They Are Not Here - Executive Summary
Since it has taken over power in Yemen by the end of September 2014, Houthi armed group (Ansar Allah) carried out wide- scale campaign of arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances against hundreds of civilians in the governorates under the group's control; most of these practices occurred through 2015.
The 21st of September 2014 was a critical turning point in the political process in Yemen. Ever since armed conflict scope has further widened and violence has been severely intensified; creating a new phase of an unprecedented deterioration of human rights and public liberties.
On September 21,2014 Houthi armed group (Ansar Allah)—in collaboration with military forces loyal to the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh—coercively took over the capital Sana'a; using military force. By doing so, the Group has made itself a de facto authority on the ground.
With the advancement of (Ansar Allah) and their ally' s forces towards Taiz governorate (March 21,2015), reaching out to the edges of Aden city, southern Yemen and forcing President Abd Rabo Mansour Hadi to flee the country to the Saudi capital Riyadh on March 25, 2015. As a result, the violent conflict patch has largely extended; coinciding with the emergence of opposing local armed groups beside governmental forces resisting that expansion. These resistance groups were mainly from Al-Islah Party, Salafi groups, Southern Movement, factions and other political parties loyal to President Hadi. Then, Saudi Arabia Kingdom launched a military campaign on March 26, 2015. The military campaign carried out by the Saudi Arabia-led Arab coalition of ten countries against Houthi’s and Saleh's forces. The Saudi –led military action came in response to a request by President Hadi to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in order to intervene and reinstate him and uphold his legitimacy.
Ever since it has taken over the capital Sana'a and other governorates, the Houthi group has neutralized the official legal apparatuses such as police stations, security and prosecution apparatuses. The official legal apprentices have been replaced by the Group's militants. By doing so, the Group has undermined the governing applicable laws and procedures of arrest, detention, release and referral. Consequentially, grave violations of human rights have been committed against hundreds of civilians who were captured by the Group and subjected to a series of violations and accompanying degrading treatments through different stages.
In addition to holding many detainees in unlawful and inappropriate detention places such as private-owned houses, schools or governmental buildings occupied by the Group, three detainees were killed in Dhamar city, northern Yemen, as they were locked up in places exposed to aerial bombardment. Two journalists and a leading member of the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Al-Islah Party) were killed in an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition jet fighters that targeted a building in which the unfortunate detainees were locked. The incident has continuously raised concerns of families about the safety of their forcibly disappeared people and arbitrarily detainees.
Mwatana Organization for Human Rights has verified 53 cases of arbitrary detention and 26 cases of enforced disappearance carried out by the Houthi Group against civilians of different opinions or opponents; the majority of whom are associated to Al-Islah Party.
Such detention incidents have targeted ordinary people, local journalists, political activists and human rights defenders, physicians, academics, imams, politicians and members of the Jewish minority in Yemen. Three women of the Al-Islah Party leadership were also subjected to arrest and temporary detention.
Khadija Mohammed Meyas,46 years old, mother of Sakhr Ahmed Meyas 19 years old, who has been detained since November 25, 2015, says: " What shall I do? To whom can I resort? I have followed all legal procedures, I have even appealed and approached the offices of the concerned Houthi officials on a daily basis, but in vain; totally injustice, oppression and invented claim. If my son is really wrongdoer, they shall make him stand trial and punish him otherwise they must set him free so as to resume his normal life. My eyes wore out of weeping".
While Khadija Meyas's words express torment of hundreds of families whose beloved ones have been arbitrarily detained for extended periods, sometimes amounted to one year long without legal charges may justify detention, without trails, and legal procedures, families of forcibly disappeared persons take an extremely bitter and aching share of the misery caused by missing their beloved ones knowing nothing about their destiny.
More than one year has passed while an entire ambiguity is still enveloping the fate of Mohammed Qahtan, 52 years old, prominent politician of Al-Islah Party. The 4th of April 2015 was the last daytime when Mr Qahtan was among his family before a military force associate to Houthi Group storming his house in the Yemeni capital Sana'a. The Group's gunmen pulled him out of his family to throw him into the bottom of disappearance. Qahtan's family, like dozens of families whose beloved ones forcibly disappeared, has been overwhelmed by constant torment that is severely inflamed by questions never get answers about the fate of the forcibly disappeared person and conditions of his detention.
The civil, political and human rights activities were also targeted by a repressive and guided campaign as well as systemically harassments. The organizers of such activities were targets of arrest, attacks, intimidation and harassments for more than once, whether when they attempted to gather in order to demand uncovering the destiny of the forcibly disappeared and detainees, or while organizing a humanitarian action that the Houthi Group doesn't approve.
On October 12, 2015 the Group’s armed men carried out a notable arrest operation storming a hotel in Ibb city, in the central of Yemen. The operation aimed to capture 30 activists and journalists who were planning a water relief convoy to relieve Taiz city, which was suffering from suffocating siege by Houthi group . Though the Group has released 28 out of the 30 detainees, however, two of them: Ameen al-Shafaq 47 years old and `Antar al-Mubarazi 37 years old remained forcibly disappeared up to date.
