Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
During the year there were reliable reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings and deaths from torture were reported.
In the wake of the August 9 presidential election, riot police, internal troops, and plainclothes security officers violently suppressed mass protests. At least four individuals died as a result of police violence, shooting by members of the security forces, or the government’s failure to provide medical assistance.
For example, on August 10, police in Minsk shot protester Alyaksandr Taraykouski during a demonstration. Authorities’ claims that Taraykouski was killed when an explosive device he was holding detonated were contradicted by eyewitness accounts and video footage of the incident, in which security forces clearly appeared to shoot Taraykouski in the chest as he approached them with his empty hands raised. The Investigative Committee initiated an investigation into the case but suspended it on November 13. As of December a criminal case had not been initiated in this matter.
On November 2, a representative of the Investigative Committee, the law enforcement body charged with investigating police violence in the country, told the United Nations that the committee was not investigating any allegations of police abuse and declared “currently there have been no identified cases of unlawful acts by the police.” The representative blamed protest organizers for using protesters as “cannon fodder” and bringing children to demonstrations.
On November 12, Raman Bandarenka died from head injuries and a collapsed lung after being severely beaten and detained on November 11 by masked, plainclothes security officers in Minsk. The detention and some beatings were captured on video. After being detained for several hours, Bandarenka was transferred unconscious to a hospital in Minsk where he died. The injuries that resulted in Bandarenka’s death were reportedly more severe than those he received during his arrest, and human rights activists concluded that he was subjected to additional severe abuses while detained. Authorities reportedly launched an inquiry into the incident.
During the year there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
There were, however, reports of abductions by security forces of opposition leaders. For example, on September 7, masked members of the security forces approached opposition leader Maryya Kalesnikava on the street in Minsk and forced her into a van. According to Kalesnikava’s lawyer, the men first took her to the Ministry of Internal Affair’s Main Directorate for Combatting Organized Crime and Corruption, where she was held for several hours without registering her detention. She was then brought to the central office of the Committee for State Security (BKGB), where she was told to depart the country voluntarily. After Kalesnikava refused, she was taken to the Ukrainian border on September 8, where authorities attempted to force her to leave the country. Kalesnikava tore up her passport to prevent expulsion from the country. She was subsequently arrested, taken back to Minsk, and placed in a detention center, where she remained as of December. On September 16, she was formally charged with “calling for actions that threaten national security.”
On January 16, the Investigative Committee announced it reopened suspended investigations into the 1999 disappearances of former deputy prime minister Viktar Hanchar and businessman Anatol Krasouski. In December 2019 the committee also reopened the investigation into the disappearance of former minister of internal affairs Yury Zakharanka after Yury Harauski, who claimed to be a former special rapid response unit officer, stated he participated in the forced disappearances and killings of Hanchar, Krasouski, and Zakharanka. In March the committee again suspended investigations due to a “failure to identify any suspects.” There was evidence of government involvement in the disappearances, but authorities continued to deny any connection with them. In December 2019 Lukashenka stated that politically motivated killings would be impossible without his orders, which he “[had] never and would never issue.”
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices. Nevertheless, the BKGB, riot police, and other security forces, without identification and wearing street clothes and masks, regularly used excessive force against detainees and protesters. Security forces also reportedly mistreated individuals during investigations. Police regularly beat and tortured persons during detentions and arrests. According to human right nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and former prisoners, prison authorities abused prisoners.
According to documented witness reports, on August 9-11, security officers physically abused inside detention vehicles, police stations, and detention facilities on a systemic scale across the country the majority of the approximately 6,700 persons detained during postelection civil unrest. The human rights NGO Vyasna documented more than 500 cases of torture and other severe abuse committed in police custody against postelection protest participants and independent election observers, opposition leaders, civil society activists, and average citizens.
Among the abuses documented were severe beatings; psychological humiliation; the use of stress positions; at least one reported case of rape and sexual abuse; use of electric shock devices and tear gas; and up to three days intentional deprivation of food, drinking water, hygiene products, the use of toilets, sleep, and medical assistance.
