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 those convicted of torture. In a September report, the GEE assessed that parties to the conflict continued to engage in torture and other forms of mistreatment. Journalists, human rights defenders, and migrants were among the victims of these abuses (see section 1.g.).
The government of Yemen’s National Commission to Investigate Alleged Violations to Human Rights (National Commission) recorded 86 cases of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment from August 2020 to July and attributed 10 cases to government forces and 76 to Houthi forces.
In a May report Amnesty International described interviews with 12 former detainees who were released by the Houthis as part of a UN-brokered prisoner exchange in 2020 that was managed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The former detainees described torture and other forms of mistreatment during their interrogation and detention, including being beaten with steel rods, electric cables, weapons, and other objects; placed in stress positions; hosed with water; and threatened with death or detention in solitary confinement. Former female detainees reported use of sexual violence and rape while in detention. Many detainees continued to suffer from physical injuries and chronic health problems as a result of abuse and lack of health care during their time in detention.
In February, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that forces aligned with the Southern Transitional Council detained journalist Adel al-Hasani in Aden in September 2020 and chained, threatened, and beat him during interrogations. He was later released on March 14 after six months of imprisonment in connection with the charge of “illegally facilitating the entry of foreign citizens,” according to media sources.
In June the United Nations reported on the case of a migrant encountered by a UN mobile medical team in Lahj who, along with other migrants, had been forcibly detained by smugglers and subjected to extortion, forced starvation, and months of severe beatings.
In September, Mwatana for Human Rights released a report covering detentions, disappearances, and torture from 2016 to April 2020. The report alleged that the Political Security Department in Ma’rib, which was run by Islah Party forces loyal to President Hadi, arbitrarily arrested at least 31 individuals and committed at least four cases of torture, leading to at least three deaths. Former detainees held at the Political Security Department said that they were burned, severely beaten, and prohibited from using the bathroom. Witnesses interviewed by Mwatana said they had been arrested at al-Falaj checkpoint, located at the northern gate of Ma’rib city, detained at this checkpoint based on their family surnames, and accused of being loyal to the Houthis. Mwatana found that the Political Security Department did not appear to have responded to orders to release those individuals, including orders issued by the Ministry of Interior and Public Prosecution.
The Mwatana report also alleged that United Arab Emirates (UAE) forces turned the al-Rayyan International Airport in Mukalla city into an unofficial detention center. The report detailed 38 cases of arbitrary detention and 10 cases of torture by UAE forces at the al-Rayyan airport detention site, where former detainees said that they were held in dark and narrow warehouses and were subjected to different forms of torture and other abuse, including deprivation of food and water, electrocution, kicking, whipping, and burning with cigarette stubs. Other detainees said that they were subjected to degrading forms of treatment, such as denial of religious rites, forced nudity, and forced prostration before the UAE flag.
Impunity remained a significant problem in the security forces, including a lack of effective mechanisms to investigate and prosecute abuse. Civilian control of security agencies remained weak throughout the country. There was no information that the government of Yemen, the Houthis, nor the Southern Transitional Council prosecuted any personnel for alleged human rights abuses.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and life-threatening and did not meet international standards. Monitoring organizations reported: overcrowding; limited air ventilation; extremely high temperatures and humidity; and the lack of access to natural light, bathroom facilities, health care, water, and sufficient meals. No known measures were taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The government of Yemen exercised limited control over prison facilities. The Houthis, the Southern Transitional Council, and rural tribes operated detention facilities within their respective areas of control.
According to the January report of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, the Houthis operated 203 detention facilities, including 78 “official prisons” and 125 private ones. The same report stated that the Houthis also established secret prisons in the basements of so-called military, official, and civilian sites, including residential buildings, schools, and universities.
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.
Physical Conditions: In April media reported that the Houthi-controlled al-Thawra and Alaya prisons recorded 38 cases of respiratory infections, tuberculosis, psoriasis, and scabies. The reports also noted that prisoners had limited access to natural light. The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor in January reported that prisoners in Houthi-run prisons did not receive proper health care, water, electricity, and basic supplies. The report added that the Houthis transferred prisoners from “police stations” to secret and unknown locations without orders from the Houthi-controlled “courts.” COVID-19 reportedly spread widely in three main detention centers in Sana’a: the Political Prison, Habra Prison, and the Central Prison. These prisons did not meet the standards outlined in the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
The SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties in August released a report documenting cases of deaths in places of detention since 2015, holding the government responsible for 14 deaths, UAE-affiliated armed groups for 25 deaths, and the Houthis for 27 deaths.
