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Executive Summary

Yemen is a republic with a constitution that provides for a president, a parliament, and an independent judiciary, but control of the country during the year was split among three entities: the Iran-backed Ansar Allah movement (also sometimes known colloquially as the Houthis), the internationally recognized government of Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates-backed Southern Transitional Council. The last presidential election occurred in 2012, when Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi won a two-year mandate as president.

The primary state security and intelligence-gathering entities of the internationally recognized government of Yemen are the Political Security Organization and the National Security Bureau. By law both organizations report first to the interior minister and then to the president. The Criminal Investigation Division, an arm of the Ministry of Interior that conducts most criminal investigations and arrests, the paramilitary Special Security Forces, and the counterterrorism unit report to the interior minister. The Ministry of Defense supervised units to quell domestic unrest. Competing tribal, party, and sectarian influences reduced the exercise of governance in many areas. Houthi forces controlled most of the residual national security entities in sections of the north and other former state institutions. The government of Yemen staffed national security entities in areas under its control, although large areas under nominal government of Yemen control were effectively controlled by tribal leaders and local military commanders. The Southern Transitional Council had physical control of security in large areas of the south, including the government’s temporary capital of Aden. Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of security forces on all sides committed abuses.

In 2014 Houthi forces aligned with forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh occupied the capital, Sana’a, and ignited a civil conflict that continued during the year. After President Hadi fled to Aden and then Saudi Arabia, he requested international assistance to restore the government, and in 2015, Saudi Arabia launched Operation “Decisive Storm.” Following fighting in 2019 that resulted in the government’s departure from its temporary capital, Saudi Arabia helped broker a power-sharing deal, dubbed the “Riyadh Agreement,” between the government of Yemen and the secessionist Southern Transitional Council that led to the formation of a new coalition government in December 2020.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings by all parties; forced disappearances by all parties; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by all parties; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners and detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in a conflict, including widespread civilian harm, and unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by all parties to the conflict, particularly the Houthis; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions of religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; inability of citizens to choose their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; serious government restrictions on international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic, intimate partner violence or both, as well as sexual violence; child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation. There were significant barriers to accessing reproductive health; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.

Impunity for security officials remained a problem, in part because the government exercised limited authority and failed to investigate and prosecute abuse and corruption. Houthi control over former government institutions in the north severely reduced the government’s capacity to conduct investigations. The government of Yemen’s prime minister reactivated anticorruption entities and launched audits of state revenues and the central bank. Separately, the Houthis used former anticorruption authorities to stifle dissent and repress their political opponents.

Nongovernmental actors, including the Houthis, tribal militias, the Southern Transitional Council, and terrorist groups (including al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and a local branch of ISIS), committed significant abuses with impunity. Saudi-led coalition air strikes resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure. (See the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran.)

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