Yemen: NGOS call for an end to political trials and death sentences
Alkarama, SAM - a non-governmental organization (NGO) - and other Yemeni and international human rights organizations have issued an urgent appeal to the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council to intervene to end the political trials of detainees in Yemen.
The organizations urged special procedures to intervene to end political trials against detainees from the armed group "Ansar Allah" and - to a lesser extent - other parties to the conflict. The statement calls on the UN to become more involved in the fight against arbitrary detention by all parties to the conflict.
NGOs noted that the increasing number of political detainees - detained for expressing their views or on the basis of their gender - before the courts is a matter of concern, particularly in view of the fragility of the judicial system and its fragmentation between the parties to the conflict.
The organizations added that the parties to the conflict resort to the courts to prosecute opponents and use massive propaganda to create charges (treason, mercenary, collaboration with the "enemy", infringement of the sovereignty of the homeland and destabilization) in order to morally liquidate opponents and discredit them before public opinion pending their trial which results in severe penalties such as the death penalty, deprivation of liberty and confiscation of funds.
The co-signatory organizations urged the UN Human Rights Council's Special Procedures to intervene urgently by condemning the political trials of dozens of detained human rights defenders, journalists, academics and political detainees in Yemen and condemning extrajudicial executions.
The NGOs called for the abolition of death sentences against Yemenis arbitrarily detained and sentenced to death without a fair trial and urged Ansar Allah authorities to end the use of arbitrary executions, arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances, which constitute flagrant violations of international law.
The co-signatory organizations called on the international community to establish a criminal investigation mechanism and to allow the preparation of records for use by prosecuting authorities.
Content of the declaration:
Since the beginning of the war in 2014, Yemen has been implicated by all parties to the conflict in serious violations of the human rights of Yemenis.
The co-signatory organizations affirm the seriousness of the trials of political detainees taking place in Yemen on the basis of opinion, expression and gender.The organizations also highlight the significant impact of these trials on political freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression and the right to a fair and impartial trial. These trials also represent an obstacle to the peace process.
The organizations highlight the deteriorating human rights situation in Yemen, with the international community taking stronger action to seek and promote justice and accountability. The increasing investigation of political detainees - detained for expressing their opinions or on the basis of gender - is worrying, particularly given the fragility and fragmentation of the judicial system between the parties to the conflict.
In fact, the parties to the conflict resort to the courts to prosecute opponents and use massive propaganda to create charges (treason, mercenary, collaboration with the "enemy", infringement of the sovereignty of the homeland and destabilization) in order to morally liquidate the opponents and discredit them before public opinion pending their trial, which results in severe penalties such as the death penalty, deprivation of liberty and confiscation of funds.
According to the UN Secretary-General, international law "sets very strict conditions for the application of the death penalty, including the obligation to respect fair trial and due process standards. The execution of juvenile offenders is also categorically prohibited, regardless of the circumstances and nature of the crime committed. In the context of armed conflict, carrying out executions without judicial guarantees is a violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime."
Information from surviving victims and detainee defense lawyers confirms that what is happening inside the courts is a denial of justice and an emptying of its contents. Some referred to the sentencing to death or harsh sentences by the Specialized Criminal Court in Sana'a, for example, of detainees who had been missing for years in private prisons, and through procedures that did not meet minimum fair trial standards.
For example, in December last year, the SCC – affiliated with the Ansar Allah Houthi group in Sana'a – handed down two death sentences against 19 Islah party political and educational figures, including Salem Dael and Muhammad Hilal, who are the principals of two schools.
In August 2021, the court issued its verdict against 11 members of the General People's Congress Party, including Ms. Hanan Al-Shahdhi and Altaf Al-Matari. In July 2017, he sentenced 30 political and academic figures including Youssef Al-Bawab and Nasr Al-Salami to death. In March 2020, he sentenced 35 members of the House of Representatives to death and confiscated their property that had been able to leave Yemen.
Earlier in December 2021, the movement had applied the death penalty against 9 detainees accused of killing the movement's leader and the head of its political council, Saleh al-Sammad, hit by "Arab Coalition" planes.
On the other hand, there is a dangerous increase in prosecutions by the authorities of the Transitional Council in Aden and the Yemeni government in Marib and Hadramout of many political opponents and journalists brought before the Specialized Criminal Court and military courts in trials without guarantees of justice.
The authority of the pro-Emirati Southern Transitional Council has brought opposition journalist Ahmed Maher before the Specialized Criminal Court on serious charges that could lead to the death penalty while they relate to expressing his opinion on the council's policies. Maher said from prison that for 6 consecutive sessions, the Bir prison administration refused to allow him to attend court on the pretext of not having a vehicle, in order to harm him and keep him in prison longer. Ahmed went on hunger strike until his release or until death ensued to protest against the procedures imposed on him.