On August 29, the Abductees’ Mothers Association reported that prisoners in the Southern Transitional Council’s Bir Ahmed prison in Aden exhibited COVID-19 symptoms, lived in squalid conditions, received inadequate meals, and did not receive specialized medical care. Prison authorities prohibited family members from providing detainees with medications. Instead, authorities provided painkillers without any medical evaluation.
Administration: Limited information was available on prison administration. There was no information on whether authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. There was no ombudsman to serve on behalf of prisoners and detainees.
Authorities at government of Yemen-controlled prisons generally allowed visitors to see prisoners and detainees when family members knew a detainee’s location but limited access of family members to detainees 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.
The January 25 UN Security Council Panel of Experts (POE) report covering January to December 2020 noted that the Houthis profited from detainees by demanding payments from relatives to approve visits or releases. The Houthis also reportedly denied family member visits to political detainees.
Independent Monitoring: The conflict prevented prison monitoring by independent human rights observers. Monitoring organizations obtained information regarding the condition of prisons from released detainees and their family members. Some humanitarian organizations reported controlling authorities denied them access to detention centers. They also reported receiving threats related to their work, particularly from the Houthis. Media sources quoting the ICRC spokesperson in December indicated that the ICRC had visited approximately 40 detention sites in Yemen and reached approximately 20,000 detainees in Yemen since visits in Sana’a commenced in 2017, and in Aden in 2018.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the GEE found that all parties to the conflict continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain individuals accused of crimes. The lack of functioning legitimate government institutions was the overarching obstacle to rule of law (see section 1.c. and 1.g.).
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law provides that authorities cannot arrest individuals unless they are apprehended while committing a criminal act or served with a warrant. Authorities must arraign a detainee within 24 hours or release them. A 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 requires the government to provide attorneys for indigent detainees, prohibits arrests or serving subpoenas between sundown and dawn, and contains provisions for bail. UN, NGO, and media reporting concluded that all parties to the conflict frequently violated these laws and international human rights norms (see section 1.g.).
Houthi-controlled entities and “courts” were accused of granting 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 its September report, the GEE stated it found reasonable grounds to believe that all parties to the conflict engaged in arbitrary detention. Local NGOs reported arrests by unidentified authorities; frequent incommunicado detentions for long periods of time; and torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman treatment during detention. Mwatana during the year documented 217 victims of arbitrary detention, of which it attributed responsibility for 83 cases to government forces, 86 cases to the Houthis, 41 cases to the Southern Transitional Council, and seven cases to the UAE-backed West Coast joint forces, which were composed of the Giants (also known as Amalika) Brigades, Tihama Resistance, and Guards of the Republic.
Persons arrested were frequently denied their constitutional right to be charged within 24 hours. The law prohibits arrests or serving subpoenas between sundown and dawn, but local NGOs reported forces, including but not limited to the government of Yemen, the Houthis, and the Southern Transitional Council, took some persons suspected of crimes from their homes at night without warrants.
The UN POE during the year investigated 18 cases in which government of Yemen forces were alleged to have committed arbitrary arrest and detentions in the governorates of Hadramawt, Ma’rib, Shabwah and Ta’iz. The POE noted that five out of seven cases in Shabwah the victims were Southern Transitional Council supporters, including a juvenile, and were likely politically motivated.
In October the Houthis unjustly detained dozens of local citizens who had worked for the U.S. diplomatic mission in Sana’a in a caretaker capacity since the mission suspended operations in 2015, seizing their property and subjecting them and their families to threats and abuse. Several of these individuals were still being held at the end of the year; none had been allowed to contact their families at year’s end, and none had been charged with any crime. The Houthis in November detained two United Nations staff who remained in custody at year’s end.
Houthi-controlled entities continued to detain Levi Salem Marhabi, a Yemeni Jewish person arbitrarily detained for more than five years despite a Houthi-controlled “court” ordering his release in 2019 (See section 6, Anti-Semitism).
