Libya’s Government of National Accord is a transitional government, created through the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement. The 2011 Constitutional Declaration envisions a parliamentary democracy that allows for the exercise of political, civil, and judicial rights. Citizens elected an interim legislature, the House of Representatives, in free and fair elections in 2014. The country is in a state of civil conflict. The Government of National Accord, headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, governed only a limited portion of the country. Parallel, unrecognized institutions in eastern Libya, especially those aligned with the self-styled “Libyan National Army” led by General Khalifa Haftar, continued to challenge the authority of the Government of National Accord.
During the year the Government of National Accord had limited effective control over security forces, and these forces consisted of a mix of semiregular units, tribal nonstate armed groups, and civilian volunteers. The national police force, which reports to the Ministry of Interior, has official responsibility for internal security. The armed forces under the Ministry of Defense have the primary mission for external defense and also supported Ministry of Interior forces on internal security matters. Civilian authorities had only nominal control of police and the security apparatus, and security-related police work generally fell to disparate informal armed groups, which received salaries from the government and exercised law enforcement functions without formal training or supervision and with varying degrees of accountability. Members of security forces committed numerous abuses.
Conflict continued during the year between armed groups aligned with the Government of National Accord and nonstate actors including the Libyan National Army, with both sides benefiting from foreign military support. The Libyan National Army exercised varying levels of control over the majority of Libyan territory during the year. In June, following months of Turkish military intervention and support to the Government of National Accord as well as intense fighting through the spring, Libyan National Army-aligned forces, including Russian mercenaries belonging to the Wagner Group, pulled back from their prolonged offensive on the Libyan capital and other western cities, retreating to positions in central Libya. Foreign military forces, foreign fighters, and mercenaries continued to operate in the country, reinforcing units aligned with both the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army. Informal nonstate armed groups filled security vacuums across the country. ISIS-Libya attempted to maintain a limited presence in the southwestern desert region. The United Nations and international partners led efforts to broker a cessation of hostilities, including the signing of a nationwide ceasefire in October, and convinced stakeholders to return to a UN-mediated political process. The UN-facilitated Libyan Political Dialogue Forum convened to make preparations for holding national elections in December 2021, including seeking agreement on a constitutional basis for elections and a reformed executive authority to govern the country in the interim.
Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary and unlawful killings by various armed groups, including some aligned with the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army; forced disappearances; torture perpetrated by armed groups on all sides; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prison and detention facilities, some of which were outside government control; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners or detainees; unlawful interference with privacy, often by nonstate actors; serious abuses in internal conflict, including killing of civilians and the worst forms of child labor, such as the recruitment or use of children in conflict; serious restrictions on free expression and the press, including violence against journalists and criminalization of political expression; substantial interference with freedom of association; refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers; widespread corruption; lack of accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; threats of violence against ethnic minorities and foreigners; criminalization of same-sex sexual orientation; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including limits on collective bargaining and the right to strike; and forced labor.
Impunity from prosecution was a severe and pervasive problem. Divisions between governmental, political, and security apparatuses in the west and east, a security vacuum in the south, the presence of criminal groups throughout the country, and the government’s weakness and limited reach outside of western Libya severely inhibited the government’s ability to investigate or prosecute abuses across the country. The government took limited steps to investigate abuses within its area of reach; however, constraints on the government’s reach and resources, as well as political considerations, reduced its ability and willingness to prosecute and punish those who committed such abuses. Although bodies such as the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General issued arrest warrants and opened prosecutions for abuses, limited policing capacity and fears of retribution prevented orders from being carried out. In February the Government of National Accord called for the creation of an international fact-finding mission to investigate abuses perpetrated by all parties to the Libyan conflict. In June the UN Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution to form this mission, and both the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army issued statements welcoming the decision.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were numerous reports that armed groups aligned with both the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) and other nonstate actors, including foreign fighters and mercenaries, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, and Office of the Attorney General bore responsibility for investigating such abuses and pursuing prosecutions but were either unable or unwilling to do so in most cases due to severe capacity constraints.
Alliances, sometimes temporary, among elements of the government, nonstate actors, and former or active officers in the armed forces participating in extralegal campaigns made it difficult to ascertain the role of the government in attacks by armed groups.
In July, GNA Coast Guard officials shot and killed three migrants as they attempted to escape from authorities after being disembarked from a vessel intercepted on the Mediterranean.
In June at least eight mass graves were discovered in the city of Tarhouna and in areas of southern Tripoli, which had been under the territorial control of LNA-aligned forces, including the Kaniyat militia, since April 2019. According to Libya’s General Authority for the Search and Identification of Missing Persons (GASIMP), the remains of at least 102 persons, including women and children, had been uncovered as of late October. More than 100 additional bodies were recovered from Tarhouna Hospital, reportedly including many civilians. An additional 270 persons were missing from the area, according to accounts from families. On October 18, GASIMP reported the discovery of an additional five mass graves near Tarhouna containing the remains of at least 12 unidentified persons, six of whom were bound and blindfolded. According to GASIMP officials, their investigation into these mass graves continued.
Eastern authorities reportedly killed one civilian and injured three others during peaceful demonstrations in the city of al-Marj on September 12, according to UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL).
In some cases foreign mercenaries carried out unlawful killings with support from their home governments. The Russia-linked Wagner Group provided command and control support in the LNA’s offensive on Tripoli, which resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties.
Nonstate armed groups and criminal gangs committed other unlawful killings. In May a trafficking ring in the northwestern city of Mizda massacred 30 migrants and seriously injured several others. The MOI announced an investigation and arrest warrants for suspects shortly after the incident, which was ongoing at year’s end.
Armed groups in Tripoli linked to the GNA used machine guns and vehicle-mounted antiaircraft weapons to disperse largely peaceful anticorruption protests between August 23 and August 29, allegedly killing one protester, according to Human Rights Watch. The armed groups–including the Nawasi Brigade and the Special Deterrence Forces/Rada Group–reportedly arbitrarily detained at least 23 protesters and a journalist covering the event, with additional allegations of torture and disappearances.
In the absence of an effective judicial and security apparatus, most killings were not investigated. Between January and June, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented the deaths of 170 civilians and the injury of 319 others. From June to November, UNSMIL reported at least five civilian deaths and 16 injuries, including to three women and three boys younger than 10.
Between January and June, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented the deaths of 170 civilians and the injury of 319 others. From June to November, UNSMIL reported at least five civilian deaths and 16 injuries, including to three women and three boys younger than 10.
On June 3, drone strikes in support of the GNA struck the Qasr bin Gashir District of southern Tripoli, resulting in the killing of 17 civilians, according to UNSMIL.
