New Report Says Killing, Amputation, and Crucifixion during Abyan Conflict in Yemen is Human Rights Catastrophe

Press Release
December 3, 2012

New Report Says Killing, Amputation, and Crucifixion during Abyan Conflict in Yemen is Human Rights Catastrophe

Public Killings, Crucifixion, Amputation, and Flogging Among Atrocities Exposed in Report

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) – A new Amnesty International report released today calls for an immediate and impartial investigation into a raft of gross and deeply disturbing abuses committed by an al-Qa’ida affiliate and Yemeni government forces during their struggle for the control of the southern region of Abyan in 2011 and 2012.

The report, titled Conflict in Yemen: Abyan’s Darkest Hour, documents violations of the rules of war during the armed conflict between government forces and Ansar al-Shari’a (Partisans of al- Shari’a), an Islamist armed group affiliated to al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula. It also details horrific human rights abuses committed in the governorate of Abyan and other areas in the south of Yemen during the rule of Ansar al-Shari’a between February 2011 and June 2012, including public summary killings, crucifixion, amputation and flogging.

“Abyan experienced a human rights catastrophe as Ansar al-Shari’a and government forces vied for control of the region during 2011 and the first half of 2012,” said Philip Luther, director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

”The Yemeni authorities must ensure that a commission of inquiry announced in September 2012 covers the truly shocking abuses committed. The tragedy of Abyan will haunt Yemen for decades to come unless those responsible are held to account, and victims and their families receive reparations.”

This report is based on the findings of an Amnesty International fact-finding mission to Yemen in June and July 2012. Amnesty International interviewed residents, activists, journalists, witnesses, victims and relatives of victims from Abyan governorate, mainly in Aden and Ja’ar, and visited areas affected by the conflict, including Ja’ar, Zinjibar and al-Kawd.

Ansar al-Shari’a rapidly established control of the small city of Ja’ar in the governorate of Abyan while the Yemeni authorities were brutally repressing protests calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign, and controlled most towns and villages in Abyan – including the capital, Zinjibar – by mid- 2011. The armed group successfully attacked government forces and officials, looted banks and seized ammunition, heavy weapons and other military equipment from abandoned Yemeni military and police stations.

During its rule, Ansar al-Shari’a was responsible for widespread and disturbing human rights abuses, often via “religious courts” set up as part of the organization’s governing structure. The courts frequently imposed cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments on alleged criminals, suspected spies working against Ansar al-Shari’a and people who transgressed cultural norms.

Saleh Ahmed Saleh al-Jamli, 28, was found guilty by a “religious court” in Ja’ar of planting electronic devices in two vehicles carrying Ansar al-Shari’a commanders. The ruling obtained by Amnesty International said the devices had enabled US drones to kill the commanders in Zinjibar, and claimed that Saleh al-Jamli “confessed” to a judicial committee. The “religious court” ruled that Saleh al-Jamli be killed, and his remains crucified.

Amnesty International confirmed that Ansar al-Shari’a amputated the hand of at least one person between June and September 2011 in a public square in Ja’ar. The young man and some friends were arrested by members of the armed group who accused them of stealing electric wires. The friends were eventually released, but the youth, who is a member of a marginalized community widely referred to as al-akhdam (servants), said that his hand was amputated after he was tortured for five days without access to a lawyer or his family, without attending trial and without prior knowledge of the punishment.

Residents told Amnesty International that the amputated hand was suspended by a rope in the town’s market for all to see.

The rights of women and girls came under attack during Ansar al-Shari’a’s consolidation of power: severe dress codes were imposed, draconian restrictions were applied at work and in schools, and the sexes were strictly separated.

Almost immediately after Ansar al-Shari’a took control of Abyan and extended its reach to other areas in the south, the Yemeni military launched several attacks to regain control, culminating in a major offensive on May 12 using air power and artillery. By the end of June 2012, government forces succeeded in driving the group out of Abyan and surrounding areas.

Ansar al-Shari’a used residential areas as its base, particularly in Ja’ar, recklessly exposing civilian residents to harm. Scores of civilians, including children, were killed and many more injured as a result of air strikes and artillery and mortar attacks by government forces. The toxic mix of fighting and human rights abuses meant an estimated 250,000 people from the southern governorates, particularly Abyan, were displaced.

Meanwhile, Yemeni government forces used inappropriate battlefield weapons such as artillery in civilian residential areas, and in other attacks failed to take necessary precautions to spare civilians.

While Ansar al-Shari’a were driven out of the cities and towns they controlled in June 2012, there remains a danger the group will re-emerge and that the armed conflict will resume.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.