According to Reporters Without Borders, armed men associated with the Southern Transitional Council arbitrarily detained two journalists in Aden for several weeks beginning in late September. As of late October, they remained in detention. The UN POE during the year investigated 16 detention cases involving Southern Transitional Council-aligned forces, including the two aforementioned journalists, three cases of a counterterrorism unit using an unofficial prison in Aden, and two cases where individuals were shot and killed at checkpoints in the Tawr al-Bahah area of Lahj governorate.
The UN POE also investigated four cases involving National Resistance Forces and two cases perpetrated by the Giants/Amalika Brigades. Both groups are aligned with the Saudi-led coalition.
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.
In July the Abductees’ Mothers Association stated that detainees had been held at Bir Ahmed, which is controlled by Southern Transitional Council-aligned Security Belt Forces, without charge or trial for up to two years. In December the Association reported that eight men abducted by the Security Belt Forces in October 2020 remained in detention without charge, one of whom was feared dead by torture. In September, 14 prisoners in Bir Ahmed held a hunger strike to protest their prolonged detention without charge, according to the Association.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Information was limited regarding whether persons arrested or detained were able to challenge the legal basis of their detention in court.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but there were no indications that any form of an independent judiciary existed. In September the GEE reported that all parties to the conflict were responsible for the denial of fair trial rights. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) previously reported that the criminal justice system had become largely defunct in the areas where progovernment forces retained or reclaimed control. 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 Houthi-controlled “courts” were 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 law considers defendants innocent until proven guilty. Authorities must arraign a detainee within 24 hours or release them. 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. The law allows defense attorneys to counsel their clients, address the court, and examine witnesses and any relevant evidence. 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. There was no information regarding whether defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense or to free assistance of an interpreter. Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants have the right to not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and to appeal.
There was limited information available regarding respect for due process during the year. Houthi-controlled “courts” did not respect defendants’ due process rights.
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.
In addition to established courts, there is a tribal justice system for noncriminal matters. Tribal judges, usually respected sheikhs, often 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, sometimes at the expense of the accused’s due process rights. 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 Houthis continued to “prosecute” more than 20 Baha’is on charges of apostasy and espionage dating from 2018; 19 remained in detention, and five were exiled.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were numerous reports of political prisoners and detainees. After the Houthis took over former state institutions, they detained activists, journalists, demonstration leaders, and other political figures representing various political groups and organizations opposed to the Houthis. The Houthis did not issue public “charges” against detainees 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.
In a May report Amnesty International released an interview with a journalist who had been detained by the Houthis before his release in a 2020 prisoner exchange. The journalist described being subjected to a mock execution while detained in Hudaydah. According to the journalist, guards summoned him at night, handcuffed and blindfolded him, and showed him a hole in the ground that they said would be his grave.
The Abductees’ Mothers Association, in a September statement, called for the release of four journalists abducted by the Houthis in 2015 and subjected to physical and psychological torture. The Houthis transferred the four to the central security prison in October 2020 but prevented their families from visiting them. According to Mwatana’s annual report, the journalists were facing the death penalty after the Houthi Specialized Criminal Court in Sana’a unfairly tried them in April 2020.
According to the GEE’s annual report, the Houthis arbitrarily detained, raped, and then released a human rights defender after a prolonged detention and then spread rumors that she was a prostitute, causing her community to ostracize her.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
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.
Property Seizure and Restitution
The UN POE report covering January to December noted that land disputes were a longstanding problem but increased as armed groups seized increasingly valuable land. The UN POE investigated one case that involved an armed group led by Majid al-Araj, who was affiliated with government of Yemen’s forces and the al-Harq family. Al-Araj supporters raided the Al-Harq family home and arrested three family members, one of whom died in detention.
Houthi-controlled “courts” confiscated defendants’ property after sham “trials.” On August 28, SAM Organization for Human Rights reported that the Houthi-controlled “Specialized Criminal Court” in Sana’a confiscated the financial assets of one individual sentenced to death. The POE reported that Houthis enriched themselves by confiscating assets and funds of individuals and entities.
g. Conflict-related Abuses
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 air strikes. The GEE concluded in September that the government of Yemen, the Houthis, the Southern Transitional Council, and the Saudi-led coalition 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.”
As of year’s end, the Houthis controlled territory that was home to 70 to 80 percent of the country’s population. The government of Yemen controlled some territory in the south, as did the Southern Transitional Council. Tribal militias and terrorist groups also operated in various parts of Yemen.