In early June, as LNA units withdrew from Tripoli, Russian Wagner Group mercenaries indiscriminately planted land mines, booby traps, and improvised explosive devices around the outskirts of Tripoli, including in heavily residential areas. UNSMIL subsequently determined these devices were responsible for 43 civilian casualties, including the killing of two mine-clearing experts and the injury or maiming of 41 other civilians, including a number of children.
On November 10, unidentified gunmen shot and killed prominent lawyer and anticorruption activist Hanan al-Barassi in the eastern city of Benghazi. Al-Barassi was an outspoken critic of abuses in areas controlled by the LNA. Amnesty International reported al-Barassi had received death threats and had planned to release video exposing corruption within Haftar’s family on social media. The LNA ordered an investigation into the assassination.
GNA and LNA-aligned armed groups, other nonstate armed groups, criminal gangs, and tribal groups committed an unknown number of forced disappearances (see section 1.g.). Due to its limited capacity, the GNA made few effective efforts to prevent, investigate, or penalize forced disappearances.
In March, UNSMIL expressed concern over an increase in abductions and enforced disappearances in towns and cities across the country conducted by armed groups with total impunity. Migrants, refugees, and other foreign nationals were especially vulnerable to kidnapping. UNSMIL received reports that hundreds of migrants and refugees intercepted or rescued at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard went missing after disembarking at Libyan ports, and it was possible they were seized by armed groups engaged in human trafficking or smuggling. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that between January and November, 192 migrants and refugees were confirmed missing and 107 bodies were recovered during search and rescue operations.
Following the LNA’s capture of Sirte in January, UNSMIL received reports of enforced disappearances perpetrated by armed groups perceived as being loyal to the GNA.
In June following the discovery of mass graves in Tarhouna, UNSMIL reported it had received reports of hundreds of crimes, including a significant number of forced disappearances, perpetrated in Tarhouna in recent years. On February 5, it was widely reported that the Tarhouna-based Kaniyat militia abducted several women whose fates remain unknown.
July 17 marked the one-year anniversary of the high-profile disappearance of member of parliament Siham Sergiwa, who was abducted from her home shortly after criticizing the LNA’s Tripoli offensive in a television interview. Her whereabouts remained unknown, and her disappearance reportedly had a chilling effect on women’s political participation.
Libyan and international human rights organizations reported that dozens of civil society activists, politicians, judges, and journalists have been forcibly disappeared by both western and eastern security services or armed groups and detained for making comments or pursuing activities perceived as being disloyal to the GNA or LNA. On February 26, unknown individuals abducted Judge Mohamed bin Amer while he was walking with his wife and children in the western city of al-Khoms. Numerous judges, lawyers, and public prosecutors across western Libya protested publicly to demand his release. His whereabouts remained unknown. On March 2, armed men from the “Security Operations Room” of the LNA in Derna arrested the general manager of al-Harish hospital from his home; he was reportedly subsequently released. On October 21, the head of the GNA Media Corporation, Mohamed Bayou, along with his two sons and the newly appointed head of programs at the Libya al-Wataniya television channel, Hind Ammar, were abducted by the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade, a Tripoli-based militia. Bayou’s two sons and Ammar were released soon afterwards.
Many disappearances that occurred during the Qadhafi regime, the 2011 revolution, and the postrevolutionary period remained uninvestigated. Due to the continuing conflict, weak judicial system, and legal ambiguity regarding amnesty for revolutionary forces, law enforcement authorities and the judiciary made no appreciable progress in resolving high-profile cases. Authorities engaged in documenting missing persons, recovering human remains, and reunifying families reported being underfunded. The International Commission on Missing Persons estimated there could be up to 15,000 missing persons in the country dating back to the Qadhafi era.
While the 2011 Constitutional Declaration and postrevolutionary legislation prohibit such practices, credible sources indicated personnel operating both government and extralegal prisons and detention centers tortured detainees (see section 1.g.). While judicial police controlled some facilities, the GNA continued to rely on armed groups to manage prisons and detention facilities. Furthermore, armed groups, not police, initiated arrests in many instances. An unknown number of individuals were held without judicial authorization in other facilities nominally controlled by the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, or in extralegal facilities controlled by GNA-affiliated armed groups, LNA-affiliated armed groups, and other nonstate actors. Treatment varied from facility to facility and typically was worst at the time of arrest. There were reports of cruel and degrading treatment in government and extralegal facilities, including beatings, administration of electric shocks, burns, and rape. In many instances this torture was reportedly initiated to extort payments from detainees’ families.
International and Libyan human rights organizations noted that the GNA-aligned Special Deterrence Force and Nawasi Brigade conducted summary executions, acts of torture, and other abuses at official prisons and unofficial interrogation facilities.
In June following the withdrawal of the LNA-aligned Kaniyat militia from the city of Tarhouna, advancing GNA forces found corpses at Tarhouna Hospital that bore wounds indicative of torture. In July a pro-GNA news network broadcast footage of an extralegal detention facility where it claimed the Kaniyat had tortured victims by confining them in metal cell-like containers and lighting fires on top of the containers.
In addition to individuals held in the criminal justice system, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that 2,565 refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants were held in migrant detention centers nominally controlled by the Ministry of Interior’s Department to Combat Illegal Migration (DCIM) as of December. An unknown number of other refugees and migrants were held in extralegal detention facilities, such as smugglers’ camps, controlled by criminal and nonstate armed groups. Persons held in these facilities were routinely tortured and abused, including being subjected to arbitrary killings, rape and sexual violence, beatings, forced labor, and deprivation of food and water according to dozens of testimonies shared with international aid agencies and human rights groups. In January, for example, UNSMIL interviewed 32 migrants who had been arbitrarily detained and subjected to torture or rape for ransom by nonstate criminal groups and state officials, including DCIM and Coast Guard employees.
In June and July, migrants who claimed to have escaped from informal human trafficking camps in Bani Walid, southeast of Tripoli, appeared at aid organization offices in Tripoli bearing wounds indicative of torture.
Impunity was a significant problem within the security forces, and the GNA lacked the ability seriously to pursue accountability for abuses due to challenges posed by the ongoing civil conflict, political fragmentation, a lack of territorial control over much of the country, and widespread corruption.
Prisons and detention facilities were often overcrowded, and conditions were harsh and life threatening, falling well short of international standards. Many prisons and detention centers were outside GNA control (see section 1.g.).
Physical Conditions: During the year prisons remained overcrowded, were in need of infrastructural repairs, suffered from poor ventilation, lacked adequate hygiene facilities, and experienced power and water outages. Prisons lacked clean drinking water and served low-quality food. UN agencies reported malnutrition was a risk in some prisons and detention centers, notably at DCIM facilities, which did not receive a food budget.
