Yemen. Crisis? Which crisis?

There’s a lot of discussion around about whether or not it’s "already a civil war” in Yemen, but unquestionably the country is in deep crisis. 

President Saleh’s tanks are on the streets of the capital Sana’a, the security forces have been shooting dead dozens of anti-government protestors in the central city of Tai’zz, and powerful tribal leaders are fighting street battles against government forces.

There are also reports (possibly exaggerated by a government that might use a “terrorist” threat as justification for repressive actions) that pro-al-Qai’da militants have taken control of the coastal town of Zinjibar. 

By any measure then – including the recent turbulent one of events in the Arab Spring – things in Yemen are extremely serious. And extremely complicated. Ian Black sums it up well:

The battles in Yemen are being fought on several fronts, with street fighting between tribal groups and Saleh's forces in Sana'a, popular protests across the country, and a battle against al-Qaida and Islamist militants who have seized the coastal city of Zinjibar, east of Aden. Government forces have been pounding the city for several days.

It’s no longer the “straightforward” democracy protests that we’ve become used to during this period and it reminds us what a fractured and fractious country Yemen is.

For example there’s been the low-level war being waged by Saleh’s armed forces against Houthi Shi’a rebels in the north. This has been brutal (and hardly reported). Last year, for example, Amnesty revealed how Yemen had joined forces with neighbouring Saudi Arabia to conduct massive aerial bombardments in Sa’dah governorate. The Saudis used Tornado fighter-bombers (UK-supplied and maintained) that reportedly killed scores of civilians.

Meanwhile, government critics and would-be secessionists in the south of Yemen have long been on the receiving end of Yemen’s draconian security apparatus. Arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture in detention, unfair trials and death sentences have all been commonplace (more detail here).

And Yemen’s woes have also included widespread and extreme poverty, adult literacy at only 60% and a half-life of drastically curtailed rights for Yemen’s women and girls.

In a sense then, the current crisis in Yemen is just the latest in a series of never-ending crises in Yemen, where human rights have been trampled into the dust during President Abdullah Ali Saleh’s 33-year rule (and before that as well). The campaigning group Yemen Peace Project probably has this right when, on its Twitter feed, it refers to “Yemen's crises.” Not one, but many.

Crisis? Which crisis? It’s now a long road back for Yemen to begin to deliver human rights to its 25 million people. But surely one thing should be obvious – President Saleh can’t just shoot his way out of this crisis.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
View latest posts