Mwatana Organization for Human Rights documented testimonies of the victims' relatives who talked about bad conditions and maltreatment that their detained fellows have been subject to, some of them were subjected to torture and long hours of interrogation; health conditions of a number of detainees are deteriorated and they did not receive adequate medical care. The detainees included 10 journalists who remained forcibly disappeared for several months prior to revealing their detention locations. Several of them were held in solitary confinement along with being subjected to torture, according to a statement issued by their relatives in March 2016.
This report sheds lights on incidents of arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance carried out by Houthi authorities and touched upon civilians in the governorates of Sana'a, Taiz, Hodeidah, Hajjah, Ibb, Dhamar and Amran, since the Group seized the power until May 2016.
Mwatana Organization for Human Rights carried out an investigation into 53 cases of arbitrary detentions including 10 journalists and into 26 cases of enforced disappearance through field research and conducting around 200 interviews with families of the victims and relatives, and the released victims and eyewitnesses.
According to The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Yemen is a party :" No one shall be subjected to be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as prescribed by the applicable law", and " a person who might be detained shall be informed at the time of arrest about the reasons for his arrest, and he/she shall be informed about any charges against him/her", and persons who are accused of criminal acts " shall be immediately appeared before one of authorized judges or one of the entitled officials are legally authorized to exercise judicial jobs, and the accused shall have the right to stand trial within reasonable period, otherwise he /she shall be released.
The International Law prohibits arbitrary arrest or detention. According to the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention and arrest, a detention is considered to be arbitrary " if authorities didn't provide any valid legal ground that can justify the deprivation of freedom. The deprivation of freedom stems out from exercising guaranteed liberties and rights such as freedom of religion, or freedom of expression, or when violations against International Criminal Court Standards are being largely, which lends the deprivation of liberty the characteristic of arbitrary.
According to Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Chapter II,Art. 83: The Detaining Power shall not set up places of internment in areas particularly exposed to the dangers of war, and the Detaining Power shall give the enemy Powers, through the intermediary of the Protecting Powers, all useful information regarding the geographical location of places of internment.
The UN Declaration for Protecting All Persons From Enforced Disappearance, endorsed by the General Assembly in 1992, states that "enforced disappearance take place when government's officials or agents capture or detain or kidnap persons against their own wills, then decline to disclose any information about their destinies or places where they are locked up, or refuse to acknowledge that such persons are denied of their own freedoms, that consequently makes these persons out of the law protection umbrella".
The Yemeni constitution states that " the State shall ensure the citizens' personal freedoms, maintain their dignity and security". The constitution prohibits arrests, inspection and detention except for those people who might be caught up as they are acting illegally, or in accordance with arrest warrant by the judiciary or general prosecution".
The report suggests a set of recommendations to Houthi Group ( Ansar Allah), Yemeni government and the international community.
Ansar Allah Group needs to act on the following recommendations:
- All detainees who are being arbitrarily detained should be released soon, the destiny of forcibly disappeared persons under the Group authority must be disclosed, and the detainees should be set free without any delay that may redouble perils risking their life or further extend restriction of their freedom and deny them their humanitarian rights and dignity.
- Refrain from neutralizing the judiciary system role in judicial supervision on the arrest and detention acts, and enabling judiciary to play its legal role as it used to prior the Group take over.
- Conduct investigation into the actions of arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance, and the related crimes such as torture, risking detainees' life; identify culprits and hold them accountable for their role in carrying out these acts;
- Provide fair compensations to the victims of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance and pertaining violations in conformity with crimes they were subject to.
- Maintain records for every detainee, such records shall be made available for inspection including legal base for detention, information about date and justification of the detention, the person who carried out the detention, procedures used upon the detention; whether the prisoner appeared before a judge or not, and when did that occur.
- Human rights organizations should be enabled to visit prisons and detentions places and follow up the detainees' issues and provide them with necessary legal support.
- Children under the legal age shall never be detained, except for when this measure is the ultimate solution, and it should be for the shortest possible period, and it should be in compliance with the criteria of the juveniles’ justice. Moreover, it should be ensured that children should never be held in the centers of adults’ detention.
Yemeni government is called upon to:
- Support efforts aiming to establish an independent international investigation mechanism to investigate into all cases of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention, torture; prepare complete legal files to recompense the victims and hold wrongdoers accountable for these crimes.
- Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and to sign on the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court.
- Legislations need to be enacted to criminalize forced disappearance with punishments compatible to the crime grave.
International community is called upon to:
- Mount pressure on Houthi group (Ansar Allah) to set free all arbitrarily detainees forcibly disappeared within its authority.
- Support establishing an independent international committee to investigate into violations against human rights in Yemen including the all incidents of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance particularly those committed since the ongoing conflict has erupted in Yemen.
- Mount pressure upon the Yemeni government to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court.
- Provide the needed support to the efforts aiming to set an independent international mechanism to compensate victims and bring them justice and hold wrongdoers accountable.