Communicable diseases, including tuberculosis, scabies, and HIV/AIDS, affected detainees in some prisons and detention centers. There were unconfirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in the LNA-controlled Kweifiyah Prison in Benghazi. Most prisons lacked functioning health units, and inmates depended on family members to bring them medicine. Inmates who needed medical attention were sometimes transferred to public hospitals within the jurisdiction of whichever police unit or militia controlled the prison; these transfers often depended on the availability of private vehicles, as most prisons lack ambulances.
There was no centralized record keeping. There were reportedly no functioning juvenile facilities in the country, and authorities held juveniles in adult prisons, although sometimes in separate sections.
UNSMIL estimated there were approximately 500 women detained in Libyan prisons as of May. Women prisoners faced conditions that fell well short of international minimum standards. Although there were often separate facilities for men and women, women remained almost universally guarded by male prison guards. UNSMIL received numerous reports of women who were subjected to forced prostitution in prisons or detention facilities in conditions that amounted to sexual slavery.
According to international and Libyan migration advocates, migrant detention centers suffered from massive overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of access to medical care, food shortages, and significant disregard for the protection of detainees, including allegations of unlawful killing, sexual violence, and forced labor. As of July, the IOM estimated 27 percent of migrants and refugees held in DCIM detention centers were minors. A large number of migrant and refugee detainees were held in extralegal facilities, although numbers were unknown. There were numerous anecdotal reports that officials, nonstate armed groups, and criminal gangs moved migrants through a network of government and extralegal detention facilities with little monitoring by the government or international organizations.
Administration: The Judicial Police Authority, tasked by the GNA-aligned Ministry of Justice to run the prison system, operates from its headquarters in Tripoli. It remained administratively split, however, with a second headquarters in al-Bayda that reports to a rival, eastern “Ministry of Justice” that provides oversight to prisons in eastern Libya. During the year the ratio of detainees and prisoners to guards varied significantly. Monitoring and training of prison staff by international organizations remained largely suspended, although training of judicial police continued during the year.
Units affiliated with the GNA-aligned Ministries of Interior and Defense and rival eastern security forces operated other prisons and detention centers.
As of April, UNSMIL estimated there were 9,000 persons detained in 28 facilities under Ministry of Justice oversight and up to 10,000 individuals in prisons controlled by the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, or nonstate armed groups. As of July, the IOM estimated there were 2,400 persons detained in DCIM facilities and potentially thousands of other migrants held in extralegal and informal facilities.
Independent Monitoring: Multiple independent monitoring organizations reported difficulties gaining access to prison and detention facilities, particularly those in eastern Libya. The GNA permitted some independent monitoring by international organizations, including the ICRC, but these movements were tightly controlled. UN and international aid organization sources reported that DCIM officials repeatedly denied access requests. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic created further barriers to humanitarian access. Although some international organizations received permission to visit migrant detention facilities during the year, the responsiveness of GNA authorities and level of access varied widely from visit to visit. As of November, UNHCR and its partners had conducted 250 visits to DCIM facilities to administer aid and register refugees and asylum-seekers.
Improvements: As of May, the GNA reported that it had released nearly 2,000 persons from Ministry of Justice prisons to reduce overcrowding and minimize possible vectors for the spread of COVID-19. The ministry reportedly prioritized the release of persons who had already served more than half their sentences. While international watchdogs welcomed the move, they noted that the vast majority of persons in prisons and detention facilities were being held in pretrial detention. These groups called on the GNA to immediately release vulnerable inmates in pretrial detention, including women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. UNSMIL maintained that all migrant detention facilities should be closed and the detainees released.
There were continued reports by UNSMIL of prolonged and arbitrary detention for persons held in prisons and detention facilities. Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that a large but indeterminate number of persons held in such prisons and detention centers were arbitrarily detained for periods exceeding one year.
Nonstate actors detained and held persons arbitrarily in authorized and unauthorized facilities, including unknown locations, for extended periods and without legal charges or legal authority.
The prerevolutionary criminal code remains in effect. It establishes procedures for pretrial detention and prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but these procedures were often not enforced. The government had weak control over police and GNA-aligned armed groups providing internal security, and some armed groups carried out illegal and arbitrary detentions unimpeded. The low level of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of arbitrary detentions.
The law stipulates an arrest warrant is required, but authorities may detain persons without charge for as long as six days and may renew detention for up to three months, provided there is “reasonable evidence.” The law also specifies authorities must inform detainees of the charges against them and have a detainee appear before a judicial authority every 30 days to renew a detention order. The law gives the government power to detain persons for up to two months if considered a “threat to public security or stability” based on their “previous actions or affiliation with an official or unofficial apparatus or tool of the former regime.”
Although the 2011 Constitutional Declaration recognizes the right to counsel, the vast majority of detainees did not have access to bail or a lawyer. Government authorities and armed groups held detainees incommunicado for unlimited periods in official and unofficial detention centers.
Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities frequently ignored or were unable to enforce the provisions of the criminal code prohibiting arbitrary arrest and detention. Various GNA-aligned and nonstate armed groups arbitrarily arrested and detained persons throughout the year. UNSMIL, along with other local and international organizations, reported that a number of individuals arriving in Tripoli from eastern Libya were arbitrarily arrested by armed groups in early November. At least one person was followed to his destination in Tripoli and then arrested, while others were allegedly arrested at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport upon arrival.
Pretrial Detention: While authorities must order detention for a specific period not exceeding 90 days, the law in practice results in extended pretrial detention. An ambiguity in the language of the law allows judges to renew the detention period if the suspect is of “interest to the investigation.” In addition, limited resources and court capacity resulted in a severe backlog of cases. UNSMIL estimated that 60-70 percent of persons detained in Ministry of Justice prisons were in pretrial detention. According to international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), many of these detainees were held for periods longer than the sentences for the minor crimes they allegedly committed. The Ministry of Justice was working to improve practices by training the judicial police on international standards for pretrial detention. The number of persons held in pretrial detention in Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defense, and extralegal detention facilities was not publicly known.
Some individuals detained during the 2011 revolution remained in custody, mostly in facilities in the west. International NGOs called for the release of detainees held for petty charges to mitigate overcrowding and COVID-19 transmission risk in prisons. The GNA-affiliated Office of the Attorney General established a committee in late 2018 to review cases of arbitrary detention and process detainees for potential release, but international watchdogs criticized the committee for acting slowly.
Armed groups held most of their detainees without charge and outside the government’s authority. With control of the security environment divided among various armed groups and a largely nonfunctioning judiciary, circumstances prevented most detainees from accessing a review process.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law allows a detained suspect to challenge pretrial detention before the prosecutor and a magistrate judge. If the prosecutor does not order release, the detained person may appeal to the magistrate judge. If the magistrate judge orders continued detention following review of the prosecutor’s request, and despite the detainee’s challenge, there is no further right to appeal the assigned detention order. A breakdown in the court system, intimidation of judges, and difficulties in securely transporting prisoners to the courts effectively limited detainee access to the courts during the year. For persons held in migrant detention facilities, there was no access to immigration courts or due process.
