Yemen

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press “within the limits of the law,” the Press and Publications Law calls for journalists to uphold national unity and prohibits criticism of the head of state. The Houthis did not respect the rights as provided in the constitution, and the government was unable to enforce them.

Freedom of Expression: All parties to the conflict severely restricted the right to freedom of expression, and female human rights defenders, journalists, and activists faced specific repression on the basis of gender. Local human rights defenders faced harassment, threats, and smear campaigns from the government, Saudi-led coalition, and Houthi forces. In multiple instances Houthis went to the homes of activists, journalists, and political leaders opposed to the Houthis and used the threat of arrest and other means to intimidate perceived opponents and to silence dissent.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Prior to the outbreak of conflict, the transitional government approved legislation to regulate broadcasting and television channels. A number of domestic private stations operated under media production company permits, and several stations broadcast from abroad for domestic audiences.

Violence and Harassment: The government was unable to take any substantive steps to protect journalists from violence and harassment. Progovernment popular resistance forces, Houthis, and tribal militias were responsible for a range of abuses against media outlets.

In May, Amnesty International reported the Houthis had detained 10 journalists since 2015 on false charges, and subjected the journalists to torture and other forms of abuse.

In August the CPJ documented that military authorities detained three journalists, Munir Talal, Mahfouz al-Baaithi, and Yahya al-Baaithi, at a hotel in the city of Taiz, accusing them of belonging to a militia. Authorities released them after making them pledge not to write or publish anything on their detention.

Progovernment forces, including Security Belt and Hadrami forces, harassed media and monitors by raiding civil society organizations, and detaining journalists and demonstrators for publicizing complaints about detention practices and military operations. The CPJ reported in 2018 an armed raid in March of that year on the offices of al-Shomou Foundation, believed to be pro-ROYG. The men set fire to the presses used to print the weekly al-Shomou and daily Akhbar al-Youm newspapers. The president of al-Shomou Foundation told the CPJ the attackers arrived in vehicles and wore uniforms consistent with the Security Belt forces that operate in and around Aden. Three weeks later, Security Belt forces abducted seven Akhbar al-Youm staff from the same location and released them after one month.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Houthis controlled several state ministries responsible for press and communications, including the Ministry of Telecommunications. In that capacity they selected items for formerly government-run broadcast and print media and did not allow reports critical of themselves. The Ministry of Telecommunications and internet service providers reportedly blocked websites and domains authorities deemed critical of the Houthi agenda. OHCHR reported Houthi forces censored television channels and banned newspapers from publication.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law criminalizes criticism of the “person of the head of state;” the publication of “false information” that may spread “dissent and division among the people;” materials that may lead to “the spread of ideas contrary to the principles of the Yemeni revolution;” and “false stories intended to damage Arab and friendly countries or their relations.” There was no information during the year whether the ROYG or the Houthis used these laws to restrict public discussion or retaliate against journalists or political opponents.

Nongovernmental Impact: International media and human rights organizations said their personnel were unable to obtain coalition permission to use UN flights into and out of Sana’a since 2017. Independent observers must take commercial flights to government-controlled areas in the south and then travel by land across dangerous front lines to other areas. See section 1.g. for reports of abductions of journalists by unidentified armed men.

Censorship affected internet freedom, and there were notable cases of Houthi intrusion into cyberspace. The Houthi-controlled Public Telecommunications Corporation systematically blocked user access to websites and internet domains it deemed dangerous to the rebel actors’ political agenda.

The NSB maintained permanent offices on campuses, reflecting continued government concern about security and, in some cases, controversial speech. Party-affiliated officials at the Ministry of Higher Education and academic institutions reviewed prospective university professors and administrators for political acceptability before hiring them and commonly showed favoritism toward supporters of specific political parties. There were no reported instances of censored curriculums or sanctioned professors or students; however, after their takeover, Houthi and other actors’ incursions onto campuses and detentions of academics appeared designed to intimidate them as perceived opponents.

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but these rights were not respected in the majority of the country, i.e., areas which the government did not control.

The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly. The Houthis and their affiliates responded to demonstrations and protests in various parts of the country with excessive force.

While the law provides for freedom of association, there were reports Houthis harassed and shut down NGOs. Houthi authorities closed numerous NGOs during the year without proper due process, citing treason or conspiring with foreign powers. Houthi authorities created a new body known as the “Executive Office for Monitoring Operations of International Organizations” that oversees the work of NGOs, reportedly polices NGO activity, and has arbitrary detained activists and shut down NGOs in Houthi-controlled areas.