For example, according to Human Rights Watch, on August 11, police detained 18-year-old college student Alyaksandr Brukhanchik and two friends as they were walking at night in a residential area and handed them over to a group of Internal Affairs Ministry riot police officers. The officers took the students inside a minibus, beat them, cut their shorts in the buttocks area, threatened to rape them with a grenade, and then transferred them to another police van, forced them to crawl on the blood-spattered floor, and beat them again. An officer kicked Brukhanchik in the face. Brukhanchik presented Human Rights Watch with medical documentation consistent with his account.
There were widespread reports of rape threats and sexual abuse by government agents against both men and women, and at least one reported instance of rape against a detainee. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Moscow Mechanism Report, on August 11, a senior officer raped Ales, a 30-year-old information technology (IT) worker, with a truncheon after his arrest. While in a police van, the officer demanded that Ales unlock his cell phone. When Ales repeatedly refused, the officer cut his shorts and underwear in the back, put a condom on a truncheon, and raped him with it. The officer then further beat Ales. Ales provided NGOs with medical documentation consistent with his account. On November 6, Internal Affairs Ministry first deputy Henadz Kazakevich claimed “a man cannot be raped in accordance with Belarusian law.” By law, however, rape of both men and women is criminalized in the country (see section 6).
Impunity remained a significant problem in almost all branches of the security services, including police and the BKGB. Impunity was widespread and continued largely due to politicization of the security services. On November 2, the Investigative Committee confirmed that the government had not opened any criminal investigations into complaints of torture or police violence filed with the Investigative Committee. While Internal Affairs Minister Yury Karaeu apologized in August to “random residents detained during protests,” he justified the brutal crackdown and subsequent torture by claiming police responded to “aggression coming from protesters against security officers” and “protesters building barricades and resisting police.” Karaeu’s deputy, Alyaksandr Barsukou, who visited holding facilities in Minsk on August 14, dismissed reports of torture, falsely claiming no detainees complained of mistreatment.
According to the OSCE Moscow Mechanism Report, published on October 29, the “first period of postelection violence by the security forces has to be qualified as a period of systemic torture and mistreatment with the main purpose to punish demonstrators and to intimidate them and potential other protesters. To a lesser extent, the infliction of pain and suffering served the purpose of gaining information or confessions. The torture or inhuman and degrading treatment was intentional as it was widespread and systematic as well as targeted at the opposing protesters although some accidental bystanders also became victims of the crackdown. It followed a systematic and widespread pattern including Minsk and other cities.”
Prison and detention center conditions remained poor, and in many cases posed threats to life and health.
Physical Conditions: According to former detainees and human rights lawyers, there continued to be shortages of food, medicine, warm clothing, personal hygiene products, and bedding as well as inadequate access to basic or emergency medical care and clean drinking water. Detainees reported that prison officials deliberately denied detainees access to food, water, hygiene products, and necessary medical care, sometimes for several days, as a form of retribution. Overall sanitation was poor. Authorities made little effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, but at the same time used COVID-19 as a pretext to restrict access to visitors and distribution of food, hygiene, and clothing parcels.
Overcrowding of pretrial holding facilities and prisons generally was a problem; however, a May 22 amnesty law reduced the terms of at least 2,500 prisoners, resulting in their release. In the three days after the August 9 election, there was insufficient space in detention facilities for the thousands of detainees that were arrested on protest-related charges, especially in Minsk. Detention facilities were reportedly overcrowded with cells fit for five individuals housing 50 detainees, forcing detainees to take turns standing and resting.
Although there were isolated allegations that police placed underage suspects in pretrial detention facility cells with adult suspects and convicts, authorities generally held juvenile prisoners separately from adults at juvenile penal colonies, arrest houses, and pretrial holding facilities. Conditions for female and juvenile prisoners were generally better than for adult male prisoners.
Observers believed tuberculosis, pneumonia, HIV/AIDS, COVID-19, and other communicable diseases were widespread in prisons because of generally poor medical care.
