The long-running conflict in the northern Sa'da Governorate between government forces and armed supporters of the late Zaidi Shi'a cleric Hussain Badr al-Din al-Huthi resumed with new intensity from August, when the government launched a military offensive code named Scorched Earth that included aerial bombing and deployment of ground troops. Over 190,000 people had been displaced by the fighting since 2004, according to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, in December, and an unknown number of civilians were killed in 2009.
Both sides were believed to have committed serious human rights abuses. The government accused the rebel forces of killing civilians and captured soldiers, while the rebels alleged that government forces had carried out indiscriminate attacks, and tortured and killed al-Huthi supporters. In November, the fighting spread across the border with Saudi Arabia, despite the Saudi Arabian government's attempts to seal the frontier and deny access to people fleeing the conflict. There was also fighting between Saudi Arabian forces and armed al- Huthi supporters.
The government closed off the area of fighting to the media and independent observers, making it difficult to obtain independent information about the conflict. The authorities were reported to have detained many suspected supporters of the rebels, but they did not disclose their number or other information, such as their legal status, where they were being held and under what conditions. Nor, it appeared, did they carry out independent and impartial investigations into alleged killings of civilians by their forces.
At least 80 civilians were reported to have been killed when the Yemeni air force bombed Adi village in the Harf Sufyan district of 'Amran, a governorate bordering Sa'da, in September. A government-appointed commission was said to have investigated the killings, but no findings were announced.
- Muhammad al-Maqalih, a journalist and member of the Socialist Party who had criticized government policies, particularly in Sa'da, became a victim of enforced disappearance. He was abducted from a Sana'a street in September, apparently by security officials. The authorities refused to disclose his whereabouts and legal status or allow him access to his family or a lawyer, but acknowledged in December that he was being held by the security forces.
Over 100 alleged al-Huthi supporters were brought to trial before the SCC, whose procedures in practice fail to satisfy international standards of fair trial. At least 34 of them were sentenced to death and at least a further 54 were given prison terms of up to 15 years for forming an armed gang and committing violent crimes, including killing soldiers, in 2008, in the Bani Hushaysh district north of Sana'a. They were arrested in 2008 together with at least 50 others who were released uncharged. They were tried before the SCC in separate groups.
Unrest in the south
Throughout most of 2009, there were protests in the south, particularly in Aden, against alleged discrimination by the government against southerners and in support of calls for the south to regain the status of an independent state, so breaking the union of 1990. Many of the protests were peaceful, but others became violent. Government forces were reported to have used excessive, including lethal, force against protesters, tens of whom were killed.