The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for an independent judiciary and stipulates every person has a right of recourse to the judicial system. Nonetheless, thousands of detainees lacked access to lawyers and information concerning the charges against them. In some cases trials were held without public hearings. Judges and prosecutors faced threats, intimidation, violence, and lack of resources. Judges and prosecutors in various parts of the country cited concerns regarding the overall lack of security in and around the courts, further hindering the rule of law. Civilian and military courts operated sporadically depending on local security conditions. Court proceedings were limited in areas affected by continuing hostilities and in the country’s south. All judicial sector proceedings in GNA-controlled areas, including court appearances, were suspended in April and May due to COVID-19 concerns. There were reports of some civilian activists tried in LNA military courts in eastern Libya under dubious charges.
The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for the presumption of innocence and the right to legal counsel, provided at public expense for the indigent. During the year GNA-affiliated and nonstate actors did not respect these standards. There were multiple reports of individuals denied fair and public trials, choice of attorney, language interpretation, the ability to confront plaintiff witnesses, protection against forced testimony or confessions, and the right to appeal.
According to reports from international and local NGOs, arbitrary detention and torture by armed groups, including those operating nominally under government oversight, contributed to a climate of lawlessness that made fair trials elusive. Armed groups and families of the victims or the accused regularly threatened lawyers, judges, and prosecutors.
Amid threats, intimidation, and violence against the judiciary, the GNA did not take steps to screen detainees systematically for prosecution or release. The courts were more prone to process civil cases, which were less likely to invite retaliation, although capacity was limited due to a lack of judges and administrators.
Armed groups, some of which were nominally under GNA authority, held persons on political grounds, particularly former Qadhafi regime officials and others accused of subverting the 2011 revolution, in a variety of temporary facilities.
The lack of international monitoring meant that there were no reliable statistics on the number of political prisoners.
The 2011 Constitutional Declaration provides for the right of citizens to have recourse to the judiciary. The judicial system did not have the capacity to provide citizens with access to civil remedies for human rights violations. The Law of Transitional Justice provided for fact-finding, accountability, and reparations for victims, but this was not implemented in practice. Courts did process civil, administrative, family, commercial, and land and property law matters. Lack of security and intimidation by armed groups challenged the ability of authorities to enforce judgements.
Impunity for the state and for armed groups also exists in law. Even if a court acquits a person detained by an armed group, that person has no right to initiate a criminal or civil complaint against the state or the armed group unless “fabricated or mendacious” allegations caused the detention.
The 2011 Constitutional Declaration considers correspondence, telephone conversations, and other forms of communication inviolable unless authorized by a court order. Nonetheless, reports in the news and on social media indicated GNA-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, criminal groups, and other nonstate actors violated these prohibitions by monitoring communications without judicial authorization, imposing roadside checks, and entering private homes.
In August a number of Libyan human rights organizations protested the practice by Libyan authorities of searching cell phones, tablets, and laptops at roadside checkpoints, airports, and border crossings. These organizations noted the practice was widespread across both western and eastern Libya and was used as a means to target activists, lawyers, media professionals, bloggers, and migrants.
Invasion of privacy left citizens vulnerable to targeted attacks based on political affiliation, ideology, and identity. Extrajudicial punishment extended to targets’ family members and tribes. Armed groups arbitrarily entered, seized, or destroyed private property with impunity.
Civil society and media reports documented abuses by GNA-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, nonstate groups, foreign actors including mercenaries from various countries, and terrorist organizations. Human rights abuses committed by armed groups reportedly included killings, indiscriminate attacks on civilians, kidnapping, torture, appropriation of property, burning of houses and vehicles, and forced expulsions based on political belief or tribal affiliation.
The largest internal conflict during the year occurred near Tripoli, where LNA-aligned forces fought to take control of the city from GNA-aligned forces. The fighting in Tripoli significantly worsened humanitarian conditions in the area.
Killings: There were numerous reports that GNA-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, foreign actors and mercenaries, and nonstate actors committed arbitrary and unlawful killings of civilians (see section 1.a.).
In June as GNA forces advanced on the western city of Tarhouna, UNSMIL received reports that GNA-aligned units captured and summarily killed members of LNA-aligned units, including members of the Kaniyat militia.
In June when LNA forces and Wagner Group mercenaries withdrew from Tripoli’s southern suburbs, they planted improvised explosive devices and land mines, which injured and killed civilians seeking to return to their homes as well as humanitarian NGO personnel tasked with clearing these deadly devices.
In May, LNA-aligned units engaged in the torture, summary execution, and desecration of corpses of GNA-aligned fighters who had been captured in or near Tripoli, according to HRW.
Wagner Group personnel were deployed on Tripoli frontlines in support of the LNA as snipers and to direct artillery fire from at least September 2019 to May 2020, UNSMIL reported. Russian-directed shelling caused a number of civilian casualties.
In April, HRW determined, based on missile remnants found onsite, that a November 2019 airstrike on a biscuit factory in Tripoli that killed several civilians was directed by the UAE government on behalf of the LNA. The UAE has flown numerous drone missions in Libya on behalf of the LNA since April 2019.
There were reports of communal violence between ethnic and tribal groups. An indeterminate number of civilians were killed and others injured in clashes between tribal and ethnic groups in southern Libya.
Abductions: GNA-aligned groups, LNA-aligned groups, and other armed groups were responsible for the disappearance of civilians, although few details were available (see section 1.b.). Kidnappings targeted activists, journalists, former government officials, migrants, and the security forces. Kidnappings for ransom remained a frequent occurrence in many cities.
In January, after LNA-aligned groups captured the central Libyan city of Sirte, there were reports that several civilians were abducted and arbitrarily detained by LNA-aligned persons for their perceived loyalty to the GNA.
In April the LNA-aligned Kaniyat militia kidnapped three women, all sisters, from their home in Tarhouna. This was one high-profile example of numerous disappearances reportedly perpetrated by the Kaniyat between January and June.
There were frequent reports of migrants and other expatriate workers abducted for ransom.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Guards at both government and extralegal detention centers reportedly tortured prisoners. The lack of full government control over detention facilities limited information available on conditions within these facilities (see section 1.c.).
The takeover in April of several western Libyan towns by GNA-affiliated groups was accompanied by reports of acts of retribution, including looting, robberies, and torching of public and private properties.
In June, following the advance of GNA-aligned units on Tarhouna, reports emerged–including footage widely circulated on social media–that GNA-aligned units had arbitrarily detained a group of Egyptian laborers and forced them to stand in stress positions.
Prior to their withdrawal from Tarhouna in June, the LNA-aligned Kaniyat militia reportedly tortured numerous civilian victims, notably members of local tribes perceived as opposing the Kaniyat.