Individuals detained for political reasons prior to the election or during protests following the August 9 presidential election appeared to face worse prison conditions than those of the general prison population, including more reports of torture and severe abuses.
Administration: Prisoners and detainees had limited access to visitors, and meetings with families were denied allegedly as a common punishment for disciplinary violations. Authorities restricted visitors to all detainees in a reported attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19 in facilities, despite the government’s official nonrecognition of the COVID-19 pandemic and failure to implement national quarantine measures.
Authorities generally prevented prisoners from holding religious services and performing ceremonies that did not comply with prison regulations, despite legal provisions for such practice. Belarusian Orthodox churches were located at a number of prison facilities and Orthodox clergy were generally allowed access to conduct services.
Former prisoners and their defense lawyers reported that prison officials often censored or did not forward their complaints to higher authorities and that prison administrators either ignored or selectively considered requests for investigation of alleged abuses. Prisoners also reported that prison administrators frequently refused to provide them with copies of responses to their complaints, which further complicated their defense. Complaints could result in retaliation against prisoners, including humiliation, death threats, or other forms of punishment and harassment. Former prisoners claimed some prison administrators’ repeated harassment resulted in suicides, which authorities neither investigated nor made public.
Corruption in prisons was a serious problem, and observers noted that parole often depended on bribes to prison personnel. Parole could also depend on a prisoner’s political affiliation.
Independent Monitoring: Despite numerous requests to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, government officials refused to approve requests from NGOs to visit detention and prison facilities and speak with the inmates.
The law limits arbitrary detention, but the government did not respect these limits. Authorities, including plainclothes security officers, arrested or detained thousands of individuals during peaceful protests and used administrative measures to detain political and civil society activists, as well as bystanders and journalists not involved in the protests, before, during, and after protests and other major public events, including those legally permitted in the framework of election campaigns.
By law police must request permission from a prosecutor to detain a person for more than three hours. Authorities may hold a criminal suspect for up to 10 days without filing formal charges and for up to 18 months after filing charges, but in some cases authorities detained persons beyond 18 months. By law detainees are allowed prompt access to a lawyer of their choice or one provided by the state free of charge, although authorities often delayed extending this right to high-profile political prisoners, who faced authorities without the presence of defense lawyers at the initial stages of an investigation. Prosecutors, investigators, and security-service agencies have legal authority to extend detention without consulting a judge. Detainees have the right to petition the court system regarding the legality of their detention, but authorities consistently suppressed or ignored such appeals. The country has no functioning bail system.
There were reports that persons were detained without judicial authorization.
There were some reports of detainees who were held incommunicado. During the initial arrests following the August 9 presidential election, police precincts fingerprinted detainees and processed them for subsequent trial at holding facilities but left them incommunicado.
In the weeks following the election, up to 80 persons were reported missing but were eventually located after authorities acknowledged their detention or released them. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, on August 11, Yury Savitski, a supporter of jailed presidential candidate Viktar Babaryka, was abducted by six men in civilian clothing after attending a protest the previous day. His wife sought for days to establish his whereabouts, only to be told by authorities that there were too many prisoners and that many were not being officially registered. She was only able to determine his location and the charges he faced after waiting outside the holding facilities in Zhodzina with a photograph of her husband and asking released detainees whether they recognized him.
Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities detained political scientists, political leaders, presidential campaign participants, opposition leaders and members, civil society activists, and demonstrators for reasons widely considered to be politically motivated. In many cases authorities used administrative measures to detain political activists before, during, and after planned demonstrations, protests, and other public events. Security officials arbitrarily detained persons in areas where protesters peacefully lined streets or protests were expected (see section 2.b.).
For example, on May 6, authorities in Mahilyou detained popular blogger and potential presidential candidate Syarhey Tsikhanouski during a countrywide tour to speak with citizens. He had been given a delayed 15-day administrative sentence for participating in an unauthorized mass event in 2019. In response to his arrest, followers of his blog and livestreams began three days of countrywide protests. Security officers without judicial authorization detained and subsequently fined or sentenced more than 100 activists and Tsikhanouski supporters for allegedly participating in unauthorized mass events (see section 2.b., Peaceful Assembly, and section 3).