SAM for Rights and Freedoms, an organization specializing in monitoring such violations, confirmed that the Ansar Allah movement has handed down death sentences to more than 350 personalities, mostly opponents, heads of government, students, journalists, soldiers, academics, women and people from other backgrounds, including nearly 90 in detention.
While harsh sentences were handed down to more than 150 public figures, some of the prison sentences reached 15 years. More than 32 prominent figures including journalists and activists were tried on the orders of the Southern Transitional Council in Aden and the internationally recognized government of Marib and Hadramout, 5 of whom were sentenced to death in Marib.
The violation of the right to a fair trial by the Ansar Allah movement is a source of concern.The facts confirm that a large number of victims continue to be deprived in one way or another of this right, some of these victims having been - and continue to be - arbitrarily convicted as deprived of the minimum requirements for a fair trial. There are reports of an increasing number of people subjected to such trials, the latest of which relates to activists prosecuted for inciting and disturbing social peace and inciting public opinion against ongoing policies.
The nature and trials conducted by the courts controlled by Ansar Allah (Houthi) suggest grounds for retaliation to harm detainees. The Specialized Criminal Court in Sana'a no longer has legal legitimacy after its powers were transferred to Marib by the Judicial Council of the recognized government.
Houthi opponents, activists and politicians face an exceptional reality devoid of justice, as the right to a fair trial in court and respect for the presumption of innocence and other fundamental human rights have been suppressed.
The NGOs point out that the restrictions imposed by the group "Ansar Allah" on activists and civilians violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1989, to which Yemen is a party, as well as other rights and obligations that guarantee the right to life, physical integrity and a fair trial, as well as the International Convention for the Protection of Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 December 2006. The latter states that "no one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance" while affirming that "widespread or systematic enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity".
The justice system in Yemen is divided between the parties to the conflict. Sana'a's so-called "judicial system" on courts in Houthi areas and the "Southern Judges Club", one of the branches of the Southern Transitional Council, are clearly controlled by these entities - without adding the recognized government's directives on the courts in Marib and Hadramout -.
In this situation, it is not possible to strengthen Yemenis' confidence in the judicial system, and it is imperative that the parties end their tutelage over law enforcement institutions. It is important that they motivate international justice institutions to start working towards the reunification of the judicial system under acceptable Yemeni leadership.
The structure of Yemeni legislation has helped parties to the conflict prosecute opponents, imposing the death penalty – in a lavish manner – for many acts amounting to "crimes against state security", even though a number of them relate primarily to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression.
Death penalty legislation should be revised to include only the most serious murders and to be imposed only after a trial that meets fair and impartial trial standards. The death penalty should be permanently suspended in Yemen during the conflict because of its use by warring parties against opponents.
Yemen's lack of criminal justice and impunity has contributed to the Houthi movement's - and then other parties - appetite for more human rights violations, particularly with regard to violations of the right to justice and summary executions.
In that context, the international community must shoulder its responsibilities by establishing an international accountability mechanism in Yemen that would work to reduce impunity.
We appreciate the efforts of civil society, victims' families and lawyers who stand with victims, and support actions that expose violations and push for justice, including the "Without Justice" campaign, which specializes in advocacy for political detainees and opinion leaders.
We call on the Houthi movement to immediately cease political trials against detainees and dissidents, suspend the execution of its death and other sentences, and release all detainees.
We stress that the Yemeni government must respect international standards for the trial and release of activists detained in areas under its control and that of the Southern Transitional Council.
The undersigned organizations urge the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council to respond urgently by:
- Condemning the political trials against dozens of human rights defenders, journalists, academics and political detainees detained in Yemen;
- Condemning extrajudicial executions in Yemen;
- Annulling the death sentences imposed on Yemenis arbitrarily detained and sentenced to death without a fair trial;
- Calling on the Ansar Allah authorities to put an end to the use of arbitrary executions, arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances which constitute flagrant violations of international law;
- Closely monitoring the status of executions and death sentences in Yemen; in particular by focusing on the implementation of a series of executions by the SCC and other courts;
- Calling on relevant national and international bodies to investigate the case in the broader context of arbitrary detention and the use of torture to extract confessions;
- Calling upon the international community to establish a crime-based investigative mechanism with a mandate to prepare records for use by prosecuting authorities.
- SAM Organization for Rights and Freedoms
- Alkarama Organization - Geneva
- Association of Victims of Torture - Geneva
- Massar Foundation for Development and Human Rights
- Researcher Foundation for Development and Human Rights
- Yemeni Coalition for Monitoring Human Rights Violations
- U.S. Center for Justice (ACJ)
- AFD International Organization for Human Rights