Yemen is a republic with a constitution that provides for a president, a parliament, and an independent judiciary. In 2012 the governing and opposition parties chose Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi as the sole consensus candidate for president. Two-thirds of the country’s eligible voters confirmed him as president, with a two-year mandate. In 2014 Houthi forces aligned with forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh occupied the capital, Sana’a, igniting a civil conflict between Houthi forces and the Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG) that continued through the year. As a result of the conflict, currently approximately 80 percent of the population lives in territory controlled by the Houthis, not the ROYG.
The primary state security and intelligence-gathering entities, the Political Security Organization and the National Security Bureau, came under Houthi control in 2014, although their structure and operations appeared to remain the same. The ROYG staffed these entities in areas under its control. By law both organizations report first to the interior minister and then to the president; coordination efforts between the two entities were unclear. The Criminal Investigation Division reports to the Ministry of Interior and conducts most criminal investigations and arrests. The paramilitary Special Security Forces was under the authority of the interior minister, as was the counterterrorism unit. The Ministry of Defense supervised units to quell domestic unrest and to participate in internal armed conflicts. Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over security forces. Houthis controlled most of the national security apparatus in sections of the north and some former state institutions. Competing tribal, party, and sectarian influences further reduced ROYG authority, exhibited in April when the secessionist Southern Transitional Council declared “self-administration” over Aden. Saudi-brokered diplomatic efforts to restore the ROYG to Aden under the Riyadh Agreement were successful in December. Members of the security forces on all sides committed abuses.
In 2014 the Houthi uprising compelled the ROYG to sign an UN-brokered peace deal calling for a “unity government.” The ROYG resigned after Houthi forces, allied with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party, seized the presidential palace in 2015. Houthi forces then dissolved parliament, replacing it with the Supreme Revolutionary Committee. Hadi escaped house arrest and fled to Aden, where he declared all actions taken by Houthi forces in Sana’a unconstitutional, reaffirmed his position as president, pledged to uphold the principles of the 2014 National Dialogue Conference, and called on the international community to protect the country’s political process.
After Houthi forces launched an offensive in the southern part of the country and entered Aden in 2015, Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia formed a military coalition, which undertook Operation “Decisive Storm,” on behalf of the ROYG. Peace talks in Kuwait in 2016 between the Houthis and ROYG ended inconclusively. In 2017 Houthi forces killed Saleh after he publicly split from the Houthis and welcomed cooperation with the coalition. In 2018 direct talks between the ROYG and Houthis under UN supervision in Sweden led to agreements on a ceasefire in and around the city and port of Hudaydah, as well as on prisoner exchanges and addressing the humanitarian situation in Ta’iz. These agreements were not effectively implemented; hostilities–including Houthi military offensives, Houthi drone and missile strikes within the country and on Saudi Arabia, and coalition airstrikes–continued to date.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by all parties; forced disappearances by all parties; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the ROYG, Houthis, and Emiratis; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary infringements on privacy rights; serious abuses in an internal conflict, including unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, primarily by the Houthis; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel and slander laws; substantial interference with freedom of assembly and association; serious restrictions on freedom of movement; pervasive abuse of migrants; the inability of citizens to choose their government through free and fair elections; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the worst forms of child labor.
Impunity for security officials remained a problem, in part because the government exercised limited authority and in part due to the lack of effective mechanisms to investigate and prosecute abuse and corruption. The ROYG had limited capacity to address human rights abuses due to the continued civil war. Houthi control over government institutions in the north severely reduced the ROYG’s capacity to conduct investigations.
Nonstate actors, including the Houthis, tribal militias, militant secessionist elements, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, and a local branch of ISIS committed significant abuses with impunity. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes 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.)
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
In September the UN Human Rights Council Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (UN Group of Experts) report stated it believed that parties to the conflict were continuing to engage in enforced disappearances. There were reports of politically motivated disappearances and kidnappings by both ROYG and Houthi forces of individuals associated with political parties, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and media outlets critical of the ROYG or the Houthi movement (see section 1.g, Abuses in Internal Conflict). The Houthis and their allies sometimes detained civilian family members of ROYG security officials. The Houthis targeted and detained foreigners, including those believed to be working for foreign diplomatic missions. There were also reports of disappearances carried out by other parties to the conflict.
From August 2019 to July 31, the ROYG’s National Commission to Investigate Alleged Violations to Human Rights (NCIAVHR) documented 1,298 cases of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances committed by various parties to the conflict, a 400 percent increase over the previous year.
According to a July report by Sana’a-based Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, from May 2016 to April, the ROYG was responsible for 90 incidents of enforced disappearance; the Houthis were responsible for 353 incidents of enforced disappearance; and United Arab Emirates (UAE) forces and UAE-aligned armed groups, including the STC, were responsible for 327 incidents of enforced disappearance.
In a March report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented 16 cases of arbitrary detentions of citizens by Saudi and allied Yemeni forces in al-Mahrah between June 2019 and February. Saudi security forces transferred 11 of the 16 detainees to Saudi Arabia and eventually released the five others. Five detainees were reportedly transferred in June to a prison in Abha, the capital of Asir province in Saudi Arabia; the families of these detainees were unaware of their whereabouts for five months until the detainees were registered at the prison in Abha. The other six detainees were reportedly men from the northern part of the country who were arrested while crossing the border from Oman into the country after receiving medical treatment in Oman.
The Aden branch of the Mothers of the Abducted Association issued a statement in August stating that association members continued searching for 38 forcibly disappeared individuals; their fate and medical condition and those responsible for their disappearances were unknown. The association conducted a protest in September in Aden, which was then under STC control, to demand that security forces disclose their sons’ whereabouts.
During the year, the UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict reported 22 child abduction cases.
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.
The UN and human rights organizations continued to report that torture and other forms of mistreatment were common in ROYG-, Houthi-, and Emirati-controlled detention facilities. The UN Group of Experts reported abuses in detention included sexual violence, prolonged solitary confinement, electric shock, burning, and other forms of torture (see section 1.g., Abuses in Internal Conflict.).
According to the July report by the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, from May 2016 to April, the ROYG was responsible for 65 incidents of torture; the Houthis were responsible for 138 incidents of torture, including 27 deaths in detention centers; and UAE forces and UAE-aligned armed groups, including the STC, were responsible for 141 incidents of torture, including 25 deaths in detention centers. In June gunmen, allegedly from a ROYG-appointed brigade, reportedly stormed the house in Ta’iz of ROYG Colonel Abdul Hakim al-Jabzi, the Operations Commander of the 35th Brigade, and kidnapped and tortured his son Aseel to death before throwing Aseel’s body on a road. The motive was reportedly an internal political dispute.
According to several reports in August by Ma’rib-based Erada Organization against Torture and Forced Disappearance, Houthi militia forces in al-Bayda captured, tortured, and killed a ROYG soldier, Abdul Hafidh Abd al-Rab al-Tahiri. On August 25, Erada reported that Houthis in Dhammar captured Ahmed Ali al-Saqhani, a ROYG soldier, and tortured him to death while in detention.
Impunity remained a significant problem in the security forces. Civilian control of security agencies continued to deteriorate 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.