Yemen: New report shows 'Guantánamo Bay factor' and 'war on terrorism' fuelling abuse

The report, Yemen: the rule of law sidelined in the name of security, shows that in the months following the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington, Yemen embarked upon mass arrests, extra-legal detentions and the secret deportation of foreign nationals. Yet no one has been charged and nearly 200 people continue to be held indefinitely with no plans to put them on trial.

The report points to extensive US involvement in - or pressure leading to - human rights abuses in Yemen, while noting that scores of Yemeni nationals are being held at Guantánamo Bay - an indefinite, extra-legal process that mirrors detentions in Yemen. Many relatives of those detained in Yemen have also told Amnesty International that Yemen's 'Political Security' force has frequently threatened to hand detainees over to US security forces for removal to Guantánamo Bay.

Amnesty International UK Director, Kate Allen, said:

'The 'Guantánamo Bay factor' is extremely damaging in Yemen, with illegal detentions mirroring those by the USA in Camp Delta and the threat of removal to Guantánamo Bay being used against prisoners in Yemen.

'Worryingly, the Yemeni authorities have tried to defend the indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial of nearly 200 people as unavoidable in its efforts to stave off US pressure and even US military threats.'

The Yemen government has indicated to Amnesty International that its plans to bring to trial those suspected of carrying out an attack on the Destroyer USS Cole in October 2000 have met strong objections by the US government itself. Many Cole suspects have been in prison for nearly three years without access to lawyers. They include 22-year-old Murad Salih al-Sururi, who appears to have been questioned by the FBI and denied access to a lawyer appointed by his relatives.

In July 2003 the US State Department confirmed to Amnesty International that mass arrests in Yemen were conducted 'in concert' with 'partners in the war on terrorism', while stating that some cases were moving toward trial. No further details about trials were provided.

US authorities have also confirmed to Amnesty International that they have provided military training to Yemen's counter-terrorism forces. However, they have failed to specify whether this has included Yemen's Political Security, whose role in human rights abuse in Yemen is longstanding.

The Political Security unit, acting without judicial authority, has been primarily responsible for rounding up those said by the government to hold 'extremist views' of Islam. Rather than prosecute detainees for an identifiable criminal offence, the Yemeni authorities have claimed that those held will undergo a 're-education' programme.

Mass arbitrary arrests in Yemen after 11 September included those of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and Children's rights, the youngest a 12-year-old Indonesian boy. Children's rights and adults have been held in communal cells, in violation of the UN Children's rights's convention, while many have been subjected to lengthy incommunicado detention and interrogation, during which some have claimed that they were tortured or ill-treated.

Responding to Amnesty International concerns, the Yemeni authorities have acknowledged that these measures breach Yemen's own laws and international human rights standards, but argue that they have 'no option' as they have to 'fight terrorism' and avert the risk of military action against Yemen by the US following 11 September.

Amnesty International's report also questions the killing by an American CIA Predator 'drone' aircraft of six suspected al-Qa'ida members in November 2002. The killings, in the Yemeni Governorate of Ma'rab, appear to have been part of a joint USA-Yemen operation that the US has insisted was legitimate because carried out against 'enemy combatants.' Amnesty International questions this, asking why law enforcement standards should not be applied to such situations.

Kate Allen added:

'The USA's role in Yemen has been deeply questionable - with the FBI allegedly involved in mass arrests, the CIA conducting illegal killings with a 'drone' last year, and US authorities blocking trials of suspects in the sinking of the USS Cole three years ago.'

Amnesty International's report calls, amongst other things, on the Yemeni government to:

  • release anyone held solely for the non-violent expression of their conscientiously held beliefs
  • ensure that all detainees are given prompt access to lawyers and to the judiciary
  • investigate allegations of torture and bring to justice anyone found responsible
  • halt the expulsion of foreign nationals to countries where they would face serious human rights violations.

The report also calls on the US government to:

  • investigate the apparent extrajudicial killing in 2002 of six suspected al-Qa'ida members
  • urge the Yemeni government to do likewise for those held under similar circumstances in Yemen

Cases

Indefinite unchallengeable detention
An appeal from the family of detainee 'Abdullah 'Abdu 'Abdullah al-Khatib, who wrote to the director of Hudayada Political Security:

'We, the signatories of this letter, testify that 'Abdullah 'Abdu 'Abdullah al-Khatib? had returned from Saudi Arabia in September 2001 in order to complete arrangements for an employment contract in Saudi Arabia. We were surprised to learn that strangers came and took him from his home in al-Shahariya area (in Hudayda) and we had no idea where or why they took him. After one month we learned that he was being detained by the Political Security in Hudayda. We, the residents of al-Shahariya area, testify before God and before you ? that 'Abdullah has always been of good behaviour and has never acted dishonourably towards his family or the security forces. 'Abdullah is the only breadwinner for his family, which consists of his elderly father and eight other persons. We are sending you this reference with hope and confidence in God and your sense of justice to urge you to look into his case and release him for the sake of justice and compassion for his parents and young brothers. God is witness to our testimony.'

Allegations of torture
Dr Abdelsalam Nur al-Din was reportedly made to stand blindfolded against a wall, beaten with a stick on his back and punched in the chest. He was also said to have been held in solitary confinement in a small cell with very little ventilation, denied regular access to toilets and sometimes drinking water, and threatened with further torture, execution and 'disappearance'.

The report is available online at: www.amnesty.org .

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