Human Rights in Yemen in 2016: “Impunity was persistent and pervasive”

The US Department of State recently released their 2016 Human Rights Country Report on the state of human rights in Yemen. According to the report, “impunity was persistent and pervasive” in Yemen, that contributed to gross human rights abuses by multiple actors throughout the year. The greatest human rights issues in Yemen were:

“violence committed by various groups, weak and failing state institutions that allowed widespread disregard for the rule of law, and the inability of citizens to choose their government through free and fair elections. Other human rights abuses included killings, disappearances, kidnappings, and reports of the use of excessive force and torture by security forces and various militant groups; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lengthy pretrial detentions; infringements on citizens’ privacy rights; limits on freedom of expression, press, assembly, association, and movement; limits on freedom of religion, particularly for members of the Bahai community; lack of government transparency; corruption; violence and discrimination against women, children, persons with disabilities, and minorities; use of child soldiers; restrictions on worker rights; and trafficking in persons, including forced labor.”

Nonstate actors, including the Houthi-Saleh alliance, tribal militias, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), among others, violated a number of human rights in the course of year. The report also highlights the prevention of aid delivery by both warring parties in the conflict:  

“Government and Saudi-led coalition delays or denials of permits for commercial and aid shipments bound for rebel-held ports, as well as Houthi rebels’ disruptions of aid delivery, exacerbated the humanitarian situation; a reported 69 percent of the population required some form of humanitarian assistance as of November.”

The report notes that torture was commonly reported at Houthi facilities. Arbitrary arrests and detentions by Houthi-Saleh forces were also highlighted, although the report did not mention the extrajudicial raids and arrests conducted by UAE-backed forces in Hadramawt and Abyan governorates.

The report also highlights the increasing recruitment of child soldiers by Houthi, AQAP and Popular Committee forces, with some estimates placing one-third of all child combatants under the age of  18. Censorship, violence and harassment of journalists, and hindering freedom of the internet continued to be problems in the country over the last year. In terms of workers’ rights, the right to collective bargaining cannot currently be enforced, and forced labor is reportedly a common practice in both rural and urban settings; prior to the war, Yemen was a major holdover point for international human trafficking.

Finally,  Yemen’s more than 2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees continue to be extremely vulnerable as a result of the conflict, while women throughout Yemen were extremely susceptible to violence and continued to face more discrimination, harassment, and threats from rape, domestic violence or honor killings, which were problems even prior to the conflict when the legal system functioned more effectively.

The ongoing war in Yemen has left the country’s most vulnerable populations nearly defenseless in the face of the abuses that they encounter. Only a peaceful, inclusive political resolution at the national and local levels has the potential to secure the reestablishment of rule of law, inclusive state institutions, and local governance. These remain the only feasible solutions to protecting the human rights of the Yemeni people in the long-term.