Child Soldiers: There were reports of child recruitment and use by armed groups affiliated with both the GNA and LNA, as well as nonstate groups. Although government policy required verification recruits were at least age 18, nonstate armed groups did not have formal policies prohibiting the practice. The GNA did not make credible efforts to investigate or punish recruitment or use of child soldiers.
In June the United Nations reported that Turkey had engaged in large-scale recruitment of Syrian fighters to take part in hostilities in Libya in support of the GNA, including some boys younger than 18. The United Nations expressed concern at reports that both the GNA and LNA were using child soldiers.
In May unverified reports emerged that 20 Syrian children were among Turkish-backed Syrian fighters killed in hostilities in Libya during the year. The United Nations was working to confirm these reports at year’s end.
In the first quarter of the year, UNSMIL verified one instance of child recruitment by LNA-aligned groups.
There were reports that Sudanese and Chadian mercenary groups in southern Libya also engaged in the recruitment or use of children.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Additional abuses stemming from conflict included restrictions on travel and deliberate attacks on civilian infrastructure.
From January through late September, LNA-aligned units and tribes orchestrated a shutdown of the country’s oil production and exports, effectively shuttering the oil and gas sector and causing an estimated loss of $9.8 billion in state revenues according to the National Oil Corporation. This resulted in delayed public-sector salary payments and a steep rise in fuel prices across the country, limiting commerce and causing serious humanitarian harm.
Authorities at Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport were forced to suspend operations temporarily several times between January and May due to indiscriminate shelling and airstrikes by LNA-aligned groups that killed several civilians in neighborhoods in the vicinity of the airport. On May 9, one airstrike damaged a civilian aircraft that was being used to repatriate Libyan and foreign nationals stranded as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other civilian infrastructure, including Tripoli Port, was shelled by LNA-aligned forces in the first half of the year.
As of June, the World Health Organization reported there had been 21 registered attacks on health facilities and workers, including attacks on hospitals, field clinics, and ambulances. Between January and November, UNSMIL reported 30 attacks on health-care facilities, resulting in eight deaths and 23 injuries. A significant percentage of the health-care infrastructure in the country was inoperable due to damages from conflict, disrepair, or other factors.
In April, Tripoli’s Khadra Hospital, which was designated for civilian use as a COVID-19 treatment facility, was targeted in four separate LNA-aligned airstrikes. Tripoli’s Royal Hospital was targeted in a separate attack, causing extensive damage to the ICU.
Nonstate armed groups also periodically attacked and shut down power and water stations in western and southern Libya as a pressure tactic in local disputes. In April an armed group in the city of Shweirif shut down a local water pump station, disrupting water flow to up to three million residents on the western seaboard.
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:
There were numerous reports of existing or former members of the ROYG security forces committing arbitrary or unlawful killings. Politically motivated killings by nonstate actors, including Houthi forces, militant secessionist elements, and terrorist and insurgent groups claiming affiliation with al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) or ISIS, also continued during the year (see section 1.g, Abuses in Internal Conflict).
In June unidentified gunmen killed Nabeel al-Quaiti, an Agence France Presse photojournalist, in front of his home in Aden. He had been reporting on the clashes between the ROYG and Southern Transitional Council (STC) forces in Abyan.
The ROYG Human Rights Ministry reported in April that sporadic Houthi attacks in the al-Ghail district of al-Jawf governorate killed and injured 16 persons and displaced several families.
In August several ROYG media and local human rights organizations reported that a Houthi sniper in Ta’iz shot a nine-year-old girl, Rawida Saleh Mohammed, on her way to fill her jerrycan with water. Also in August the Yemeni Coalition for Monitoring Human Rights Violations (Rasd Coalition) issued a report stating that Houthi elements in Ta’iz shot three other children between February and August, in addition to Rawida.
On December 30, an attack attributed to the Houthis killed 17 persons, according to a Ministry of Interior report, including three International Committee of the Red Cross staffers, and wounded more than 100 others at the Aden airport. The attack occurred as a plane carrying the newly formed government’s ministers and other officials landed from Saudi Arabia, prompting concerns that its purpose was to destabilize the new government.
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.
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.
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening and did not meet international standards. The ROYG exercised limited control over prison facilities. Government officials and NGOs identified overcrowding, lack of professional training for corrections officials, poor sanitation, inadequate access to justice, intermingling of pretrial and convicted inmates, lack of effective case management, and deteriorating infrastructure as problems within the 18 central prisons and 25 reserve prisons (also known as pretrial detention centers). Lacking special accommodations, authorities held prisoners with physical or mental disabilities with the general population. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported conditions of detention facilities continued to deteriorate, including with respect to overcrowding, damaged buildings, and shortages of food and medicine.
Tribes in rural areas operated unauthorized “private” detention centers based on traditional tribal justice. Tribal leaders occasionally placed “problem” tribesmen in private jails, which sometimes were simply rooms in a sheikh’s house, to punish them for noncriminal actions. Tribal authorities often detained persons for personal reasons without trial or judicial sentencing.
According to the OHCHR, Houthi-affiliated tribal militias, known locally as popular committees, operated at least eight detention facilities in Sana’a, including Habra in the al-Shu’aub district, Hataresh in the Bani Hashaysh district, and al-Thawra and the house of Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar in Haddah.
Reports from human rights organizations and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicated authorities and smugglers continue to detain migrants throughout the country, often in inhuman conditions and subject to repeated abuses of human rights including indiscriminate violence and rape (see section 2.f., Protection of Refugees).
Physical Conditions: The armed conflict negatively affected the condition of prisons. Observers continued to describe most prisons, particularly in rural areas, as overcrowded with poor sanitary conditions, inadequate food and access to potable water, and inadequate medical care. Limited information was available on prison populations during the year. Political prisoners reportedly faced torture, abuse, and other forms of mistreatment, while all prisoners experienced harsh physical conditions.
Media and international NGO reporting in past years found squalid conditions in Houthi detention facilities, including food infested with cockroaches, widespread torture, and absence of any medical care.
According to several reports from HRW and the OHCHR, individuals in detention facilities faced serious health risks from the COVID-19 pandemic. In July relatives of five detainees in Bir Ahmed Prison, an overcrowded, informal detention facility in a military camp controlled by the STC, told HRW that authorities in early April transferred 44 detainees into a room of only approximately 100 square feet that had previously held four persons. The detainees lacked masks, gloves, and hygiene products to protect themselves from COVID-19, as well as lacking basic healthcare services.
No credible statistics were available on the number of inmate deaths during the year.
Administration: Limited information was available on prison administration since the Houthi takeover in 2014. Poor recordkeeping and a lack of communication between prisons and the government made it difficult for authorities to estimate accurately the size of the prison population.
