Posted: 25 August 2010
Concerns that UK-supplied planes used by Saudi Arabia in raids that killed scores of Yemeni civilians
The Yemeni authorities must stop sacrificing human rights in the name of security as they confront threats from al-Qa’ida and from “Huthi” Shi'a rebels, and address growing demands for secession in the south, Amnesty International said in a new report today (25 August).
Amnesty’s 103-page report - Yemen: Cracking Down Under Pressure - reveals a catalogue of human rights violations on the country, including unlawful killings of those accused of links to al-Qa'ida, to Huthi rebels and Southern Movement activists.
Many have been subjected to arbitrary arrest, torture or unfair trials in specialised courts, while others have been subjected to enforced disappearance for weeks or months by largely unaccountable security agencies reporting directly to Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart said:
“An extremely worrying trend has developed where the Yemeni authorities, under pressure from the USA and others to fight al-Qa’ida, and Saudi Arabia to deal with the Huthis, have been citing national security as a pretext to deal with opposition and stifle all criticism.”
A particularly worrying episode has been Yemen’s response to the Huthi rebel group in and around Sa’dah in the north. Yemen’s armed forces unleashed a massive assault on the region last autumn, and months of attacks saw heavy aerial bombardments, including from Saudi Arabian forces.
Though the joint Yemeni-Saudi attacks were largely unreported, Amnesty has gained information pointing to hundreds - possibly thousands - of civilians being killed in the bombing. In one attack on the town of al-Nadir in November reportedly conducted by Saudi forces, so many were killed in just one extended family that witnesses say the family “had to create a cemetery for themselves”. Amnesty arms experts believe it extremely likely that the Saudi air force deployed UK-supplied Tornado fighter-bombers in the strikes and is calling for the UK government to urgently investigate the matter and meanwhile suspend any further arms supplies to Saudi Arabia.
Amnesty International UK Arms Programme Director Oliver Sprague said:
“Our report points to the Saudis using UK-supplied and UK-maintained arms in secret attacks that have left scores of Yemeni civilians dead.
“The government needs to announce a thorough investigation to get to the bottom of this, reporting the findings back to Parliament.
“Meanwhile all current and future UK supplies of arms to Saudi Arabia should be suspended pending the results of this investigation. Lucrative arms sales to Saudi Arabia should not come at the expense of human rights and international law.”
Amnesty’s report also shows that Yemeni security forces have killed at least 113 people since 2009 in operations targeting al-Qaida and those the government considers “terrorists”. Attacks have become more frequent since December, with security forces in some cases making no attempt to detain suspects before killing them. At least 41 people were killed, 21 of them children and 14 of them women, on 17 December 2009 when their settlement in al-Ma’jalah area in the Abyan district was hit by missiles.
Malcolm Smart added:
“The Yemeni authorities have a duty to ensure public safety and to bring to justice those engaged in attacks that deliberately target members of the public, but when doing so they must abide by international law.
“Enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, and extrajudicial executions are never permissible, and the Yemeni authorities must immediately cease these violations.”
Amnesty’s report details growing intolerance of opposition in Yemen and increased use of repressive measures by the authorities. The number of death sentences passed in trials of people accused of links to al-Qa’ida or to the Huthi armed group has increased. In 2009, at least 34 people accused of links to Huthis were sentenced to death. Meanwhile, there has been much wider use of the Specialised Criminal Court, where trials generally fall short of international standards.
Meanwhile, numerous journalists have been tried and jailed for reporting on “sensitive” topics like the Huthi rebellion or the southern secessionist movement. In 2008, Abdulkarim al-Khaiwani, the former editor of a Yemeni weekly newspaper, was jailed for six years for reporting on clashes between Huthi rebels and government forces. While in prison he was given Amnesty’s “Special Award For Human Rights Journalism Under Threat”. He was released later that year.
The creation last year of a Specialised Press and Publications Court is also widely seen as a government attempt to suppress non-violent opposition and the expression of critical views in the country.