The law regulates associations and foundations and outlines the establishment and activities of NGOs. Authorities required annual registration. The law exempts registered NGOs from taxes and tariffs and requires the government to provide a reason for denying an NGO registration, such as deeming an NGO’s activities “detrimental” to the state. It forbids NGO involvement in political or religious activities. It permits foreign funding of NGOs. The law requires government observation of NGO internal elections. There were no known attempts by NGOs to register during the year.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation.

In-country Movement: Rebel forces, resistance forces, security forces, and tribes maintained checkpoints on major roads. In many regions, especially in areas outside effective central security control, armed tribesmen frequently restricted freedom of movement, operating their own checkpoints, sometimes with military or other security officials, and often subjected travelers to physical harassment, extortion, theft, or short-term kidnappings for ransom. Damage to roads, bridges, and other infrastructure from the conflict also hindered the delivery of humanitarian aid and commercial shipments (see section 1.g.).

Women in general did not enjoy full freedom of movement, although restrictions varied by location (see section 6, Women). Some observers reported increased restrictions on women in conservative locations, such as Safadi. Oxfam reported that in areas controlled by radical Islamic groups such as AQAP, men at checkpoints increasingly insisted on adherence to the “mahram” system, the cultural obligation of women to be accompanied by male relatives in public.

Local observers reported Yemenis from Houthi-controlled areas faced increasing discrimination and difficulties when traveling in the southern portion of the country.

Foreign Travel: The Houthi takeover of Sana’a in 2014 and the government relocation to Aden in 2015 left no official government authority in control of Sana’a airport customs or immigration functions. In 2016 the coalition closed Sana’a International Airport to commercial traffic, permitting only UN humanitarian flights, thereby preventing thousands of local citizens from traveling abroad. Those who needed to leave the country attempt alternative routes that require long journeys across active front lines at high risk and cost.

In the past women needed the permission of a male guardian, such as a husband, before applying for a passport or leaving the country. A husband or male relative could bar a woman from leaving the country by placing a woman’s name on a “no-fly list” maintained at airports. Prior to the conflict, authorities strictly enforced this requirement when women traveled with children, but there were no reports of government authorities enforcing this requirement during the year. There were attempts, however, by the Houthis to impose similar restrictions on women’s international travel. Given the deterioration of infrastructure and lack of security due to the conflict, many women reportedly declined to travel alone (see section 6, Women).

Prior to 2014 the transitional government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees (see section 2.f.), returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

The Houthi takeover, coalition airstrikes, and active fighting made it difficult for humanitarian organizations to reach many areas of the country due to security concerns (see section 1.g. Other Conflict-related Abuse).

According to UNHCR’s November 8 operational update, there were approximately 3.6 million IDPs, of whom 80 percent were displaced for more than one year, and more than 63,080 were displaced since the beginning of the year. There were approximately 1.28 million IDP returnees. The government’s IDP registration system has been inactive since the escalation of the conflict in 2015.

Humanitarian organizations’ access to IDPs and other vulnerable populations was generally limited and unpredictable due to the continuing conflict; however, many humanitarian organizations maintained a presence in multiple locations throughout the country. According to the United Nations, humanitarian organizations, local NGOs, and charities that still functioned in the capital supported IDPs and other conflict-affected Yemenis in Sana’a and other parts of the country with food, shelter, and nonfood items, among other support. IDPs from Saada reported limited access to cash for purchasing basic household items.

The IOM reported IDPs largely sought refuge with relatives or friends or rented accommodations where many faced frequent threats of eviction due to late payments of rent. Others were housed in unconventional shelters in public or private buildings, such as schools, health facilities, or religious buildings, primarily in Taiz and Lahj. NGOs reported shelter continues to be a primary concern for IDPs. The shifting nature of the conflict displaced many IDPs multiple times as front lines of the conflict change, requiring individuals to seek new shelter with every subsequent displacement. In the first six months of the year, UNHCR and its partners distributed a total of 39,754 basic household items and nonfood-item kits, 10,156 emergency shelter kits, and 513 transitional shelter kits.

OHCHR reported SBF committed rape and other forms of serious sexual violence targeting IDPs (see section 1.c.). The OHCHR condemned retaliatory attacks against and deportations of northerners by the STC in Aden and other southern governorates following the takeover by UAE-funded Security Belt Forces in August.