Tribal militias and terrorist groups including al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and a local branch of ISIS also committed significant abuses.
Following fighting in 2019 that resulted in the government of Yemen’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 Southern Transitional Council, which allowed the government’s return to Aden in December 2020. Upon the government’s arrival at Aden airport, a Houthi missile attack killed and wounded dozens of civilians.
Iran provided significant funding and proliferated weapons that have exacerbated and prolonged the conflict. The Houthis repeatedly launched attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure both within the country and in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 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).
In 2016 the government of Saudi Arabia and other governments participating in the Saudi-led coalition established the Joint Incident Assessment Team (JIAT), which consists of military and civilian personnel from coalition countries, to investigate claims of civilian casualties linked to coalition air strikes or other coalition operations inside the country and coalition adherence to international humanitarian law. The JIAT held five press conferences during the year to announce results of its 24 investigations covering incidents from 2015 to 2020. The GEE’s September report expressed concerns regarding certain aspects of the JIAT’s investigations in several cases and noted concerns with the Saudi-led coalition’s efforts to prosecute officials. From July 2020 to June, the JIAT conducted 18 investigations, but no public information was yet available on eight cases previously referred for military prosecution, according to the GEE.
Killings: The GEE in September reiterated its concern that parties to the conflict, in particular the Houthis, continued to launch what it called “indiscriminate attacks…not directed at a specific military objective” (see section 1.a.). In August the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator stated that hostilities during the year had at that point killed or injured more than 1,200 civilians.
Mwatana documented 64 shelling incidents during the year that killed 49 persons, including 31 children and three women, and injured 173 persons. Two cases were attributed to government of Yemen forces, 43 to the Houthis, 12 to Saudi border guards, and six to UAE-backed forces. Military vehicles that impacted civilians killed 13 persons, including seven children, and wounded 21 persons, according to Mwatana. government of Yemen forces were involved in three of these incidents, the Southern Transitional Council in eight incidents, and West Coast joint forces in two incidents. During the year unattributed live ammunition killed 53 persons, including 18 children and two women, and wounded 142 persons, according to Mwatana.
Saudi-led coalition air strikes in the country reportedly resulted in civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure on multiple occasions. According to the UN’s Civilian Impact Monitoring Project (CIMP), air strikes accounted for 185 civilian casualty allegations during the year. This represented a 14 percent decrease compared with 216 strikes in 2020 and a nearly 93 percent decrease since 2018, according to CIMP’s data for civilian casualties linked to air strikes. The nonprofit organization Yemen Data Project, affiliated with The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, assessed civilian casualties linked to air strikes in the first half of the year were the lowest of any six-month period since the start of the conflict. In June the UN secretary-general noted a “sustained, significant decrease in killing and maiming due to air strikes” and delisted the Saudi-led coalition from the list of parties responsible for grave abuses against children in armed conflict. During the last three months of the year, the Saudi-led coalition increased air strikes in and around more populated areas in response to increased Houthi cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia and Houthi ground offensive operations in Ma’rib and Shabwah, which increased civilian casualties. The Yemen Data Project documented 11 civilians were killed and 16 injured in Saudi-led coalition air strikes in November, and 32 civilians were killed and 62 injured by Saudi-led coalition air strikes in December. The UN POE investigated six Saudi-led coalition air strikes during the year that killed 12 civilians, including two children and one woman, and injured 13 persons. Mwatana’s annual report documented 18 Saudi-led coalition air strikes that killed 17 persons, including seven children and two women, and wounded at least 43 persons, including 11 children and eight women.
According to the September report by the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations, from 2014 to June, Houthi-launched missile attacks on Ma’rib killed 440 civilians, including 61 children, 37 women, and 29 elderly. The report also documented that Houthi-planted landmines, explosive devices, and unexploded ordnances around Ma’rib caused 678 civilian deaths and injuries since the beginning of the conflict.
The UN POE’s annual report called the “indiscriminate” use of landmines by the Houthis “endemic and systematic” and a “constant threat to the civilian population.” From January to July, 17 children were killed and 15 injured; nine women were killed and five injured; and 37 men were killed and 35 injured from landmines and other improvised explosives. The UN POE also investigated seven incidents of indiscriminate use of explosive ordnance by Houthis during the year, which killed 21 persons, including seven children, and injured others.
