Press briefing on human rights situation in Yemen 2020
Sana’a – From January 1 to December 31, 2020, Mwatana for Human Rights documented about 1020 incidents of harm to civilians and civilian objects in Yemen in which more than 900 civilians were killed and injured, Mwatana said today in its annual briefing on the human rights situation in Yemen. The incidents documented across the country were committed by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group, the Saudi/UAE-led coalition, the forces of the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and armed groups loyal to it, the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council and the UAE-backed Joint Forces on the Western Coast, and Saudi ground forces.
The warring parties continued their wider assault on human rights in Yemen, with civilians killed, wounded, arbitrarily detained, disappeared and tortured. The warring parties also obstructed humanitarian aid, recruited and used children, occupied schools and hospitals, and attacked healthcare and humanitarian workers.
Radhya Almutawakel, the chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights, said: “Violations and attacks have continued for the past six years, each time causing new and more profound damage and reinforcing the urgent need to immediately move ahead towards accountability and redress. Yemeni men and women desperately need states to stand with justice, and activate real pathways towards accountability for perpetrators and redress for victims.”
In 2020, the ongoing conflict in Yemen caused the deaths of hundreds of civilians and the displacement of tens of thousands. Vital civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and service facilities, were damaged and destroyed, all while a pandemic raged in a country witnessing what the UN describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. There was an escalation in fighting in certain areas, particularly in Al Jawf, Ma’rib, Al-Bayda, Abyan and Taiz governorates, with violence taking a clear toll on civilian populations. The exchange of detainees which took place in mid-October 2020 between the parties to the conflict, facilitated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Office of the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, constituted an important step in one of the most difficult human rights portfolios: arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance. Millions in Yemen are still hoping to see a credible peace that would put an end to the armed conflict raging in the country since late 2014.
The year ended with a horrific attack on Aden International Airport on December 30, 2020, coinciding with the arrival of the new Yemeni government to the city. Dozens of civilians were killed or injured in the attack, including ICRC staff members and journalists. Mwatana is investigating the incident.
Mwatana conducts in-depth investigations in the field, including direct inspections of attack and incident sites and interviews. During 2020, research for the documented incidents included at least 1991 interviews in Arabic with witnesses, relatives of victims, survivors, and doctors, in addition to the examination of documents, photos, videos, and other material evidence.
Air strikes continued to kill and wound civilians and damage and destroy civilian objects. During 2020, Mwatana documented at least 26 Saudi/UAE-led coalition air strikes which killed at least 99 civilians, including 41 children and 15 women, and wounded at least 81 civilians, including 42 children and 19 women.
Shelling on populated areas has resulted in significant damage to civilian objects and severe civilian casualties. in 2020, Mwatana documented nearly 111 cases of ground shelling that killed 115 civilians, including 32 women and 39 children, and wounded at least 299 civilians, including 52 women and 120 children. The Ansar Allah (Houthi) group was responsible for 54 of the documented incidents, while Yemeni government forces, Saudi ground forces and armed groups loyal to the Saudi/UAE-led coalition were responsible for 33. Mwatana was unable to determine the warring party responsibile for 24 incidents.
In 2020, Mwatana documented approximately 38 mine explosions that killed 27 civilians, including 14 children and 3 women, and wounded 41 civilians, including 25 children and 5 women. The Ansar Allah (Houthi) group was responsible for planting all of the mines in the documented incidents.
Recruitment and Use of Children
In 2020, Mwatana verified the recruitment and use of at least 170 children, including at least 33 girls. Ansar Allah (the Houthis) recruited 80 percent of these children, while government and pro-government forces recruited nearly 8 percent, the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council forces 10 percent, and the UAE-backed Joint Forces on the Western Coast 2 percent.
Humanitarian Aid Obstruction
In 2020, Mwatana documented at least 80 incidents of warring parties impeding the flow of humanitarian relief supplies and essential items to civilians. The Ansar Allah (Houthi) group was responsibile for 74 of the documented incidents, government forces for 5 incidents and the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council forces for one incident. The humanitarian crisis has also been exacerbated by the restrictive conditions imposed by the Coalition on the entry of fuel into areas controlled by Ansar Allah (the Houthis), as fuel is crucial for sectors that are vital to civilians, including the health and service sectors. The Saudi/UAE-led coalition also continues to close Sana’a airport to commercial flights.
Attacks on Schools
The warring parties caused significant damage to schools and education facilities. In 2020, Mwatana documented at least 79 incidents impacting schools, including attacks on schools and the occupation and use of schools for military purposes. The Ansar Allah (Houthi) group was responsible for 62 of the documented incidents, government forces for eight, the Saudi/UAE-led coalition one and the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council forces one. Ansar Allah (the Houthis) shared responsibility with the Coalition in two cases including both an airstrike and military occupation of the school. Government and pro-government forces shared responsibility with Ansar Allah (the Houthis) in four incidents of ground fighting. The UAE-backed Joint Forces and Ansar Allah (the Houthis) shared responsibility in another incident of ground fighting.
Attacks on Health
In 2020, Mwatana documented 42 incidents affecting health, including 13 cases of denial of access of medical supplies, 6 cases of ground shelling impacting health facilities, 12 cases of armed assault and occupation of health facilities, and 11 cases of arbitrary detention of health workers. the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group for 22, Government and pro-government forces were responsible for 15 of the documented incidents, the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council for four, and the UAE-backed Joint Forces on the Western Coast for one.