UNHCR’s Head of Sub Office Aden acknowledged the efforts and hospitality of the government and its people, who have continued to host some 275,000 refugees and asylum-seekers despite the conflict. UNHCR reported more than 97,000 new arrivals of migrants and refugees to the country in the first eight months of the year, marking a 48 percent increase over the previous year, with expectations up to 160,000 could arrive by the end of the year. The IOM estimated 20,000 migrants, a majority of whom were fleeing conflict in the Horn of Africa, traveled by boat to Yemen each month.

The country received refugees from a variety of countries during the conflict. Many refugees became increasingly vulnerable due to the worsening security and economic situation in the country. Somali, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and other refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants shared in the general poverty and insecurity of the country.

According to UNHCR’s November Operational Update, there were approximately 276,800 refugees and asylum seekers in the country, mostly from Somalia and Ethiopia. Many were attempting to reach or return to Saudi Arabia for work and had entered the country based on false information from smugglers that the conflict in the country was over, according to UNHCR and the IOM. Due to the fighting, many took refuge at the Kharaz camp and towns in the south. The ROYG could not provide physical protection to refugees; many were held in detention centers operated by Houthis in the north and the government in the south. UNHCR claimed there were reports of refugees and migrants facing physical and sexual abuse as well as torture and forced labor, in both Houthi and ROYG-controlled facilities, and that many refugees and migrants were susceptible to trafficking.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: OHCHR reported SBF committed rape and other forms of serious sexual violence targeting foreign migrants and other vulnerable groups (see sections 1.c. and 1.g.).

Multiple NGOs and the media continued to report that criminal smuggling groups built a large number of “camps” near the Yemen-Saudi border city of Haradh and in other parts of the country, where militants held migrants for extortion and ransom.

In August, HRW reported migrants from the Horn of Africa were met and captured by traffickers upon arrival of the former in the country. The report stated five migrants who were interviewed said the traffickers physically assaulted them to extort payments from family members or contacts in Ethiopia or Somalia. While camps where migrants were held were run by Yemenis, Ethiopians often reportedly carried out the abuse. In many cases, relatives said they sold assets such as homes or land to obtain the ransom money. After paying the traffickers or escaping, many migrants claimed to have made their way north to the Saudi-Yemen border, crossing in rural, mountainous areas. The Associated Press reported in October hundreds of migrants were held in deplorable conditions and experienced rape, torture, and other abuse at the hands of smugglers.

Refoulement: Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Somali detainees in the Bureiqa migrant detention center near Aden alleged they were not allowed to claim refugee status and that hundreds of fellow detainees were sent back out to sea in overloaded boats. HRW reported in 2018 these deportations resulted in the deaths of dozens of asylum seekers. Information was not available for deportations during the year.

Access to Asylum: No law addresses the granting of refugee status or asylum, and there was no system for providing protection to asylum seekers. In past years, the government provided automatic refugee status to Somalis who entered the country. The Houthis attempted to take over the refugee status determinations process in areas under their control, leading many refugees to have lapsed documentation. UNHCR was generally able to access populations to provide assistance and was working with the Houthis to come to a resolution on registration of refugees. UNHCR continued to conduct refugee status determination in southern territory under government control, in coordination with the government.

In 2018 numerous first-hand accounts corroborated that asylum seekers who registered with UNHCR as refugees had their documentation confiscated upon arrival to Buraika, according to HRW.

Freedom of Movement: Freedom of movement remained difficult for all in the country, including refugees, given the damage to roads, bridges, and other basic infrastructure caused by the conflict. Most of the country’s airports incurred significant damage or were closed to commercial traffic, making travel difficult for all, including refugees. In areas controlled by Houthis unofficial checkpoints blocked or delayed the movement of individuals or goods.

The IOM reported both the ROYG and Houthis detained migrants due to concerns they could be recruited by the other party. UNHCR, the IOM, and other humanitarian organizations continued to face challenges accessing detention centers to monitor detained refugees and asylum seekers.

While the government generally deported migrants back to their country of origin, the Houthis frequently detained migrants for indefinite periods. In April, ROYG authorities began detaining large groups of migrants in Abyan, Aden, and Lahj governorates. At the peak of the campaign, approximately 5,000 migrants, including children and women, were held across three sites unfit to accommodate people, such as conflict-damaged sports stadiums. In coordination with partners, the IOM immediately began an emergency response for those detained, providing food, water supply, latrines, and health care. The IOM began assisting migrants detained in the 22nd of May Stadium to return to Ethiopia under its voluntary returns program, prioritizing women, children, and persons with specific vulnerabilities. Through 22 flights, the IOM returned home 2,742 stranded migrants. As of September the IOM had assisted with more than 3,784 refugee and migrant returns to the Horn of Africa.

