interior, the NSB, and, in some instances, the PSO, under a regulation authorities enforced arbitrarily. The ministry typically approved marriages to foreigners if they provided a letter from their embassy stating that the government of the non-Yemeni spouse had no objection to the marriage and presented a marriage contract signed by a judge. Bribes frequently facilitated approval. There was no available information on current practice.