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Amnesty International Report 1995 - Yemen

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 1 January 1995
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 1995 - Yemen, 1 January 1995, available at: [accessed 26 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Thousands of civilians, among them prisoners of conscience, were detained without charge or trial following the outbreak of full-scale war in Yemen. Thousands were released after an amnesty was announced in May, but arrests of critics of the government continued. Political detainees and prisoners arrested in the northern provinces in previous years and held in unlawful detention or following unfair trials remained in prison. Torture and ill-treatment of both civilian and military detainees arrested after May were widespread, and scores of people may have been extrajudicially executed. The fate of hundreds of people who "disappeared" in previous years in the north and south remained unknown. At least 25 people were executed.

President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh, leader of the General People's Congress (GPC), and Vice-President ‘Ali Salem al-Bidh, leader of the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP), signed a "Document of Accord and Commitment" in February in ‘Amman, Jordan. The agreement was aimed at resolving differences between the north and south (which had united in 1991 to form a single state); it laid down the principles governing their future relations. However, none of its 18 clauses was ever implemented and military clashes erupted shortly afterwards between units of the northern and southern armies. In early May full-scale war broke out between the two sides. In the third week of May the authorities in the south led by ‘Ali Salem al-Bidh announced the creation of the "Democratic Republic of Yemen" and designated ‘Aden as its capital. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution at the end of May calling for an immediate cease-fire, but the war continued until early July when southern forces were defeated. In August President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh announced that 16 former YSP leaders who had fled the country would not be pardoned and would be sought to stand trial for high treason. In September the Council of Representatives (parliament) amended the country's Constitution, abolishing the Presidential Council, previously the highest executive body in the country, and reconfirming President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh in his post.

Following the outbreak of fighting in May, there were widespread arrests and detentions of suspected opponents, including prisoners of conscience, by both sides. In the north, thousands of civilians were arrested during the first week of fighting in Sana‘a, Ta‘iz, al-Hudaida, 'Ibb and other cities. The vast majority were suspected members of the YSP, who were reportedly held in incommunicado detention at undisclosed locations. Others were independent political activists considered critical of President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh. In the south, scores of suspected members or supporters of Islamic Jihad, the GPC and 'Islah, the Yemeni Grouping for Reform, were arrested in ‘Aden, Hadhramaut, Dhali‘ and other cities.

An amnesty announced in the third week of May by President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh resulted in the release of thousands of political detainees held in the north. However, hundreds of others arrested during and after the fighting continued to be held without charge or trial. Most were initially held at al-‘Anad military base in Lahj Province and at al-Hoban military garrison on the outskirts of Ta'iz. They were subsequently transferred to Political Security detention centres and other locations throughout the country. With few exceptions, they were denied access to defence counsel, relatives and independent medical attention. Among them were prisoners of conscience, arrested solely on the basis of their region of origin or because of their suspected association with the YSP and its leaders. They included three university students – ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Wahid Yahya, Sadiq Nasir Salim and Muti‘ ‘Abdullah Salim Hawash – who were arrested in May while visiting relatives at the home of Yassin Sa‘id Nu‘man, former Speaker of Parliament and a leading YSP figure. They were held at the Political Security detention centre in Sana‘a. Others included ‘Ali Ahmad Muhammad al-Daudahi and Fadhl Hashim Abu Bakr, both farmers from Lahj Province arrested in June and held at the Political Security detention centre in Ta'iz. All five were among 65 named detainees whom the government stated in September had been released.

As President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh strove to consolidate his authority throughout the country following the war, censorship measures were tightened and anyone openly critical of the government was liable to arrest. Among those arrested were scores of YSP activists or sympathizers, trade unionists and Islamists. Civilian and military personnel who fled after the conflict and returned following an amnesty announced in July were also arrested. In August, in Sa‘ada in north Yemen, members of the security forces reportedly attacked the house of Badr al-Din al-Huthi, a member of parliament and leading member of Hizb al-Haq, a Shi‘a Islamist opposition party. He escaped arrest but 56 members of his party were arrested instead. Twenty-nine members of this group remained in Sa‘ada Political Security detention centre at the end of the year. On 3 December Amin Ahmad Qasim, a businessman from Ta'iz, was arrested, reportedly because of his business connections with the YSP. At the end of 1994 he had not been charged nor had access to his family, lawyer or doctor.

Most political detainees were held for short periods. Some were apparently held in unacknowledged places of detention. The exact number of detainees held at the end of the year was not made public by the authorities.

The vast majority of political detainees were arrested by army personnel and Political Security officers. However, other arrests were carried out by the 'Islah pro-government armed militia, particularly in the southern and eastern provinces. Members of this militia were present at government check-points and police stations, and apparently operated openly with the consent of senior government and military officials. Those arrested by members of 'Islah were reportedly held in secret detention, where they were believed to be at risk of being tortured or killed.