During the year Houthi armed groups also continued arbitrarily to detain migrants in poor conditions and failed to provide access to asylum and protection procedures in a facility near the western port of Hudaydah. HRW reported overcrowding, lack of access to medical care, and physical abuse, with detainees showing signs of sores and festering wounds.

Access to Basic Services: Refugees lacked access to basic services due to the ongoing conflict. The United Nations estimated only approximately half of the country’s public-health facilities remained functional during the year. Many were closed due to damage caused by the conflict, some were destroyed, and all facilities faced shortages in supplies, including medications and fuel to run generators.

Not Applicable.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides for criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively. During the year there were reports of official corruption. A burdensome criminal judicial process creates a separate legal system for the political elite. According to the constitution, approval of one-fifth of the members of parliament is necessary to conduct a criminal investigation of a deputy minister or higher-ranking official. The law then requires a two-thirds majority in parliament and presidential permission to bring criminal investigation results to the general prosecutor for indictment. The government did not use the procedure before Houthis disbanded parliament in 2015 and have not used it since.

Corruption: Corruption was pervasive throughout the country, and observers reported petty corruption in nearly every government office. Job applicants were often expected to purchase their positions. Observers believed tax inspectors undervalued assessments and pocketed the difference. Many government officials and civil service employees received salaries for jobs they did not perform or multiple salaries for the same job. Corruption also regularly affected government procurement. Corruption and goods on the black market increased overall in parts of Houthi-controlled areas, particularly in institutions controlled from Sana’a.

Recent analyses by international and local observers, including Transparency International, agreed corruption was a serious problem in every branch and level of government, and especially in the security sector. International observers claimed government officials benefited from insider arrangements, embezzlement, and bribes. Political leaders and most government agencies took negligible action to combat corruption. In the view of informed local observers, the leading cause of the 2011 protests eventually resulting in the current internal conflict was the anger against decades-long pervasive corruption in the central government.

The Central Organization for Control and Audit (COCA) is the national auditing agency for public expenditures and the investigative body for corruption. COCA reportedly conducted an investigation into alleged malfeasance in the Central Bank of Yemen during the year, although there was no information available regarding the results of the investigation.

Some police stations reportedly maintained an internal affairs section to investigate security force abuses and corruption, and citizens have the right to file complaints with the Prosecutor’s Office. The Ministry of Interior had a fax line for citizens to file claims of abuse for investigation. No information was available on the number of complaints the ministry received or investigated or whether the mechanism still existed.

A government plan to collect biometric information on all government employees, including soldiers and other security force members, and to create a central registry designed to eliminate the alleged tens of thousands of fraudulent and duplicate names from the payroll, was suspended following the armed Houthi takeover in 2015. The government also suspended implementation of a payment system for soldiers and other security force members via bank or post office accounts. Prior to the outbreak of conflict, that system bypassed paymasters who had previously paid soldiers in cash.

Prior to the outbreak of conflict, the independent Supreme National Authority for Combating Corruption (SNACC) received complaints and developed programs to raise awareness of corruption. It included a council of government, civil society, and private-sector representatives. A lack of capacity, particularly in terms of financial analysis, hampered the SNACC. During the year according to the government, the SNACC continued to operate “at minimal levels.” No information was available, however, on the number of complaints received or referrals for prosecution.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires annual disclosure of financial assets by all ministers, deputy ministers, agency heads, members of parliament, and Shura Council members. Filers are to provide disclosures to the SNACC for verification. The information was not publicly available. The SNACC may also request disclosures from any other government employee and provides for penalties for false filing of information. The law does not require disclosure of assets of children or spouses. There was no information on whether officials complied with the law.

Section 7. Worker Rights

Government enforcement of labor law was weak to nonexistent due to the continuing conflict. Labor laws were still in effect, but Houthis controlled the ministries responsible for their implementation.

The labor code provides for the right of salaried private-sector employees to join unions and bargain collectively. These protections do not apply to public servants, day laborers, domestic servants, foreign workers, and other groups who together made up the majority of the work force. The civil service code covers public servants. The law generally prohibits antiunion discrimination, including prohibiting dismissal for union activities.