After opposition leader Viktar Babaryka’s arrest (see section 3), on June 28, BKGB and riot police officers arbitrarily detained at least 52 prominent businessmen, political figures, Babaryka supporters and campaign staff, as well as independent journalists who gathered outside the BKGB building to file requests for Babaryka’s release. Authorities released at least 12 local independent and foreign journalists and 33 other individuals after identification checks were conducted at police precincts. At least seven persons were subsequently tried on administrative charges of allegedly participating in unauthorized mass events and resisting police.
Security forces regularly detained bystanders, including those not involved with protests. For example, according to Human Rights Watch, on August 10, police detained construction worker Alyaksandr Gazimau near a Minsk shopping mall where a crowd of protesters had gathered. According to Gazimau, he was not participating in the protest and had just had dinner with a friend. When riot police arrived, the protesters started to run, and Gazimau ran as well. He fell while running and broke his leg. Police dragged him into a truck, beat him, intentionally stepped on his broken leg, and threatened to rape him with a truncheon. They passed him to another group of officers, who beat him again, took him to a local police precinct, where they forced him to stand on his broken leg, then forced him to the ground and intentionally kicked his broken leg again. He spent the night in the police precinct yard, and was transferred to holding facilities in Zhodzina prison, where he waited two days in the prison hospital before being transferred to a hospital for surgery. Independent media reported dozens of similar accounts of individuals, who were unaware of protest locations because of the government’s internet restrictions but were caught up along with protesters by security forces and arbitrarily detained.
Pretrial Detention: There were approximately 5,000 pretrial detainees in 2018, the latest year for which data were available. Information was not available regarding average length of time or how many continuing investigations were extended for lengthier periods. Observers believed there were a number of possible reasons for the delays, including political interference; charges being brought against individuals held in pretrial detention and investigations opened; new investigators taking over cases; cases that were complicated because they involved many suspects; and cases that required extensive forensic or other expert examinations and analysis. For example, during the year a former chief engineer of the Minsk Wheeled Tractor Factory Andrei Halavach was in the process of suing the government for compensation for the 4.5 years he spent in pretrial detention. Halavach was released in 2019 with all charges cleared and after being acquitted in two separate trials.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees have the right to petition the court system regarding the legality of their detention, but authorities consistently suppressed or ignored such appeals. By law courts or prosecutors have 24 hours to issue a ruling on a detention and 72 hours on an arrest. Courts hold closed hearings in these cases, which the suspect, a defense lawyer, and other legal representatives may attend. Appeals to challenge detentions were generally denied.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but authorities did not respect judicial independence and impartiality. Observers believed corruption, inefficiency, and political interference with judicial decisions were widespread. Courts convicted individuals on false and politically motivated charges brought by prosecutors, and observers believed that senior government leaders and local authorities dictated the outcomes of trials.
As in previous years, according to human rights groups, prosecutors wielded excessive and imbalanced authority because they may extend detention periods without the permission of judges. Defense lawyers were unable to examine investigation files, be present during investigations and interrogations, or examine evidence against defendants until a prosecutor formally brought the case to court. Lawyers found it difficult to challenge some evidence because the Prosecutor’s Office controlled all technical expertise. According to many defense attorneys, this power imbalance persisted, especially in politically motivated criminal and administrative cases. Courts did not exonerate criminal defendants except in rare circumstances.
There were reports of retaliatory prosecution and debarment of defense lawyers representing political campaigns, opposition leaders, and the opposition’s Coordination Council. For example, on September 24, Lyudmila Kazak, defense attorney for the opposition’s Coordination Council Presidium member Maryya Kalesnikava, disappeared. It later became known that she was abducted off the streets of Minsk by unidentified men and brought to a holding facility. Kazak was charged and found guilty of allegedly resisting detention by police at an opposition rally on August 30 that she had not attended. Kazak was fined approximately 675 rubles ($277) in what human rights organizations and Kazak herself called a politically motivated case in retaliation for her defense work on Kalesnikava’s case.