There was no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees. ROYG authorities generally allowed visitors to see prisoners and detainees when family members knew a detainee’s location but granted limited access to family members of those accused of security offenses. Family visits were arbitrarily halted in some cases. Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to engage in Islamic religious observances but prevented religious minorities from practicing their faiths.
Independent Monitoring: The continuing conflict prevented substantial prison monitoring by independent human rights observers.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the UN Group of Experts found that all parties to the conflict continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals accused of crimes. Persons arrested were frequently denied their constitutional right to be charged within 24 hours. They were frequently held incommunicado for periods of time, and subjected to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman treatment. (See section 1.c, Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and 1.g, Abuses in Internal Conflict.) The law prohibits arrests or serving subpoenas between sundown and dawn, but local NGOs reported authorities, including but not limited to the ROYG, the Houthis, and STC, took some persons suspected of crimes from their homes at night without warrants.
According to the July report by Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, from May 2016 to April, the ROYG was responsible for 282 incidents of arbitrary or abusive detention; the Houthis were responsible for 904 cases of arbitrary or abusive detention; and UAE forces and UAE-aligned armed groups, including the STC, were responsible for 419 incidents of arbitrary or abusive detention.
Since the capital’s temporary relocation in 2015 to Aden, the ROYG lost control of most state institutions, including the court and prison systems, and both have deteriorated. The law provides that authorities cannot arrest individuals unless they are apprehended while committing a criminal act or being served with a warrant. In addition, authorities must arraign a detainee within 24 hours or release him. The judge or prosecuting attorney, who decides whether detention is required, must inform the accused of the basis for the arrest. The law stipulates authorities may not hold a detainee longer than seven days without a court order. The law prohibits incommunicado detention, provides detainees the right to inform their families of their arrest, and allows detainees to decline to answer questions without an attorney present. The law states the government must provide attorneys for indigent detainees. UN, NGO, and media reporting concluded that all parties to the conflict frequently ignored these stipulations during the year. The law contains provisions for bail, and Houthi authorities in particular were accused of allowing bail only if they received a bribe. Tribal mediators commonly settled cases in rural areas without reference to the formal court system.
Detainees often did not know which investigating agency arrested them, and the agencies frequently complicated matters by unofficially transferring custody of individuals between agencies.
Arbitrary Arrest: In September the UN Group of Experts report stated it had “found reasonable grounds” to believe that parties to the conflict engaged in arbitrary detention. Two boys, one age 14 and the other age 16, were arrested in Khubar village in Shabwah in February by ROYG Special Security Forces. They were detained on the basis of their reported affiliation to the STC and Shabwani Elite Forces.
In April the Specialized Criminal Court in the Houthi-held capital of Sana’a sentenced four journalists to death and six others to jail on charges of “publishing and writing news, statements, false and malicious rumors and propaganda with the intent to weaken the defense of the homeland, weaken the morale of the Yemeni people, sabotage public security, spread terror among people and harm the country’s interest.” The OHCHR stated in an August 6 press release that despite a pending appeal of the conviction to the appellate division of the court, concerns were growing that the Houthi authorities might carry out the death sentence against the journalists. During their five-year detention, the journalists have been denied family visits, access to their attorney, and health care. According to the OHCHR, they have also been tortured and subjected to “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” (see section 2.a., Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press–Violence and Harassment.).
In April the Specialized Criminal Court ordered that another six detained journalists be released and placed under police surveillance. Only one has since been released, according to the OHCHR. There were no updates as of year’s end.
Houthi authorities continued to detain Levi Salem Marhabi, a Yemeni Jew who has been arbitrarily detained for more than four years despite a court ordering his release in September 2019.
Other nonstate actors also arbitrarily detained persons, including migrants.
Pretrial Detention: Limited information was available on pretrial detention practices during the year, but prolonged detentions without charge or, if charged, without a public preliminary judicial hearing within a reasonable time were believed to be common practices despite their prohibition by law. Staff shortages, judicial inefficiency, and corruption caused trial delays.
In July the Mothers of Abductees Association stated that detainees had been held at Bir Ahmed, which is controlled by the STC, without charge or trial for up to two years.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Information was limited on whether persons arrested or detained were entitled to challenge the legal basis of their detention in court. The law provides that authorities must arraign a detainee within 24 hours or release him. It also provides that the judge or prosecuting attorney must inform the accused of the basis for the arrest. The ROYG, however, lacked the capacity to enforce the law.
The OHCHR reported the criminal justice system had become largely defunct in the areas where progovernment forces retained or reclaimed control, with Saudi coalition-backed forces filling the void. In most cases, as documented by the OHCHR, detainees were not informed of the reasons for their arrest, were not charged, were denied access to lawyers or a judge, and were held incommunicado for prolonged or indefinite periods.
In areas under Houthi control, the judiciary was weak and hampered by corruption, political interference, and lack of proper legal training. Judges’ social and political affiliations, as well as bribery, influenced verdicts.
The ROYG’s lack of capacity to enforce court orders undermined the credibility of the judiciary. Criminals threatened and harassed members of the judiciary to influence cases.
The Baha’i International Community reported that on July 30 the Houthis released six Baha’is who had been detained because of their beliefs. The Houthis continued to prosecute more than 20 Baha’is for apostasy and espionage.
The law considers defendants innocent until proven guilty. Trials were generally public, but all courts may conduct closed sessions “for reasons of public security or morals.” Judges, who play an active role in questioning witnesses and the accused, adjudicate criminal cases. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner. Defendants can confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. The law provides for the government to furnish attorneys for indigent defendants in serious criminal cases; in the past the government did not always provide counsel in such cases. The law allows defense attorneys to counsel their clients, address the court, and examine witnesses and any relevant evidence. Defendants have the right to appeal and could not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. There was limited information available regarding respect for due process during the year.
A court of limited jurisdiction considers security cases. A specialized criminal court, the State Security Court, operated under different procedures in closed sessions and did not provide defendants the same rights provided in the regular courts. Defense lawyers reportedly did not have full access to their clients’ charges or court files. The lack of birth registration compounded difficulties in proving age, which reportedly led courts to sentence juveniles as adults, including for crimes eligible for death sentences (see section 6, Children).
In addition to established courts, there is a tribal justice system for noncriminal matters. Tribal judges, usually respected sheikhs, often also adjudicated criminal cases under tribal law, which usually involved public accusation without the formal filing of charges. Tribal mediation often emphasized social cohesion more than punishment. The public often respected the outcomes of tribal processes more than the formal court system, which was viewed by many as corrupt and lacking independence.
The UN Group of Experts reported in September that the Specialized Criminal Court operating in Houthi-controlled areas, particularly in Sana’a, was being used to suppress dissent, intimidate political opponents, and develop political capital to be used in negotiations. The Group of Experts noted that the rights of the accused were regularly denied and that security and political leadership exercised significant control. For example, the court sentenced 35 members of parliament to death in absentia on March 4 for “having taken actions threatening the stability of the Republic of Yemen, its unity, and security of its territory.” The charges were brought against members of parliament who supported the ROYG.
