Report submitted to the Human Rights Committee for the review of the fifth periodic report of Yemen
1 February 2012
About Alkarama Alkarama (الكرامة ) is a registered Swiss foundation headquartered in Geneva, established in 2004 by volunteer human rights lawyers and defenders. It works on human rights violations in the Arab world with offices and representatives in Lebanon (Beirut), Qatar (Doha), Cairo (Egypt) and Yemen (Sana’a).
Its work focuses on four priority areas: extra-judicial executions, disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention. Related activities include protecting human rights defenders and ensuring the independence of judges and lawyers.
Alkarama engages with the United Nations (UN) human rights mechanisms. It has submitted thousands of cases and urgent appeals to the United Nations Special Procedures including the Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and various UN human rights treaty bodies. Additionally, Alkarama has submitted numerous reports on the human rights situation in Arab states reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review, and to UN human rights treaty bodies.
Basing its work on principles of international human rights law and humanitarian law, Alkarama uses UN human rights mechanisms on behalf of victims of human rights violations and their families. It works constructively with sovereign states, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and national human rights institutions, as well as victims’ lawyers and human rights defenders. It also organizes seminars and undertakes campaigns to raise awareness of human rights issues in the Arab world.
Yemen was formed on 22 May 1990 upon the unification of the Democratic People's Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) and the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen). After a civil war that lasted from 5 May to 7 July 1994, the Government in Sana’a consolidated its hold on power. Following the resolution of this conflict, Yemen’s strategic interest increased due to its geographical position.
Yemen is a republic, divided into 21 governorates and municipalities. The legislature branch is composed of two chambers: the parliament, which has 301 members elected every six years by direct suffrage, and the Shura, an advisory board of 111 members appointed by the President. The last elections were held in 2003; those scheduled for 2009 were postponed.
The President is elected for a term of seven years. Ali Abdullah Saleh has been the president of united Yemen since 1990. He was previously president of North Yemen from 1978 to 1990. He was re-elected in September 2006 for another term of 7 years. However, according to reports, Saleh is said to have relinquished office on 23 December 2011, one month after he signed a Gulf Co-operation Council-sponsored agreement on 23 November 2011 in Riyadh, granting him and others immunity from prosecution in exchange for leaving office. Under the agreement, President Ali Abdullah Saleh will hand over his powers to Vice-President Abed Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi and presidential elections will be staged within 90 days1.
The Constitution of Yemen, proclaimed on 16 May 1991, was revised in 1994 and again in 2001. Following the war of 1994, a number of amendments were made to the 1990 constitution. Fifty-two clauses were amended and a further 29 clauses added. One was deleted. The changes were approved by parliament on 29 September 1994. One of the most debated changes was to Article 3, which made Islamic shari'ah “the source of all legislation”;2 previously it had been "the main source".
Yemen is party to eight of the nine core international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR; the Covenant) (ratified on 9 February 1987) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture) (ratified on 5 November 1991)3. However, it has not signed up to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, nor to the Optional Protocols to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Under Article 6 of the Yemeni Constitution4, Yemen is obliged to apply the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Charter of the Arab League and international law. However, due to the lack of clear constitutional and other legal provisions obliging the judiciary system in the country to implement such international agreements, including the Covenant, national courts do not do so, making no reference to international law and agreements that Yemen has ratified. In addition, there is no record of any judicial decision referring to international agreements such as the Covenant.
Economically, Yemen is considered to be the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest and most populous country, with a high percentage of unemployment and widespread corruption. In the 1990s, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposed a structural adjustment program requiring the privatization of public enterprises, cuts in civil servants and oil subsidies, as well as tariff reductions, all measures which worsened social conditions. In 2002, the IMF and World Bank paid Yemen 300 million dollars of a total of $ 2.3 billion pledged at a donors’ conference.5In return, the Government has accelerated its reforms. In July 2005, the Government adopted economic measures that were strongly challenged by the population. These included a reduction of subsidies for petroleum products which resulted in the doubling of fuel prices and triggered riots. The World Bank was promised $ 4.7 billion by donors to support the development of the country, to be paid out between 2007 and 2010. However, delivery was much slower than expected and remains incomplete.6
In general, these measures are unpopular because they do not improve the economic situation of the majority of Yemenis and aid is more often than not channelled into corruption.
The human rights situation in Yemen must be seen in the context of a precarious balance between competing external and internal pressures. Despite the country’s legislative advances, in practice the principles set forth in various laws are not sufficiently respected and abuses committed by agents of the State or local potentates are not prosecuted and punished. Arbitrary and incommunicado detention, torture, inhuman prison conditions, unfair trials, extrajudicial executions, forcible returns to countries that do not respect human rights, and other human rights violations are common, and have been exacerbated by the uprising of 2011.
Internal factors include conflicts occurring in the north and south of the country, but also from the nature of power, poverty and social structures, which triggered what has become widely known as the “Popular Youth Revolution” or the “Yemeni uprising” of 2011, which will be discussed in more detail later.7
Conflict in the north centers around a Houthi rebellion that began in the 2000s which has been systematically crushed with bombings and mass arrests. The conflict has kept the central Government on edge – several peace agreements have been signed but they are never respected.
In the south of the country, demonstrations are regularly held to denounce the economic inequality between the two regions of the country, and also to protest against the authoritarian central government. These are often repressed harshly. Some political groups even seek secession.
All these factors determine and aggravate the extremely precarious situation in Yemen, which is currently beset by such difficult problems that some observers fear the country’s collapse. "In fact, the obsession with security, imposed by the dominant Western discourse, is probably the main source of instability. The priority given to Western security at the expense of security for Yemenis will prove to be a long-term miscalculation."8
This report is based primarily on information obtained from our representatives in Yemen who are in regular contact with local actors including victims of human rights violations, their families, lawyers and human rights defenders, other human rights organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Our organization also undertook a research mission in the country in December 2011.
Cases of human rights violations referred to in this report are mainly cases collected by our field workers in Yemen, many of which have already been submitted to the relevant United Nations Special Procedures.