While unions may negotiate wage settlements for their members and may conduct strikes or other actions to achieve their demands, workers have the right to strike only if prior attempts at negotiation and arbitration fail. They must give advance notice to the employer and government and receive prior written approval from the executive office of the General Federation of Yemen Workers’ Trade Unions (GFYWTU). Strikes may not be carried out for “political purposes.” The proposal to strike must be put to at least 60 percent of all workers concerned, of whom 25 percent must vote in favor for a strike to be conducted.

The government did not enforce laws on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

While not formally affiliated with the government, the GFYWTU was the only official federation and worked with the government to resolve labor disputes. In practical terms, a union’s ability to strike depended on its political strength. Under the transitional government, authorities often accused unions and associations of being linked to a political party.

The penal code prescribes up to 10 years’ imprisonment for any person who “buys, sells, gives [a human being] as a present, or deals in human beings.” This statute’s narrow focus on transactions and movement means the law does not criminalize many forms of forced labor.

The ROYG did not effectively enforce the law due to the continuing conflict and lack of resources.

Although information was limited, in the past there were numerous reports of forced labor in both urban and rural areas. Some sources reported the practice of chattel slavery in which human beings were traded as property continued. No official statistics existed detailing this practice. Sources reported there could be several hundred other men, women, and children sold or inherited as slaves in the al-Hudaydah and al-Mahwit governorates. In some instances employers forced children into domestic servitude and agricultural work (see section 7.c.) and women into domestic servitude or prostitution.

Migrant workers and refugees were vulnerable to forced labor. For example, some Ethiopians, Eritreans, and Somalis were forced to work on khat farms (khat is a flowering plant that contains stimulants); some women and children among this population may also have been exploited in domestic servitude.

See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

The law prohibits child labor, but the government did not implement its regulations effectively. The Combating Child Labor Unit within the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor was responsible for implementing and enforcing child labor laws and regulations.

The country’s minimum employment age is 14 or not lower than the age of completion of compulsory education, which is generally 15.

Children younger than 18 with formal contracts may work no longer than six hours a day, with a one-hour break after four consecutive hours, on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Child labor was common, including its worst forms. According to a 2013 International Labor Organization study, the latest available such data, more than 1.3 million children participated in the workforce.

In rural areas family poverty and traditional practice led many children to work in subsistence farming. In urban areas children worked in stores and workshops, sold goods, and begged on the streets. Children also worked in some industries and construction. Continued weak economic conditions forced hundreds of children to seek work in the hazardous fishery, construction, and mining sectors. Children also reportedly worked in dangerous conditions in waste dumps. According to HRW, nearly one-third of all combatants in the country were younger than 18 years of age (see section 1.g., Child Soldiers).

See also the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The labor law does not address employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, political opinion, national origin, social origin, gender identity, HIV status, or other communicable diseases. Discrimination based on race, gender, and disability remained a serious problem in employment and occupation. The law reserves 5 percent of government jobs for persons with disabilities and mandates the acceptance of persons with disabilities in universities, exempts them from paying tuition, and requires schools be accessible to persons with disabilities. The extent to which any authority implemented these laws was unclear.

Racial and employment discrimination against the Muhamasheen were problems. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and limited access to the workplace (see section 6). Foreign workers may join unions but may not be elected to office. Women were almost absent from the formal labor market, with a labor force participation rate as low as 6 percent.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There was no established minimum wage in the private sector. The minimum civil service wage was more than the estimated poverty income level; however, civil servant salaries have not been paid consistently for several years, and most were too low to provide for a large family.

The law specifies a maximum 48-hour workweek with a maximum eight-hour workday, although many workshops and stores operated 10- to 12-hour shifts without penalty. The 35-hour workweek for government employees was nominally seven hours per day from Sunday through Thursday. The law requires overtime pay and paid holidays and leave and prohibits excessive or compulsory overtime.

The law prescribes occupational safety and health standards. It states every employer must provide industry-appropriate safe and healthy conditions for workers. The law recognizes the right of workers to remove themselves from dangerous work situations, and workers may challenge dismissals based on such actions in court. The safety law does not apply to domestic servants, casual workers, or agricultural workers.

Government enforcement of labor law was weak to nonexistent; penalties, if enforced, were insufficient to deter violations. Working conditions generally were poor, and wage and overtime violations were common. Foreign migrant workers, youth, and female workers typically faced the most exploitative working conditions. Working conditions were poor in the informal sector, which included an estimated 89 percent of the workforce. There was no credible information available regarding work-related accidents or fatalities during the year.

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