On October 15, prominent lawyer and member of the Minsk City Bar Association for 30 years Alyaksandr Pylchenka lost his license to practice law, allegedly for statements he made in an August 14 interview with independent media in which he called for legal measures to be taken by the prosecutor general to hold security forces accountable for the severe abuses of detainees arrested during postelection peaceful protests. Pylchenka defended presidential hopeful Viktar Babaryka and Presidium Coordination Council member Maryya Kalesnikava. Babaryka claimed the nullification of Pylchenka’s license was an attempt by authorities to deny him his rights to legal protection.
On September 9, authorities detained Coordination Council Presidium member and one of Babaryka’s defense attorneys Maksim Znak, along with Ilya Saley, a lawyer for the Coordination Council’s Presidium member Maryya Kalesnikava, after searching their apartments. Lawyers asserted that Znak was arrested in retaliation for his August 21 filing of a compliant with the Supreme Court calling for the August 9 presidential election results to be invalidated due to the widespread allegations of electoral fraud. Saley was arrested two days after Kalesnikava’s abduction by masked members of the security forces on charges of appealing for actions to damage the country’s national security and violently topple the government. Saley remained in detention until October 16, when he was placed under house arrest.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but authorities frequently disregarded this right. By law criminal defendants may be held up to 10 days without being notified of charges, but they must have adequate time to prepare a defense. Facilities, however, were not adequate and in many cases, meetings with lawyers were limited or were not confidential. In some cases authorities reportedly compelled suspects to testify against themselves or other suspects in their case, including confessing their guilt. In these cases authorities reportedly claimed sentences would be more lenient or defendants would receive other benefits. There were also reports of authorities coercing suspects into signing confessions and other statements.
The law provides for the presumption of innocence. Nevertheless, the lack of judicial independence, state media’s practice of reporting on high-profile cases as if guilt were already certain, and widespread limits on defense rights frequently placed the burden of proving innocence on the defendant.
The law also provides for public trials, but authorities occasionally held closed trials in judges’ chambers. Judges adjudicate all trials. For the most serious cases, two civilian advisers assist the judge.
The law provides defendants the right to attend proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence on their own behalf, but authorities did not always respect these rights. Some defendants were tried in absentia. In addition riot police or other security officers who testified against defendants in these cases did not identify themselves and testified wearing balaclavas due to “concern for their security.”
The law provides for access to legal counsel for the defendant and requires courts to appoint a lawyer for those who cannot afford one. Although by law defendants may ask for their trials to be conducted in Belarusian, most judges and prosecutors were not fluent in this language, rejected motions for interpreters, and proceeded in Russian, one of the official languages of the country. Interpreters are provided when the defendant speaks neither Belarusian nor Russian. The law provides for the right to choose legal representation freely; however, a presidential decree prohibits NGO members who are lawyers from representing individuals other than members of their organizations in court. The government’s past attempts to disbar attorneys who represented political opponents of the government further limited defendants’ choice of counsel. The government also required defense attorneys to sign nondisclosure statements that limited their ability to release any information regarding the case to the public, media, and even defendants’ family members.
In cases of administrative charges, including participating in unauthorized mass events and resisting law enforcement officers, judges often did not inform detained protesters of their right to defense counsel and dismissed counsels’ requests for additional witnesses testifying at trials. Authorities increasingly used video conferencing services to allow defendants to attend their hearings and trials remotely, purportedly to limit COVID-19 spread in detention facilities. After the August 9 election, however, abuses of this practice occurred when some detainees in the Zhodzina holding facility were reportedly tried “virtually” without defense lawyers or witnesses being granted access.