Mwatana’s annual report attributed 36 landmine explosions to the Houthis, which killed 23 civilians, including 10 children and three women, and wounded 82 persons. The NGO also documented 47 cases of unexploded ordnance that killed 23 persons, including 19 children and one woman, and injured 124 individuals, including children and women.
The National Commission reported in March that a Houthi projectile struck a house in the Hays area of Hudaydah province, killing an adult and a child and injuring an adult and three children.
According to the GEE, in April a rocket reportedly launched from a Houthi-controlled area struck the al-Rawda neighborhood of Ma’rib city and killed one child and injured one adult and three children.
On June 5, Houthis attacked a gas station in the residential neighborhood of al-Rawda north of Ma’rib city with a missile and a drone, killing 21 civilians, including four children, according to the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations. The same group reported that on June 10, Houthis killed 11 civilians, including a child, when they launched two missiles and two drones at a mosque on the grounds of a government of Yemen military camp and a detention center for women in the al-Mujama’a neighborhood of Ma’rib city. The National Commission concluded in a June report that Houthi forces launched projectiles at Ma’rib on June 10. When citizens and ambulance vehicles rushed to the location, the area was hit again with two other projectiles, one of which impacted an ambulance, while the other impacted nearby, causing six deaths and injuring 32.
On September 25, a Houthi-launched ballistic missile killed 12 and injured 22 in Midi city of Hajjah province. The victims had gathered to celebrate the anniversary of the country’s 1962 revolution, according to media reports.
On October 3, Houthis launched three ballistic missiles that killed two children in the al-Rawda residential neighborhood of Ma’rib city, the same area as the June strike, according to several media and local NGO reports.
OHCHR stated that on September 18, Southern Transitional Council-affiliated forces fired live ammunition indiscriminately in Aden to disperse demonstrators after a grenade was thrown at them. Two persons, including a child, were killed and several others were injured.
According to media sources, in March, AQAP-affiliated gunmen killed eight soldiers and four civilians in an attack on a checkpoint controlled by Security Belt forces aligned with the Southern Transitional Council in the Ahwar district of Abyan governorate.
An explosion on January 1 by unidentified forces in front of a wedding hall in the Hawk district of Hudaydah province killed two children and one adult and injured three children and three adults, according to the GEE’s September report.
Abductions: The National Commission documented 1,219 alleged cases of arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance carried out by various parties in the period August 2020 to July (see section 1.b.).
Mwatana for Human Rights documented the disappearance of 89 civilians during the year. government of Yemen forces were reported to be responsible for 28 of these cases, the Houthis for 30, the Southern Transitional Council for 13, and Eritrean forces for 18 cases involving Yemeni fishermen detained in the Red Sea.
The GEE reported that on June 30, a group of armed men in a white car, which some sources identified as “antiterrorism forces controlled by the Southern Transitional Council,” abducted a man in Aden.
The SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties reported that on September 4, Southern Transitional Council security forces in Aden arbitrarily arrested four students who had returned from their undergraduate studies in Malaysia and were on their way to Sana’a. There was no update by year’s end.
The Abductees’ Mothers Association reported in October that Security Belt Forces aligned with the Southern Transitional Council unlawfully detained 400 civilians during clashes in the Crater district of Aden.
The UN POE reported that AQAP kidnapped five government of Yemen officials in Kura City of Shabwah Governorate on June 14, released a video of the victims asking for a prisoner swap, and then released the captives on July 5.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: The GEE reported in October that it had reasonable grounds to believe that the government of Yemen, the Houthis, the Southern Transitional Council, and the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE committed torture, gender-based violence, including sexual violence, and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (see section 1.c.).
Mwatana for Human Rights documented 40 victims of torture during the year and alleged that government of Yemen forces were responsible for 17 cases, the Houthis for nine, and Southern Transitional Council for 14. The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor reported in January that the Houthis abused thousands of prisoners in declared and secret prisons, including physical and mental torture. The report was based on interviews with 13 prisoners released as part of an October 2020 prisoner exchange under ICRC and United Nations auspices. Physical torture reportedly included beatings with tools, hanging inmates by their hands, whipping detainees while naked, and using chemical incendiary materials to injure detainees. Some prisoners were reported to have died from torture and others to have suffered permanent disabilities. Psychological abuse reportedly involved intimidation and pressuring the detainees to confess to crimes they did not commit. The Houthis were reported to have placed prisoners in solitary confinement, confiscated their clothes and medicines, denied them medical care, sexually assaulted them, threatened to harm their families, and extorted money from their families for their release.