There were numerous reports of political prisoners and detainees.
Following their takeover of state institutions, the Houthis detained activists, journalists, demonstration leaders, and other political figures representing various political groups and organizations opposed to the Houthis. The Houthis did not charge detainees publicly, and severely restricted or barred information to and access by local or international human rights organizations. NGOs claimed that, absent public charges, it was often difficult to determine whether authorities held detainees for criminal or political activity.
The Mwatana Organization for Human Rights released a report in June describing the regular mistreatment of detainees in secret prisons, taken from interviews with detained civilians, including journalists, activists, lawyers, and students.
Mwatana also reported in September that the parties to the conflict prioritized the exchange of military detainees over civilian detainees following the Stockholm Agreement in 2018.
The law provides a limited ability to pursue civil remedies for human rights abuses as tort claims against private persons. There were no reports of such efforts during the year. Citizens cannot sue the government directly but may petition the public prosecutor to initiate an investigation.
The law prohibits these actions, but Houthi authorities continued such interference. According to human rights NGOs, Houthi authorities searched homes and private offices, monitored telephone calls, read personal mail and email, and otherwise intruded into personal matters without legally issued warrants or judicial supervision.
The law requires the attorney general personally to authorize telephone call monitoring and reading of personal mail and email, but there was no indication the law was followed.
Citizens may not marry a foreigner without permission from the Ministry of Interior, the National Security Bureau, and, in some instances, the Political Security Organization under regulations authorities enforced arbitrarily. The ministry typically approved marriages to foreigners if they provided a letter from their embassy stating the government of the non-Yemeni spouse had no objection to the marriage and presented a marriage contract signed by a judge. There was no available information on existing practice.
The UN Group of Experts reported the Houthis threatened and harassed relatives of disappeared detainees who were searching for the whereabouts of their loved ones.
The ROYG Ministry of Human Rights condemned a July raid by the Houthis on the home of Abdurrazaq al-Hagri, a Sana’a-based member of parliament, during which they stole personal belongings and threatened his family, including women and children, while forcing them to evacuate their home.
g. Abuses in Internal Conflict
The UN Group of Experts concluded that the ROYG, Houthis, Saudi-led coalition, and STC were “responsible for human rights violations including arbitrary deprivation of life, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, gender-based violence, including sexual violence, torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, the recruitment and use in hostilities of children, the denial of fair trial rights, violations of fundamental freedoms, and economic, social and cultural rights.” The United Nations, NGOs, media outlets, as well as humanitarian and international organizations reported what they characterized as disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by all parties to the continuing conflict, causing civilian casualties and damage to infrastructure from shelling and airstrikes. UNICEF reported that 2,000 children have been killed since the beginning of the conflict. The conflict resulted in at least 1,318 civilian casualties, including 511 deaths, from January through August, according to the Civilian Impact Monitoring Project.
In 2014 the Houthis took control of the capital and occupied many government offices. The conflict that ensued in 2015 continued during the year. The UN-led peace process included renewed attempts to bring about cessation of hostilities, despite limited implementation of the agreements reached during peace talks in Stockholm in 2018. Since 2015 Iran has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support to the Houthi rebels and proliferated weapons that exacerbated and prolonged the conflict. Houthi rebels used Iranian funding and weapons to launch attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure both within the country and in Saudi Arabia. Throughout the year the Saudi-led coalition continued military operations against the Houthis (see the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran).
The ROYG re-established a presence in Aden and additional areas in the south in 2016. While the president, vice president, and foreign minister remained in exile in Saudi Arabia, the remainder of the cabinet moved to Aden in 2018 and remained there until August 2019, when the STC seized control of the city. The STC remained in full control of Aden throughout the year until the newly formed government returned to Aden on December 30 under the Saudi-brokered Riyadh Agreement.
In a Yemeni Network for Rights and Freedoms report focused on one indicative month of Houthis abuses from July 15 through August 15, the report documented 141 Houthi abuses of civilians. The network’s field team documented 26 killings and 21 injuries, including to women and children, resulting from Houthi bombing of residential neighborhoods, sniper shootings, and landmines. They also recorded 49 cases of kidnapping, including of women, enforced disappearance, torture, and humiliation of detained abductees by the Houthis. According to the report, the Houthi militia established nine new secret prisons, most of them in confiscated civilian homes or educational facilities. The team also investigated 27 cases of attacks against civilian targets by Houthi gunmen, particularly the homes of civilians, during the same period.
Because of damage to health facilities and water and sanitation infrastructure, as well as a lack of effective public measures to mitigate disease transmission, the country continued to experience several major communicable disease outbreaks, including cholera, COVID-19, polio, diphtheria, and other diseases. Between January and August, there were more than 180,000 cholera cases, which resulted in 55 deaths countrywide, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO). More than 2,030 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 587 associated deaths were recorded in the country between early April and late September, although WHO reported that cases were significantly underreported. Furthermore, the COVID-19 outbreak resulted in decreased utilization of other health care services due to COVID-19-related fear and stigma, including cholera detection and treatment interventions.
Killings: The ROYG-based NCIAVHR reported 928 civilian casualties (comprising both injuries and deaths) during the year, which included 326 killed by the Houthis, 321 by the Saudi-led coalition, and 65 by unspecified other parties. (See section 1.a., Arbitrary Deprivation of Life.)
On January 18, the Houthis launched a drone attack on a mosque in a military camp in Ma’rib during evening prayers, killing more than 100 soldiers while they were praying, according to press reports.
On January 22, a missile hit Member of Parliament Hussein Bin Hussein al-Sawadi’s home in Ma’rib, killing his daughter-in-law and two of his granddaughters and wounding five others, including al-Sawadi.
On February 15, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen reported that as many as 31 civilians were killed and 12 others were wounded as a result of Saudi-led airstrikes conducted in al-Jawf governorate. The Saudi-led coalition claimed it conducted a search-and-rescue operation in the vicinity of a downed Saudi fighter jet and referred the incident to the Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT) for investigation.
The UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen reported in April that six women and a child were killed and at least 11 others were injured when shells hit the women’s section of the Central Prison in al-Mudhaffar district in Ta’iz.
During his July 28 briefing to the UN Security Council, Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock reported that at least 12 civilians were killed in a June 15 air strike of unknown origin on a vehicle in Sa’ada. Lowcock also described an air strike that killed nine civilians in Hajjah on July 12, and another that killed 11 civilians in al-Jawf on July 15.
On August 7, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen reported that as many as nine children were killed and seven others were injured during Saudi-led strikes that occurred while the children were traveling by road in al-Jawf governorate. The report stated it was the third attack in less than a month to cause multiple civilian casualties.