Some courts questioned the legality of contracts signed in advance between a defense lawyer and defendant or used the existence of these contracts against the defendant. For example, on September 11, a Minsk district court convicted and fined Paval Manko, an IT specialist, of purportedly participating in August 27 unauthorized mass events. Judge Zhana Khvainitskaya stated “the fact that Manko had a contract as of August 3 with his defense counsel demonstrated his direct intention to take part in unauthorized mass events.”
Courts often allowed statements obtained by force and threats of bodily harm during interrogations to be used against defendants.
Defendants have the right to appeal convictions, and most defendants did so. Nevertheless, appeals courts upheld the verdicts of the lower courts in the vast majority of cases.
The local human rights group Vyasna maintained what is widely considered a credible list of political prisoners in the country. As of December its list contained more than 160 names, including the cases of leading political opposition figures and their staff.
In one case, on September 2, authorities detained four employees of the IT company PandaDoc (Viktar Kuushynau, Dzmitry Rabtsevich, Yulia Shardyka, and Uladizlau Mikhalap). Two weeks earlier, the owner of the company, Mikita Mikada, publicly condemned political repression in the country and had colaunched a public initiative, Protect Belarus, aimed at financially supporting law enforcement officers who refused to take part in repression. Authorities charged the four employees with theft, for which conviction is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The charges were widely viewed as both retaliation against Mikada and intended to deter political activism by other technology companies. On October 12, authorities released Rabtsevich, Shardyka, and Mikhalap to house arrest, but the charges were not dropped. As of late December, Kuushynau remained in detention, and Vyasna considered all four PandaDoc employees to be political prisoners.
Former political prisoners continued to be unable to exercise some civil and political rights.
The law provides that individuals may file lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations, but the civil judiciary was not independent and was rarely impartial in such matters.
No laws provide for restitution or compensation for immovable private property confiscated during World War II, the Holocaust, or the Soviet period. In 2019 the government reported that, in the previous 11 years, it had not received any requests or claims from individuals, NGOs, or any other public organization, either Jewish or foreign, seeking compensation or restitution of any property.
For information regarding Holocaust-era property restitution and related topics, please see the Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report to Congress, released on July 29, at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
The law prohibits such actions, but the government did not respect these prohibitions. Authorities used wiretapping, video surveillance, and a network of informers that deprived persons of privacy.
The law requires a warrant before or immediately after conducting a search. The BKGB has authority to enter any building at any time, as long as it applies for a warrant within 24 hours after the entry.
There were reports authorities entered properties without judicial or other appropriate authorization. In August and September, multiple instances were reported of plainclothes officers forcing entry into private homes or businesses. These officers often refused to show identification or a warrant, or claimed it was sufficient for them to state their affiliation with a government agency and proceed with the entry. On September 7, an individual identified as head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Main Directorate for Combatting Organized Crime and Corruption Mikalay Karpenkau repeatedly struck and broke the locked glass door of a cafe to allow security officials in civilian clothing to apprehend individuals who had supposedly participated in protests.
There were reports that authorities accessed, collected, or used private communications or personal data arbitrarily or unlawfully or without appropriate legal authority. For example, after the August 9 election, security officials occasionally threatened individuals detained during protests with violence or arrest if they did not unlock their cell phones for review. Officials also threatened individuals at detention facilities with harsher sentences if they did not unlock their cell phones. Security officials reportedly detained or issued harsher sentences for individuals with photos or social media accounts that officials regarded as pro-opposition or that showed security forces committing abuses.
According to the 2019 Freedom House Freedom on the Net Report, the country employs systematic, sophisticated surveillance techniques to monitor its citizens. Surveillance is believed to be omnipresent in the country. Since 2010 the government has utilized the Russian-developed System of Operative Investigative Measures, which provides authorities with direct, automated access to communications data from landline telephone networks, mobile service providers, and internet service providers. The government also blocked and filtered websites and social media platforms (see section 2.a., Internet Freedom). The country employs a centralized system of video monitoring cameras.
State television reportedly obtained state surveillance footage and wiretap transcripts from state security services that it used to produce progovernment documentaries and coverage.
