• Sheet of paper Report

Annual Report: Yemen 2011

July 13, 2011

Head of state: ‘Ali Abdullah Saleh
Head of government: Ali Mohammed Mujawar
Death penalty: retentionist
Population: 24.3 million
Life expectancy: 63.9 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 84/73 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 60.9 per cent

Human rights were subordinated to security challenges posed by al-Qa’ida as well as by armed conflict in the northern Sa’dah province and protests in the south. Thousands of people were detained. Most were released quickly, but many were held for prolonged periods. Some were held incommunicado for months and were victims of enforced disappearance. Some received unfair trials before the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) and were sentenced to death or prison terms. Many detainees said they were tortured. The sixth round of fighting in the Sa’dah conflict, which ended in February, involved heavy military bombardments, including by Saudi Arabian forces, and led to hundreds of deaths, widespread destruction and mass flight of civilians. Government repression increased in the face of continuing protests in the south against perceived discrimination by the northern-based government; security forces used excessive force against some demonstrations and several people were killed in targeted attacks. The media faced repressive laws and practices; several journalists were prisoners of conscience. Women continued to face discrimination and violence. Yemen continued to afford protection to many refugees and asylum-seekers from the Horn of Africa, but moved to end the automatic recognition of Somalis. At least 27 people were sentenced to death and 53 executed.


Several provinces were effectively outside the control of the government. In some areas, the risk of kidnapping remained high. Two German girls taken hostage with seven other foreign nationals in Sa’dah province in June 2009 were freed by Saudi Arabian forces in May. Three of the nine had been found dead in 2009; the fate of three Germans and a Briton remained unclear.

Mass protests were held across the country against the worsening economic situation and substantial rises in fuel, electricity, water and food prices.

A presidential amnesty announced on 21 May appeared to apply to all political prisoners, including journalists, but the government did not give details about those it covered or the timeframe for releases. Later that month, 117 people detained on suspicion of taking part in the Sa’dah conflict and the protests in the south were released under the amnesty, as were four journalists. However, hundreds of other political prisoners remained held at the end of 2010.

New and draft laws undermined human rights protection. The Law on Combating Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism, passed in January, provides a broad definition of the criminalization of financing terrorism and requires lawyers to disclose to the authorities information about their clients if they suspect them of offences under this law. The draft Counter Terrorism Law lacks provisions to protect the rights of suspects during arrest and detention, and proposes to expand the number of crimes punishable by death. Proposed amendments to the Penal Code could allow the death penalty to be used against juvenile offenders, in breach of international law. Two draft laws relating to the media threaten to further restrict freedom of expression.

Counter-terror and security

Government operations against suspected al-Qa’ida threats increased from the beginning of the year in the wake of an apparent attempt to blow up a US airliner on 25 December 2009 by a Nigerian man allegedly trained by al-Qa’ida in Yemen. There was enhanced US-Yemeni co-operation in such operations, including during air strikes and raids.

Attacks by armed groups continued, including by al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula. Some of the attacks targeted security forces, others targeted foreign nationals or led to the killings of bystanders.

  • In April the British ambassador narrowly escaped a bomb attack in Sana’a claimed by al-Qa’ida.
  • In June, three women, a child and seven security officers were killed during an attack on a security forces building in Aden that the government alleged was carried out by al-Qa’ida.

Tens of people suspected of links to al-Qa’ida or armed Islamist groups were killed by the security forces, some in circumstances suggesting that no attempt was made to arrest them. No judicial investigations were known to have been held to establish whether the use of lethal force by the security forces was justified and lawful. Scores of other al-Qa’ida suspects were arrested and subjected to a wide range of abuses, including enforced disappearance, prolonged detention without charge, and torture. Several were under sentence of death or serving long prison terms after unfair trials before the SCC.

  • On 25 May, an air attack by security forces killed four people in a car in Ma’rib. Among the victims was Jaber al-Shabwani, deputy governor of Ma’rib, who was reported to have been travelling to meet al-Qa’ida members to help mediate their surrender. The outcome of an investigation had not been disclosed by the end of the year.

In March, following an investigation by a parliamentary committee, the government acknowledged that an air raid on 17 December 2009 that killed 41 men, women and children in Abyan region had been a mistake and that there was no evidence of a military camp at the site, as first alleged. Photographs apparently taken following the attack suggest that the operation used a US-manufactured cruise missile that carried cluster bombs. Such missiles are only known to be held by US forces, and Yemeni armed forces are unlikely to have the military capability to use such a missile. A diplomatic cable leaked by the organization Wikileaks in November corrobated the images that had been released by Amnesty International earlier in the year.

Sa’dah conflict

The government’s military offensive, code-named “Scorched Earth”, which began in August 2009, ended with a ceasefire on 11 February 2010. It involved the deployment of military force against the Huthis (followers of Hussain Badr al-Din al-Huthi, a Zaidi Shi’a cleric killed in 2004) on a scale not witnessed before, particularly after Saudi Arabian forces became involved in November. Weeks of heavy bombardment of Sa’dah, by Saudi Arabian and Yemeni forces in December and January, killed hundreds of people not engaged in the fighting and caused widespread damage to homes, other civilian buildings such as mosques and schools, as well as local industries and infrastructure. Some of the attacks appeared to violate international humanitarian law in that they appeared either to deliberately target civilians or civilian objects, or to be indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks that took little or no account of the danger they posed to civilians. Neither the Saudi Arabian nor Yemeni government provided any explanation for the vast majority of such attacks nor explained what, if any, precautions were taken by their forces to spare civilians taking no part in hostilities.

