Yemen Abandons Human Rights to Counter Terrorism

September 7, 2010

By Alireza Azizi, Yemen Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA

Yemeni security forces stand guard outside the state-security court in Sanaa during the trial of suspected Huthi rebels on January 17, 2010. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

The government authorities in Yemen are rolling back human rights gains over the years in the name of security.

Challenged by growing calls for secession in the south, and intermittent conflict with the Huthis movement in the north and the presence of al-Qa’ida in the country, the Yemeni government has increasingly resorted to repressive and illegal methods.

Yemeni government is under pressure from other governments, particularly the USA, Europe and the Gulf states, who want the Yemeni government to take tough action to combat al-Qa’ida and to prevent Yemen fracturing or imploding into a failed state. The international pressure on Yemen intensified after December 25 2009 when a Nigerian man, said to have been trained by al-Qa’ida in Yemen apparently tried to blow up a US airliner bounded for Detroit. The US government quickly expanded military and intelligence co-operation with the Yemeni authorities, and in early 2010 announced a $155 million security package for Yemen with $35 million earmarked for the country Special Operations Forces to carry out counter-terrorism operations. Yet there was little evidence of concern about the impact of security operations that might have on human rights.

Islamists militants have carried out suicide and other attacks in Yemen, and the government has a duty to protect people from such attacks and to bring to justice perpetrators. However, the main security fear for many Yemenis is to be caught up in the government’s sweeping responses to the challenges it faces in south and north. Despite government allegations, there appears to be no evidence linking the Huthis or the loose coalition of individuals and groups known as the Southern Movement to al-Qa’ida.

Hundreds if not thousands of people suspected of links to al-Qa’ida or armed Islamist groups have been arrested and subjected to a wide range of abuses, including enforced disappearances, prolonged detention without charge, torture and unfair trials.

In the conflict with the Huthis in the northern Sa’dah region, hundreds, possibility thousands, of civilians have been killed, many as a results of apparently indiscriminate attacks, and over a quarter of a million people have been forced to flee their home. In the south, security forces have allegedly targeted for killing people prominent in the Southern Movement and have killed or injured hundreds of protesters during peaceful demonstrations.

Those speaking out against government policies or human rights violations have been targeted, among them journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers. Legislation and specialized courts created to counter terrorism have been used to imprison even those who merely discuss what is happening in Sa’dah or the south.

The government of Yemen has the difficult duty of trying to protect people from terrorist attacks while ensuring that any measures it takes do not violate human right. The Yemeni authorities are failing this challenge as they increasingly resort to abusive measures. On the other hand the international community largely support Yemen’s security operations has facilitated the government’s resort to unlawful methods. The international community must put pressure on the Yemeni government and other government involved, that by violating human rights, security is jeopardized, not enhanced.

You can read the full Amnesty’s report.