According to activists, authorities employed informer systems at state enterprises after the August 9 presidential election to identify which workers would strike, as well as pressure workers not to join strike committees. “Ideology” officers were reportedly in charge of maintaining informer systems at state enterprises.
Family members were reportedly punished for offenses allegedly committed by their relatives. For example, a doctor at a hospital in Minsk, who quit in protest of police violence against peaceful demonstrators in August, said his spouse, also a doctor at the same hospital, was forced to quit. In late August both left the country due to fear of prosecution.
Authorities temporarily removed or threatened to remove children from the custody of their parents to punish them for protesting or political activism. On September 13, the head of the Juvenile Justice Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office, Alyaksei Padvoisky, told state media that parents who take their children to protests risked losing custody of their children and that such actions would be considered “neglect of parental responsibilities.” For example, according to press reports, on September 27, Herman Snyazhkou was detained at a protest in Homyel. On September 29, authorities raided his home and arrested his wife, Natallya, and took custody of his two minor children, whom they sent to a state orphanage. Natallya Snyazhkou was released after being interrogated and left the country after regaining custody of her children. After serving 14 days of arrest, Herman Snyazhkou was also charged with resisting law enforcement officers and applying or threatening to apply violence and was told his wife was a suspect in the same case. He was released and as of November 15 was barred from leaving the country. Similarly presidential candidates Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Valery Tsapkala fled the country, as did their children and Tsapkala’s wife, after reported intimidation and threats to strip custody of their children from them.
While the law prohibits authorities from intercepting telephone and other communications without a prosecutor’s order, authorities routinely monitored residences, telephones, and computers. Nearly all opposition political figures and many prominent members of civil society groups claimed that authorities monitored their conversations and activities. The government continued to collect and obtain personally identifiable information on independent journalists and democratic activists during raids and by confiscating computer equipment.
The law allows the BKGB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, special security services, financial intelligence personnel, and certain border guard detachments to use wiretaps. Wiretaps require the permission of a prosecutor, but the lack of prosecutorial independence rendered this requirement meaningless.
The Ministry of Communications has the authority to terminate the telephone service of persons who violate telephone contracts, which prohibits the use of telephone services for purposes contrary to state interests and public order.
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.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits torture and other such abuses. Although the law lacks a comprehensive definition of torture, there are provisions allowing prison terms of up to 10 years for acts of torture.
The UN and human rights organizations continued to report that torture and other forms of mistreatment were common in ROYG-, Houthi-, and Emirati-controlled detention facilities. The UN Group of Experts reported abuses in detention included sexual violence, prolonged solitary confinement, electric shock, burning, and other forms of torture (see section 1.g., Abuses in Internal Conflict.).
According to the July report by the Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, from May 2016 to April, the ROYG was responsible for 65 incidents of torture; the Houthis were responsible for 138 incidents of torture, including 27 deaths in detention centers; and UAE forces and UAE-aligned armed groups, including the STC, were responsible for 141 incidents of torture, including 25 deaths in detention centers. In June gunmen, allegedly from a ROYG-appointed brigade, reportedly stormed the house in Ta’iz of ROYG Colonel Abdul Hakim al-Jabzi, the Operations Commander of the 35th Brigade, and kidnapped and tortured his son Aseel to death before throwing Aseel’s body on a road. The motive was reportedly an internal political dispute.
According to several reports in August by Ma’rib-based Erada Organization against Torture and Forced Disappearance, Houthi militia forces in al-Bayda captured, tortured, and killed a ROYG soldier, Abdul Hafidh Abd al-Rab al-Tahiri. On August 25, Erada reported that Houthis in Dhammar captured Ahmed Ali al-Saqhani, a ROYG soldier, and tortured him to death while in detention.
Impunity remained a significant problem in the security forces. Civilian control of security agencies continued to deteriorate as regional efforts to promote national reconciliation stalled. Exacerbating the problem of impunity, interest groups–including former president Saleh’s family and other tribal and party entities–expanded their influence over security agencies, often through unofficial channels rather than through the formal command structure.
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.
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.