In 2020, Mwatana documented 38 incidents of torture. The UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council forces were responsible for 24 of the documented incidents, including one involving a civilian’s death in detention. The Ansar Allah (Houthi) group was responsible for six of the documented incidents of torture, four of which involved deaths in detention. Government and pro-government forces were responsible for six other incidents, and the UAE-backed Joint Forces one incident. In one incident, Eritrean forces tortured seven Yemeni fishermen while they were detained in Eritrea.
In 2020, Mwatana documented 12 cases of sexual violence, including 11 cases of rape and one attempted rape. Eight girls, four boys and an adult woman were among those subjected to sexual violence. The Ansar Allah (Houthi) group was responsible for seven of the documented incidents, government forces for three, and the UAE-backed Joint Forces on the Western Coast for one.
In 2020, Mwatana documented 85 cases of enforced disappearance. The Ansar Allah (Houthi) group was responsible for 53 of these incidents, the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council for 18, and government and pro-government forces for 14.
In 2020, Mwatana documented 181 incidents of arbitrary detention of 265 people, including 21 children and 22 women. The Ansar Allah (Houthi) group was responsible for 85 incidents, government and pro-government forces for 59, the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council forces for 34, and the UAE-backed Joint Forces on the West Coast for three.
Other Civilian Harm
The warring parties also killed and wounded civilians in other ways. In 2020, for example, Mwatana documented 14 incidents where warring parties hit civilians with their military vehicles, killing 22 civilians, including six children, and wounding 16 others, including a child. Government forces were responsibile for four of these incidents, Ansar Allah (Houthi) forces for six, the UAE-backed Joint Forces on the West Coast for one, and the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council forces for eight. In addition, in 2020, Mwatana documented 48 civilians killed by live ammunition, including 5 children and 7 women, and 138 civilians, wounded by live ammunition, including 66 children and 22 women. Mwatana was unable to determine the responsibility of the perpetrators in these incidents.
Violence Against the Press
The warring parties continued to arbitrarily arrest, disappear and mistreat journalists. In 2020, Mwatana documented 13 incidents of abuse of 18 journalists, media workers and press workers. Government and pro-government forces were responsible for eight incidents, the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council forces for four, and the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group for one. In addition, the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group has continued to arbitrarily detain four journalists for nearly five years. In April 2020, the Specialized Criminal Court in Sana’a sentenced them to death in an unfair trial that involved six other journalists, who have subsequently been released— one in April 2020 and the other five in the mid-October 2020 detainee exchange.
Restrictions on Freedom of Movement
In 2020, Mwatana documented 19 incidents in different parts of Yemen where civilians’ movement was restricted. The Ansar Allah (Houthi) group was responsible for 16 incidents, and the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council forces for three.
Assaults on Peaceful Gatherings
In 2020, Mwatana documented three assaults on peaceful assemblies. In one of these cases, on August 24, in Seiyun, Hadhramaut governorate, government forces arrested three children and a 45-year-old man, forcibly dispersed a demonstration and fired their weapons in the air.
Harassment of Religious Minorities
On March 23, 2020, the Specialized Criminal Court’s Court of Appeal in Sanaa upheld the death sentence issued against Hamid Haydara, a leader of the Baha’i community, after a lengthy and unfair trial that lasted nearly five years. Mahdi Al-Mashat, head of the Ansar Allah Supreme Political Council, announced on March 25 that Haydara would be pardoned and all Baha’i prisoners released. Haydara and another five Baha’i men remained detained for several years, then they were transferred by plane from Sanaa outside Yemen. The International Baha’i Community announced the transfers in a press release on July 30. Then, the Specialized Criminal Court held a trial session on August 22, 2020, declaring the six Baha’is released as “fugitives from justice.”
Attacks on Personal Freedoms
In 2020, the parties to the conflict attacked personal freedoms, imposing arbitrary restrictions and blatantly interfering with individual’s private lives. The Ansar Allah (Houthi) group in Sana’a issued orders forcing some university administrations to separate male and female students in classrooms, issued a circular banning female students from wearing “narrow and short” clothes, and demanded the owners of wedding and event halls prohibit mixed graduation parties. Meanwhile, the Ethics Police in the coastal city of Mukalla, in Yemen’s southeast, arrested and detained young men and women in markets and public parks due to their clothes, haircuts and hairstyles, allegedly due to their “manifestations that violate public morals.”
In its annual press briefing, Mwatana for Human Rights said that the complete absence of accountability facilitated the warring parties’ continued commitment of grave violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Mwatana reiterated its calls on states to support and strengthen efforts to investigate human rights violations in Yemen and to support comprehensive accountability and redress processes.
Osamah Alfakih, the director of media, communications and advocacy at Mwatana, said: “The behavior of the warring parties in Yemen in 2020 is another clear indicator of the need for the international community to stand up against the ongoing, gross violations of international law. If the international community is serious about achieving sustainable peace in Yemen, it must first send a strong message that the warring parties cannot continue their reckless, destructive approach.”
Background on the armed conflict in Yemen
The armed conflict in Yemen began in September 2014, when the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh took control of the capital, Sana’a, by force. The conflict escalated in March 2015 when the Saudi/UAE-led coalition started its military operations against Ansar Allah and Saleh forces in support of the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The figures in this statement are preliminary. Mwatana is continuing to tally incidents documented by the organization in 2020. The figures presented here provide an initial overview of the primary patterns of civilian harm in 2020. Mwatana is planning to issue its detailed annual report on the human rights situation in Yemen later in 2021, which will include all of the organization’s documentation for 2020.