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.
The primary state security and intelligence-gathering entities, the Political Security Organization (PSO) and the National Security Bureau (NSB), came under Houthi control in 2014, although their structure and operations appeared to remain the same. The ROYG staffed the PSO and the NSB in areas under its control. By law the PSO and the NSB report first to the interior minister and then to the president; coordination efforts between the PSO and the NSB 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 August when United Arab Emirates (UAE)-funded Security Belt Forces (SBF), many of which aligned with the secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC), took over Aden and several other southern territories.
In 2014 the Houthi uprising compelled the ROYG to sign a 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 southern Yemen and entered Aden in 2015, Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia formed a military coalition, 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 December 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 Taiz. These agreements were not effectively implemented; hostilities–including Houthi drone strikes and coalition airstrikes–continued throughout the year.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including political assassinations; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary infringements on privacy rights; criminalization of libel, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with freedom of assembly and association; the inability of citizens to choose their government through free and fair elections; pervasive corruption; recruitment and use of child soldiers; pervasive abuse of migrants; and criminalization of consensual same sex sexual conduct between adults.
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 took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, but had limited capacity due to the ongoing 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 (AQAP), and a local branch of ISIS committed significant abuses with impunity. Saudi-led coalition airstrikes resulted in civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure.
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.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
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.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
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.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
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.
Freedom of Association
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.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
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.
f. Protection of Refugees
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.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens with the ability to choose their government peacefully through free and fair periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage. The outbreak of conflict interrupted a government-initiated new voter registration program. There have been no elections since the outbreak of conflict in 2014.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In 2014 the major political parties, acting within the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), endorsed an extension of President Hadi’s term given the conflict. In 2014 13 parties signed a Peace and National Partnership Agreement that temporarily ended the violence associated with the Houthi movement into Sana’a and called for implementation of the NDC outcomes, including holding elections and establishing a new constitution.
In 2015 the Houthis declared the constitution null and void, disbanded parliament, and announced the formation of the appointed Supreme Revolutionary Committee as the highest governing body. Houthi-aligned members of the GPC, the largest political party, announced the formation of a Supreme Political Council and the reconvening of parliament in Sana’a, followed by the announcement of a “national salvation government.” The institutions did not receive international recognition as government bodies, and elections for parliament were not held.
The ROYG reconvened parliament for the first time since 2015 in Sayoun on April 13. Parliament has not reconvened since April 13, in part due to events in August when the ROYG was forced out of the temporary capital of Aden to Riyadh.
The UN-led political process continued at year’s end. With the November 5 signing of the Riyadh Agreement, the ROYG and Southern Transition Council agreed to end three months of hostilities in the country’s south. The Agreement returned the ROYG prime minister to Aden on November 18. It also aims to produce a more inclusive cabinet and bring all military forces under the ROYG umbrella. UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths intended to reconvene the Yemeni parties for another round of UN-led talks on a comprehensive political settlement in 2020.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The law requires political parties to be national organizations that do not restrict their membership to residents of a particular region or to members of a given tribe, religious sect, class, or profession.
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 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
Nonstate actors, including the Houthis, subjected domestic human rights NGOs to significant harassment during the year (see also section 2.b.). In August 2018 the Houthis detained Kamal al-Shawish, a cofounder of NGO Mwatana, and released him in September 2018. Mwatana regularly criticizes human rights conditions in the country.
International human rights organizations stated 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.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: On October 1, media reports stated Houthi rebels denied entry to OHCHR representative Ahmed Elobeid. When Elobeid landed in Sana’a, Houthi security officers boarded his plane, took away his travel permit, and ordered his plane to leave. Prior to this incident, OHCHR had published a critical report detailing abuses by all parties in the civil war, including sexual violence against women in Houthi-run prisons.
Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2015 Presidential Decree Number 13 established the NCIAVHR as an independent group responsible for investigating all alleged human rights violations since 2011. The commission consists of a chair and eight members with legal, judicial, or human rights backgrounds. The NCIAVHR continued to investigate and report on human rights conditions during the year and conducted training with the United Nations.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, but it does not criminalize spousal rape. The punishment for rape is imprisonment for up to 25 years. The government did not enforce the law effectively. In 2016 the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 2.6 million women and girls were at risk for gender-based violence, an increase of 63 percent of those at risk since the conflict began. During the year the United Nations reported incidents of gender-based violence continued to increase. The UN Group of Experts reported SBF personnel continued to engage in rape and kidnappings during the year. The UN Group of Experts noted the role of Houthi rebels, the SBF, and 35th Armored Brigade personnel (over whom the ROYG exercised minimal control) in perpetrating rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls (see section 1.g., Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture).
There were no reliable rape prosecution statistics, and the number of rape cases was unknown. By law authorities can prosecute rape victims on charges of fornication if authorities do not charge a perpetrator. According to law, without the perpetrator’s confession, the rape survivor must provide four male witnesses to the crime.
There were few publicly reported cases of rape during the year. The UN Group of Experts verified five women were either raped, sexually assaulted, or had direct assault on genitalia while detained at the Houthi-run PSO, the NSB, or other facilities in Sana’a and Ibb.
The law states that authorities should execute a man if convicted of killing a woman. The penal code, however, allows leniency for persons guilty of committing an “honor” killing or violently assaulting or killing a woman for perceived “immodest” or “defiant” behavior. The law does not address other types of gender-based abuse, such as forced isolation, imprisonment, and early and forced marriage.
The law provides women with protection against domestic violence, except spousal rape, under the general rubric of protecting persons against violence, but authorities did not enforce this provision effectively. Victims rarely reported domestic abuse to police and criminal proceedings in cases of domestic abuse were rare.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not prohibit FGM/C, although a 2001 ministerial directive banned the practice in government institutions and medical facilities, according to HRW. There was no data for the year on its prevalence; however, data from media and UN reporting in 2015 suggests the rate was approximately 15 to 20 percent.
Sexual Harassment: No laws specifically prohibit sexual harassment, although the penal code criminalizes “shameful” or “immoral” acts. Authorities, however, rarely enforced the law. Sexual harassment was a major problem for women.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: Women faced deeply entrenched discrimination in both law and practice in all aspects of their lives. Mechanisms to enforce equal protection were weak, and the government could not implement them effectively.
Women cannot marry without permission of their male guardians, do not have equal rights in inheritance, divorce, or child custody, and have little legal protection. They experienced discrimination in areas such as employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing (see section 7.d.). An estimated 2015 female literacy rate of 55 percent, compared with 85 percent for men, accentuated this discrimination.
A male relative’s consent was often required before a woman could be admitted to a hospital, creating significant problems in a humanitarian context in which the men of the household were absent or dead.
Women also faced unequal treatment in courts, where the testimony of a woman equals half that of a man’s.
The UN Group of Experts reported 40 cases of women human rights defenders, journalists, and activists facing “gender-based persecution” during the year, which included threats from all sides of the conflict.
A husband may divorce a wife without justifying the action in court. In the formal legal system, a woman must provide justification.
Any citizen who wishes to marry a foreigner must obtain the permission of the Ministry of Interior (see section 1.f.). A woman wishing to marry a foreigner must present proof of her parents’ approval. A foreign woman who wishes to marry a male citizen must prove to the ministry that she is “of good conduct and behavior.”
Women experienced economic discrimination (see section 7.d.).
Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from a child’s parents. A child of a Yemeni father is a citizen. Yemeni women may confer citizenship on children born of a foreign-born father if the child is born in the country. If the child is not born in the country, in rare cases the Ministry of Interior may permit a woman to transmit citizenship to the child if the father dies or abandons the child.
There is no universal birth registration, and many parents, especially in rural areas, never registered children or registered them several years after birth. The requirement that children have birth certificates to register for school was not universally enforced, and there were no reports of authorities denying educational or health-care services and benefits to children based on lack of registration.
Education: The law provides for universal, compulsory, and tuition-free education from ages six to 15. Public schooling was free to children through the secondary school level, but many children, especially girls, did not have easy access. For school attendance statistics, see the 2018 Humanitarian Situation Report from UNICEF.