Child Soldiers: Multiple sources reported that all parties to the conflict recruited child soldiers. In September the National Commission to Investigate Alleged Violations to Human Rights announced it had monitored and investigated 132 cases of alleged recruitment of children younger than 15 years between August 2020 and July 1. The government of Yemen and progovernment forces were reportedly responsible for nine of these cases, and the Houthis for 123.
During the year Mwatana for Human Rights documented the recruitment of 121 children. government of Yemen and progovernment forces were reportedly responsible for 8 percent of these cases, the Houthis for 88 percent, the Southern Transitional Council for 2 percent, and UAE-backed West Coast forces for 2 percent. In June 2020 UNICEF reported 3,467 children recruited across the country since 2015, the most recent estimate available.
The National Commission reported that on February 10, government of Yemen National Army forces recruited a 16-year-old boy from Ma’rib governorate, Ismail Abdulnasser Akam, into the 310th Armored Brigade in Ma’rib. The child, who fought alongside progovernment forces against the Houthis in Ma’rib, was reportedly killed in battle.
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and SAM for Rights and Liberties’ February report stated that since 2014, the Houthis had recruited 10,333 child soldiers (ages 8 to 17). The report stated that the Houthis forcibly recruited children and put them in hostile areas to engage in direct combat, lay mines, and guard military checkpoints. The report indicated that many of these children had been killed and hundreds were injured. The report also highlighted the Houthis’ use of the education system to incite violence, indoctrinate students with extremist ideology, and recruit children to join the fight.
An August report by NGO Moyyun for Human Rights and Development documented in the first six months of the year the killing of 640 children whom the Houthis had forced to fight, and whose funeral processions and burials were broadcasted by official Houthi media outlets. The report estimated that twice as many children were killed in battle but not buried in official ceremonies, and that their names were not published.
During the year the UN POE found that Houthi summer camps and so-called “cultural courses” were “used to: (a) solidify [Houthi leader] Abdulmalik al Houthi’s authority and to consolidate his group’s control over civilians; (b) limit individual freedoms of expression, thought, conscience and religion; (c) recruit fighters, including children; (d) promote violence, hatred and radicalization; and (e) obtain popular support for the continuation of the conflict.” The POE launched investigations into these camps and courses for their role in perpetuating the conflict and in radicalizing child and adults. According to the POE, Houthi media in 2019 stated there were 3,500 summer camps that trained 284,000 students. The POE reported cases in which children refused to return to their parents or condemned their parents as “nonbelievers.” The UN POE report identified 10 cases of children who were taken to fight from “cultural camps,” and the UN POE obtained a list of 562 children, ages 10 to 17, who were recruited by the Houthis and died in battle between January and May.
Combatants for northern tribal groups reportedly included married boys ages 12 to 15. Based on tribal custom, married boys were considered adults who owed 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 as fighters but used them as guards.
The lack of a consistent system for birth registration compounded difficulties in proving age, which at times contributed to the recruitment of children into the military.
Also see the Department of State’s 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, fuel shortages, damage to civilian infrastructure (including the food supply chain), and lack of access for and bureaucratic constraints on humanitarian and human rights organizations’ ability to reach vulnerable populations contributed to the worsening humanitarian situation. In December a UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) analysis estimated that 20.7 million persons in Yemen needed humanitarian assistance, of whom 12.1 million were in acute need as of February. OCHA also reported that the number of districts with active front lines increased to 48 in October, up from 45 in 2020 and 35 at the end of 2019, further inhibiting aid delivery and civilian protection.
On August 23, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator stated that due to the war, institutions and public services had imploded, depriving persons of clean water, sanitation, education, and health care; the collapsed economy caused loss of income, including unstable salaries for one quarter of the population who were civil servants, and increased the risk of famine.
In September, HRW stated it documented “severe restrictions by the Houthis, the Yemeni government and affiliated forces, and the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council on the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid.” A November United Nations Development Program report estimated that by year’s end, the war in the country would have caused 377,000 deaths since it began, of which 60 percent would be from indirect causes.