By the end of the year, over 350,000 people from Sa’dah were displaced, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, some of them for the second or third time. Only a fraction found refuge in specially constructed camps. The scale of the destruction and unexploded ordnance and landmines hampered the early return of the displaced families. In July, the authorities announced that compensation would be paid to families affected by the destruction. In August, the government and Huthis signed a peace deal in Qatar that began the process of political dialogue.

Hundreds of suspected Huthi fighters or supporters were held in the main prisons in Sa’dah and Sana’a, and in other detention centres. Some disappeared for weeks or months after capture or arrest. Many were said to have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated. Most remained held at the end of the year, although dozens of Huthi fighters were released in May under the presidential pardon. Few details of the detainees still held were available.

Unrest in the south

Mass and generally peaceful protests organized by the Southern Movement continued, and there were growing calls for secession of the south. The authorities used excessive and sometimes lethal force against protesters. They accused elements in the Southern Movement of links with al-Qa’ida and in some cases targeted individuals or communities for attack. The government temporarily blockaded some areas by establishing checkpoints and shutting down mobile phone networks, leading to food shortages, and imposed travel bans on some members of the Southern Movement.

Hundreds of people were detained in waves of arrests. Most were released soon after, but some were held incommunicado or for long periods, and some were sentenced to imprisonment after unfair trials before the SCC.

  • On 1 March, security forces shot dead a prominent member of the Southern Movement, Ali al-Haddi, in his home several hours after they had raided the house, held his family captive and shot him in the leg. His body was later mutilated, apparently by the security forces. Another relative in the house, Ahmad Muhsen Muhammad, was also shot dead by security forces.
  • Qassem Askar Jubran, a former Yemeni diplomat and supporter of the Southern Movement, was released in July 2010. He had been held since April 2009; he appeared to be a prisoner of conscience.

Freedom of expression – attacks on the press

Restrictive press laws and repressive actions by the security forces continued to undermine freedom of the press. People linked to the media were harassed, prosecuted and imprisoned. Some faced unfair trials before the Specialized Press and Publications Court in Sana’a.

  • Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi’, a freelance journalist who specializes in counter-terrorism affairs and had interviewed alleged al-Qa’ida members, was arrested on 16 August. Kamal Sharaf, a cartoonist who campaigns against corruption, was arrested the next day. They were both held incommunicado until 11 September. Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi’ had injuries on his chest, bruising on his body and a broken tooth, which he said he sustained when he was beaten after arrest. On 22 September, the SCC ordered the release of Kamal Sharaf, but this was ignored until his release on 5 October. The same day it extended the detention of Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi’ who, along with another man, Abdul Kareem al-Shami, was tried on charges that included membership of al-Qa’ida and communicating with “wanted men”.
  • On 4 January, staff of al-Ayyam and supporters began a sit-down protest outside the newspaper’s offices in Aden to mark eight months since the authorities effectively silenced the newspaper. On 5 and 6 January, Hisham Bashraheel, the 66-year-old editor-in-chief, along with his two sons Hani and Muhammad, both of whom work for al-Ayyam, were arrested. Hisham Bashraheel was initially held incommunicado and his health deteriorated. He was released on bail on 25 March. His sons were released on 9 May. All three continued to face charges.

Discrimination and violence against women and girls

Women and girls continued to face severe discrimination in law and practice, and particularly in rural areas were still subject to forced and early marriage. A draft law to raise the minimum age for marriage for girls to 17, approved by the parliament in 2009, had not been enacted by the end of 2010. Large rallies were held in support of and against the proposed reform. The government pledged to implement plans aimed at increasing the participation of women in political, social and economic life.

  • Twelve-year-old Ilham al-‘Ashi died on 9 April, days after her wedding, as a result of internal bleeding reportedly caused by a violent sexual attack by her husband.

Maternal mortality

Maternal mortality rates remained significantly higher in Yemen than in other countries in the region. The authorities continued to work with international aid agencies to increase provision of free health care to pregnant women. The problem of accessing adequate health care for women in remote rural areas remained acute; for many, there was no antenatal or emergency obstetrics care as the nearest clinic was too far away.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

In February, the authorities established a General Department for Refugee Affairs.

At least 178,000 refugees from Africa, 168,000 of whom were Somalis, were resident in Yemen as of June, according to UNHCR. Yemeni authorities took steps towards ending the automatic recognition of Somalis.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Torture and other ill-treatment by police and prison guards continued to be reported, particularly by National Security officials, in the first weeks of detention. Methods cited included beatings with sticks and rifle butts, kicking, and prolonged suspension by the wrists.

Cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments

Flogging continued to be used as punishment for alcohol and sexual offences.

Death penalty

At least 27 people were sentenced to death and at least 53 prisoners were executed. Hundreds of people were believed to remain under sentence of death.

  • Akram al-Samawy, convicted of raping and murdering a girl, was executed in Ta’izz Central Prison on 5 July.
  • In July, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence imposed on Abdul Aziz al-Obadi after he was convicted of murder. An appeal court in June 2009 had overturned the lower court’s sentence of diya (financial compensation), imposed after medical reports found that he was “mentally abnormal”, and sentenced him to death.