Researchers uncover torture and abuse at UAE-run prisons

The Associated Press (AP), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, a Yemeni NGO, have all published reports detailing gross human rights violations in extralegal prisons run by UAE-backed forces in southern Yemen. Emirati special forces established these sites as a part of their fight against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the so-called Islamic State (IS). Each report details widespread abuses  occurring in the prisons, including enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and rampant torture. HRW reports that at least four children have been detained in these prisons. Mwatana has also recorded at least one instance in which prison authorities tortured a child, and at least one other incident in which a detainee died as a result of torture in a UAE facility. The father of a child who was tortured provided the following testimony to Mwatana:

“I went to the police station in the governorate security directorate and I was allowed to meet Saeed; where I found him crying, as he was exposed to beating and rubbing his ears strongly...They set fire on plastic bags and left them dripping on his hands.”

The reports describe the prison cells as unhygienic, and both Mwatana and HRW cite the lack of food, water, and medical treatment. One individual interviewed by HRW described the conditions in their cell as the following:

“The men were taken to a smaller room. Seven other men were inside, including one who had been shot in the leg – he said by the security forces – and whose wound was infested with worms...The men told them they were only allowed to wash every two weeks and that when their drinking water ran out, detainees had turned to drinking their own urine.”

Disturbingly, the AP report further alleges that American personnel have interrogated detainees tortured by Emirati-supported troops. Though US Central Command (CENTCOM) denies the allegations, the AP cites several American, Yemeni, and Emirati sources who contradict CENTCOM’s denial. AP sources discuss instances of direct and indirect interrogation by American agents.

“U.S. forces send questions to the Emirati forces holding the detainees, which then send files and videos with answers, said Yemeni Brig. Gen. Farag Salem al-Bahsani, commander of the Mukalla-based 2nd Military District, which American officials confirmed to the AP. He also said the United States handed authorities a list of most wanted men, including many who were later arrested.”

“Two senior Yemen officials, one in Hadi’s Interior Ministry and another in the 1st Military District, based in Hadramawt province where Mukalla is located, also said Americans were conducting interrogations at sea, as did a former senior security official in Hadramawt.”

While these reports focus on the human rights violations of forces allied with the Yemeni government, they do not absolve Houthi forces of wrongdoing. Mwatana has detailed a number of forced disappearances and instances of torture in Houthi-controlled territory as well.