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Executive Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. There were reports of official corruption during the year. The constitution requires approval of one-fifth of the members of parliament 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 has never used this procedure, and parliament has not met since 2019.

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.

International and local observers, including Transparency International, agreed corruption was a serious problem in every branch and level of government, especially in the security sector. International observers claimed government officials benefited from insider arrangements, embezzlement, and bribes. In the view of informed local observers, the leading cause of the 2011 protests that eventually led to the existing conflict was anger concerning pervasive corruption. M edia reported in October  on the alleged connection between high-level officials in the president’s office and monopolies on oil trading.

The government developed an anticorruption strategy for the years 2010-14, and has laws on public tenders, financial disclosure, and anti-money-laundering, all of which have been inconsistently implemented. From its 2007 establishment to the Houthi takeover of Sana’a in 2014, 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 privahte-sector representatives. A lack of capacity, particularly in terms of financial analysis, hampered its work. The Riyadh Agreement called for reactivating the SNACC and “strengthening it with honest and professional figures and… [re-]activating its oversight role.” The government of Yemen’s prime minister formally announced the “reconstitution” of the SNACC in 2019, and in January announced the formation of a committee to investigate management of state revenues at ports of entry. President Hadi in December announced an audit by the Central Organization for Control and Audit of Central Bank operations from the time its headquarters relocated to Aden in 2016 to the end of the year. The UN POE reported that Houthi figure Ahmed Hamid announced in November 2020 that he was taking steps to combat corruption in connection with international aid, using the former SNACC, but the POE’s sources described the actions as an internal power struggle and an attempt to cover up more serious corruption.

The UN POE’s January 22 letter to the UN Security Council noted numerous examples of corruption affecting the government of Yemen, including corruption in the Yemeni Coast Guard allowing Houthi smuggling of arms and equipment; corruption in the security forces, including inflated payrolls; and serious corruption within the Ministry of Defense impacting payment of salaries and allocation of personnel and equipment.

The POE report also identified corruption among Houthi-controlled entities, including in selection of civil appointments, intimidation of opponents, and diversion of humanitarian aid. The POE’s investigations found that the Houthi “budget” did not include humanitarian assistance and no detailed breakdown of aid receipts and expenditures were readily available.

Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

International human rights organizations stated their personnel were unable to obtain Saudi-led coalition permission to use UN flights into and out of Sana’a since 2017. Independent observers had to take commercial flights to government of Yemen-controlled areas in the south and then travel by land across dangerous front lines to other areas. The only internationally backed, independent monitoring group’s mandate was terminated during the year (see below).

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: On October 7, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted 18 in favor of and 21 against renewing the GEE’s mandate following assertions from members of the Saudi-led coalition that the group was not sufficiently independent; seven countries abstained. A group of more than 60 nongovernmental and civil society organizations issued a joint letter strongly condemning the UNHRC’s vote, calling the GEE “the only international and impartial body investigating serious violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law perpetrated by all parties to the armed conflict in the country.” They noted that “ending the GEE’s mandate will only entrench impunity, and act as a greenlight for all parties to the armed conflict to continue to commit war crimes and other serious violations.”

Prior to the end of its mandate, the GEE noted that the government of Yemen had not granted the group access to the country, and the Houthis had not granted access to areas under their control.

The government of Yemen and the Saudi-led coalition coordinated with the United Nations, particularly through the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen, to oversee delivery of commercial imports. All parties to the conflict impeded aid distribution by UN and humanitarian organizations. There were serious obstacles to delivery from checkpoints, road conditions, bureaucratic impediments, and armed conflict. Houthi interference, delays, and access constraints hampered aid organizations’ ability to fully assess and address humanitarian needs (see section 1.g., Other Conflict-related Abuse.).

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government of Yemen’s National Commission was established in 2015 to investigate all alleged human rights abuses since 2012. The commission consists of a chair and eight members with legal, judicial, or human rights backgrounds. The National Commission continued to investigate and report on human rights conditions during the year and conducted training with the United Nations. The UN deputy high commissioner for human rights in 2017 renewed its cooperation with the National Commission but noted its publications failed to comply with international recognized methodology and impartiality standards.

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