The government of Saudi Arabia established the JIAT in 2016 to identify lessons and corrective actions, and to implement national accountability mechanisms, as appropriate. The Riyadh-based group, consisting of military and civilian members from coalition member states, investigated allegations by international organizations and individuals regarding civilian casualties and targeting of humanitarian aid convoys and infrastructure. The JIAT hosted press conferences throughout the year publicizing the results of more than two dozen investigations, which largely absolved the coalition of responsibility for civilian deaths in the incidents reviewed. The Saudi government has not prosecuted any cases based on JIAT findings to date. The OHCHR and others asserted the JIAT’s investigations did not provide sufficient transparency on the targeting process for strikes. In 2018 HRW stated the JIAT’s public conclusions raised serious questions regarding the ways in which the JIAT conducted investigations and applied international humanitarian law.
Other deaths resulted from attacks and killings by armed groups including the terrorist groups AQAP and ISIS-Yemen. The two groups carried out several deadly attacks against civilians, Houthi combatants, members of southern movements, and other actors. According to several reports, including from the ROYG, the designated terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia (an alias for AQAP) killed and crucified dentist Motthar al-Youssoufi on August 15 at a health center in Assowma’a district in al-Bayda governorate. The terrorist group 10 days later bombed the health center where the victim worked, accusing the center of debauchery because it allowed mixing of the sexes.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Torture and other forms of mistreatment were common in all detention facilities. The UN Group of Experts found reasonable grounds to believe that parties to the conflict engaged in torture, including sexual violence (see section 1.c., Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.).
The UN Group of Experts documented detention-related abuses. They also reported cases of torture in ROYG-controlled facilities at the Ma’rib Political Security Prison, including one case involving five men and two boys who were subjected to torture by “suspension in painful positions, crawling on broken glass and screws, beating and electric shock to genitals with threats of sterilization, and burning of genitals.”
The UN Group of Experts reported that the Houthis tortured and mistreated detainees in detention facilities under their control, including at Sana’a Central Prison, unofficial facilities such as the security and intelligence detention center, and in secret detention facilities. They reported similar cases of torture at al-Saleh Prison in Ta’iz, particularly in the national security section operated by the Houthis. Methods of torture included “repeated and severe beating with sticks, electric cables, iron bars; electrocution; removal of fingernails; electrocution and beating of the genitals with threats of sterilization; forced nudity; sexual violence; and solitary confinement.”
In August the Defense Foundation for Rights and Freedoms (DFRF), a local NGO, reported that Saeed Arif Saeed Moqbel Jalijal had been forcibly disappeared by UAE officers and tortured in al-Wadah Hall in Aden for four years. According to his statements, an Emirati officer tortured him by burning and electric shock.
Also in August the DFRF stated that pro-STC forces in Aden unlawfully and repeatedly detained and tortured three youths from rival factions.
Child Soldiers: Although the law and ROYG policy expressly forbid the practice, HRW found that one-third of all combatants were minors. The UN Group of Experts assessed that during the year both coalition-backed forces and Houthi forces conscripted or enlisted children younger than age 18 into armed forces or groups and used them to participate actively in hostilities, with cases of recruitment and use of boys as young as seven years old. The Yemeni Armed Forces, Houthi-affiliated resistance groups, and the different southern forces, including but not limited to the STC, have all been documented as having recruited children, according to the UN Group of Experts.
Most cases of child soldiers were attributed to Houthi forces. The UN Group of Experts reported that the Houthis used the education system to indoctrinate students in Houthi ideology, incite violence, and recruit children from 34 schools across six governorates (Amran, Dhamar, Raymah, Sa’ada, Sana’a, and Ta’iz). The group also documented the recruitment of girls by the Houthis into the Zainabiyat forces, the female Houthi security apparatus. Since 2015, 12 girls aged 13-17 allegedly survived sexual violence as well as forced and early marriage directly linked to their recruitment.
Tribes, primarily affiliated with the Houthis, but also including some tribes armed and financed by the ROYG to fight alongside its regular army, used underage recruits in combat zones, according to reports by international NGOs such as Save the Children. Combatants reportedly included married boys between the ages of 12 and 15 in fighting in the northern tribal areas; tribal custom considered married boys as adults who owe allegiance to the tribe. As a result, according to international and local human rights NGOs, one-half of tribal fighters were youths younger than age 18. Other observers noted tribes rarely placed boys in harm’s way but used them as guards rather than fighters.
The lack of a consistent system for birth registration compounded difficulties in proving age, which at times contributed to the recruitment of minors into the military. The United Nations also documented the deprivation of liberty of boys by armed forces and groups for their alleged association with opposing parties.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: All parties to the conflict routinely imposed severe restrictions on the movement of persons, goods, and humanitarian assistance. Continued clashes, worsening macroeconomic conditions, fuel shortages, damage to civilian infrastructure, and lack of access for and bureaucratic constraints on humanitarian organizations to reach vulnerable populations contributed to the worsening humanitarian situation. The United Nations reported that 24.3 million individuals needed humanitarian assistance as of November. As of November, the United Nations reported that there were more than 40 front lines where relief workers must negotiate passage with various armed groups, which complicated and delayed aid delivery.
The United Nations reported that since 2019, parties to the conflict increasingly impeded humanitarian operations. Continued Houthi interference in relief operations had resulted in the disruption of humanitarian activities in the north, affecting an estimated 9 million persons as of November. Houthi officials issued more than 310 directives between January 2019 and November to control organizations providing humanitarian assistance.
Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock told the UN Security Council in October that humanitarian staff in the south also faced challenges due to insecurity, including harassment by armed groups.
There were reports of attacks on health-care facilities and health-care workers. The WHO recorded 142 attacks on health facilities from March 2015 to March.
On February 7, a number of international NGOs released a joint statement that described an attack on Ma’rib’s main hospital, which serves up to 15,000 patients. In addition, a nearby hospital and mobile clinic were also structurally damaged. The Group of Eminent Experts found reasonable grounds to believe that these attacks were, at a minimum, prohibited indiscriminate attacks due to the imprecise nature or deployment of the weapons used.
On March 13, the al-Thawra hospital, supported by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), was struck multiple times by shelling by an unknown group. A week earlier, on March 5, the hospital’s general laboratory was damaged and a medical staff member was wounded by shelling. Since 2018 MSF recorded at least 40 incidents of violence against the hospital, its personnel, and patients, including shootings inside or near hospital premises. Hospital buildings and structures were hit more than 15 times by small arms fire and shelling, and there were several incidents of medical staff being harassed and attacked. An MSF-supported hospital in Ta’iz was also affected by shelling in October.
There were reports of the use of civilians to shield combatants. Houthi forces reportedly used captives as human shields at military encampments and ammunition depots under threat of coalition airstrikes.