Political detainees and prisoners arrested in the northern provinces in previous years and held in unlawful detention or following unfair trials continued to be held. Mansur Rajih, a prisoner of conscience under sentence of death, remained held after more than 11 years' imprisonment (see Amnesty International Report 1993). At least 20 government opponents, among them possible prisoners of conscience, also remained in prison. All were suspected members of the former National Democratic Front (NDF), the main opposition group in the former Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) (see previous Amnesty International Reports).

A number of political detainees who had been held in prisons in the southern provinces escaped after the outbreak of fighting in May. Among them were nine suspected members or supporters of Islamic Jihad arrested in 1993 and held without trial and without access to legal counsel (see Amnesty International Report 1994).

Torture and ill-treatment of detainees were reported throughout the year, particularly of civilian and military detainees arrested by government forces during the conflict. The methods of torture used included beatings with cables, electric shocks, rape and "Kentucky Farruj" (suspension from a metal bar inserted between the hands and knees which are tied together). Detained military personnel were said to have been routinely tortured to force them to divulge information. One such victim was Colonel Muhammad Saleh al-Najjar, a member of the southern armed forces who was arrested in June. He was reportedly tortured while held at the Political Security detention centre in Ta'iz, as a result of which he frequently vomited blood and suffered acute kidney pains. In mid-July he was transferred to an unknown destination and his fate and whereabouts remained unknown.

Another case was that of Yahya Ahmad Ahmad al-Jahari, a labourer and YSP member arrested in Sana‘a in June. He was held in an underground solitary cell at the Political Security detention centre in the city and shackled for 18 days. During interrogation he was said to have been beaten with cables on his wrists and legs, resulting in severe injuries.

There were several killings in circumstances suggesting the involvement or complicity of the authorities, before the outbreak of hostilities. Among the victims was ‘Abd al-Karim Saleh, a leading YSP member who was shot dead outside his home in Sana‘a in January.

There were also killings of government supporters, who were apparently targeted for political reasons, but it was not known which group was responsible. Among the victims were Ahmad Mas‘ud al-Serafi and Mahdi Muhammad al-Shubeih, both prominent GPC members who were shot dead in February in Sana‘a.

Following the outbreak of fighting in May, scores of civilians and military personnel were killed in circumstances which suggested that they may have been extrajudicially executed. In two such incidents the killers were said to have been army personnel and members of the 'Islah militia. In May an army unit surrounded the offices of the Central Committee of the YSP in al-Safia district of Sana‘a. According to eye-witnesses, tanks and heavy weaponry were used to overpower a small number of lightly armed security guards stationed outside the offices. The guards were reportedly given no opportunity to give themselves up. An unknown number of people, including bystanders, were killed in the attack. In another incident in ‘Aden in July, an inebriated man was reportedly shot dead at point-blank range after an altercation at a check-point in the district of Ma‘alla. The check-point was manned by army personnel and members of the 'Islah militia. According to an eye-witness account, the victim was killed after making derogatory remarks about President ‘Ali ‘Abdullah Saleh.

The fate of hundreds of detainees who had "disappeared" in previous years in the former People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) and in the former YAR remained unknown (see previous Amnesty International Reports).

At least 25 people were publicly executed during the year. All had been convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to death at different times in the mid- and late 1980s in the former yar, following trials which were believed to have fallen short of international standards for fair trial. Five prisoners were executed in late July and the others in September. Hundreds of people convicted of capital offences in previous years remained under sentence of death.

In January Amnesty International submitted a memorandum to the government detailing its concerns about human rights violations committed both before and after the unification of the yar and pdry. Amnesty International's recommendations included the release of all prisoners of conscience; judicial review of the cases of political prisoners convicted after unfair trials; the investigation of all outstanding "disappearances"; the prompt and fair trial or release of all political suspects held in untried detention; the investigation of incidents involving torture or ill-treatment of detainees and cases of alleged extrajudicial executions; judicial review of the cases of all prisoners on death row and the commutation of all pending death sentences. The government's responses did not adequately address the issues raised in the memorandum.

In May Amnesty International publicly urged both sides in the conflict to respect human rights and to observe international humanitarian standards. Amnesty International appealed for an end to the arbitrary arrest of civilians and for all detainees to be treated humanely. It also urged that detainees be given immediate and regular access to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In July an Amnesty International delegation visited Yemen to investigate reports of widespread human rights violations committed during and in the aftermath of the fighting. The organization interviewed over 60 prisoners of conscience and other political detainees and held discussions with the Ministers of Justice, the Interior and Foreign Affairs as well as Political Security officials. In August a memorandum was sent to the government raising the organization's concerns and urging that measures be taken to put an end to human rights violations. Details of Amnesty International's concerns were published in September in a report, Yemen: Human rights concerns following recent armed conflict. The government responded by stating that 65 of the 75 political detainees whose cases were highlighted in the report had been released. However, this could not be independently verified by the end of the year. Amnesty International remained concerned that the government did not address fully all of the recommendations in its report.

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