A Mwatana for Human Rights report in September alleged that all parties to the conflict deprived civilians of objects needed for survival by targeting farms, water facilities, and artisanal fishing boats and equipment that destroyed, damaged and/or rendered useless objects essential to survival, namely agricultural areas, irrigation works, livestock, foodstuffs, water infrastructure, fishing boats, and fishing equipment. Mwatana documented a total of 86 incidents of humanitarian aid obstruction in 2021. It attributed five cases to the government of Yemen, 73 to the Houthis, seven to the Southern Transitional Council, and one to UAE-backed West Coast joint forces.
In October the Ma’rib governorate’s human rights office stated that the Houthis’ siege of the Abdiya district since mid-September had blocked NGOs from delivering food and medical supplies, describing Houthi actions as “collective punishment.” The siege, stated the report, affected 35,000 persons, many of whom were internally displaced persons (IDPs), elderly, women, and children. The same report alleged that the Houthis launched 2,523 attacks against civilians, killed 135 persons, and kidnapped and arbitrarily arrested 3,278 in Abdiya district.
The UN POE’s annual report cited multiple barriers to delivering humanitarian assistance in Houthi-controlled areas, including contract subagreement delays; inappropriate requests to share beneficiary lists; pressure to influence program design and implementing partner selection; access and movement restrictions; harassment of humanitarian personnel; threats and physical violence against organizations to apply pressure for policy changes; and removal of families from beneficiary lists that did not allow their children to join Houthi forces. During the year the UN POE documented the detention of three humanitarian workers by the Houthis. In Abyan and Taiz governorates, there were five incidents of unknown actors blocking roads and three incidents of hijacked humanitarian organizations vehicles, according to the UN POE.
UN entities and NGOs reported that the Houthis impeded the provision of COVID-19 care and prevention measures. On April 15, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs stated that the Houthis withheld data on COVID-19 cases and deaths and prohibited the delivery of vaccines, despite a second wave of the virus in March. According to a September HRW report, the Houthis suppressed factual information concerning COVID-19 and spread disinformation regarding the virus and vaccines, undermining international efforts to provide vaccines in Houthi-controlled areas.
Separately, the Houthis continued to risk an environmental and health crisis by denying UN experts safe passage to inspect the derelict vessel Safer containing 1.14 million barrels of crude oil, which has been anchored off the west coast of the country for more than 30 years. International experts believe that corrosion aboard the tanker and lack of maintenance created an imminent risk of its crude oil leaking into the Red Sea or of an explosion.
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 air strikes.
The National Commission announced it documented 13 cases in which medical facilities and crews were allegedly targeted. government of Yemen forces and the Saudi-led coalition were reportedly responsible for two cases, and the Houthis for 11. The UN POE reported explosive ordnance hit the al-Tharwa Hospital in Ta’iz on March 5 and May 8, and that Houthi-assigned “supervisors” used hospitals for camps to indoctrinate and recruit students.
The UN Security Council Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism on the six grave violations committed against children in times of conflict recorded at least 236 attacks on schools and 245 incidents of military use of educational facilities between 2015 and October. More than 2,500 schools were reportedly destroyed, damaged, and/or utilized for noneducational purposes. An estimated 8.1 million children needed emergency education assistance, a more than sevenfold increase from the 1.1 million reported around the start of the conflict. In addition to negatively impacting education, the conflict imposed devastating and long-lasting effects on the mental and physical wellbeing of children and adolescents.
During the year Mwatana documented 82 cases of attacks on, or military use of, schools. It attributed three incidents to the government and the Houthis jointly, one to the government and the Southern Transitional Council jointly, 72 to the Houthis, five to the Southern Transitional Council, and one to UAE-backed West Coast forces and the Houthis jointly. Mwatana documented 20 cases of attacks on health facilities or harassment of health workers. The organization attributed six incidents each to government, Houthi, and Southern Transitional Council forces, one case to both the government and the Southern Transitional Council, and one case to an unidentified extremist group.
The UN POE documented five attacks from December 2020 to December on commercial vessels in the Red Sea in Saudi Arabian territory and in international waters near Yemen. Three of these attacks were conducted using a waterborne improvised explosive device launched from Houthi-controlled areas or an uncrewed aerial vehicle with parts linked to the Houthis; in one case, limpet mines were used; no additional information was provided concerning the fifth attack.