UNICEF and other agencies reported an estimated two million children have dropped out of school since 2015. Meanwhile, in 2018 almost three quarters of public school teachers had not been paid their salaries in more than a year, putting the education of an additional 4.5 million children at grave risk.
Child Abuse: The law does not define or prohibit child abuse, and there was no reliable data on its extent. Authorities considered violence against children a family affair.
Early and Forced Marriage: Early and forced marriage was a significant, widespread problem. The conflict likely exacerbated the situation, and the United Nations reported forced marriage and child marriage for financial reasons due to economic insecurity continued to be a systemic problem during the year. There is no minimum age for marriage, and girls reportedly married as young as eight years of age.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law does not define statutory rape and does not impose an age limit for consensual sex. The law prohibits pornography, including child pornography, although there was no information available on whether the legal prohibitions were comprehensive. The law criminalizes the prostitution of children. Amnesty International reported children as young as eight were raped in the city of Taiz during the year. It also reported four cases of sexual violence against children reportedly by militiamen aligned with a political party.
Child Soldiers: See section 1.g., Child Soldiers.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
Approximately 50 Jews remained in the country. According to media reports, most lived in a compound in Sana’a after the Israeli Jewish Agency succeeded in transporting 19 Jews to Israel in 2016. The continuing conflict further weakened law enforcement and targeted discrimination by the Houthi authorities put the Jewish community at risk. Many fled the country as a result.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
In the past anti-Semitic material was less prevalent than during the year. Media coverage of the country’s Jewish population was more positive. The Houthi movement, however, adopted anti-Semitic slogans, including “death to Israel, a curse on the Jews,” and anti-Israeli rhetoric often blurred into anti-Semitic propaganda. Houthis continued to propagate such materials and slogans throughout the year, including adding anti-Israeli slogans and extremist rhetoric into elementary education curriculum and books.
Members of the Jewish community are not eligible to serve in the military or national government. Authorities forbid them from carrying the ceremonial Yemeni dagger.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report.
Persons with Disabilities
Several laws mandate the rights and care of persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce them. The law permits persons with disabilities to exercise the same rights as persons without disabilities, but this did not happen in practice. Social stigma and official indifference were obstacles to implementation.
Children with disabilities may attend public schools, although schools made no special accommodations for them.
Although the law mandates that new buildings have access for persons with disabilities, compliance was poor.
Information about patterns of abuse of persons with disabilities in educational and mental health institutions was not publicly available.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The ROYG could not continue collaboration with the World Bank to administer a social development fund; the ministry was also unable to oversee the Fund for the Care and Rehabilitation of the Disabled, which provided limited basic services and supported more than 60 NGOs assisting persons with disabilities.
Although racial discrimination is illegal, some groups, such as the Muhamasheen (marginalized) or Akhdam community, and the Muwaladeen (Yemenis born to foreign parents), faced social and institutional discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and social status. The Muhamasheen, who traditionally provided low-prestige services such as street sweeping, generally lived in poverty and endured persistent societal discrimination. Muhamasheen women were particularly vulnerable to rape and other abuse because of the general impunity for attackers due to the women’s low-caste status. The UN Group of Experts reported the Muhamasheen continued to be targets of extreme sexual violence. There were reports of chattel slavery of the Muhamasheen (see section 7.b.).
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The penal code criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct, with the death penalty as a sanction under the country’s interpretation of Islamic law. There have been no known executions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in more than a decade.
The government did not consider violence or discrimination against LGBTI persons “relevant” for official reporting.
Due to the illegality of and possible severe punishment for consensual same-sex sexual conduct, few LGBTI persons were open about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Individuals known or suspected of being LGBTI faced discrimination.
There were no LGBTI organizations. The government blocked access to internet sites containing LGBTI-related content.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
While there were no reports of social violence against persons with HIV/AIDS, the topic was socially sensitive and infrequently discussed. Discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS is a criminal offense, and information was not available on whether there were reports of incidents of discrimination occurring during the year.
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.
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
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.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
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/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
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.