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Yemen: Human rights defenders at imminent risk during wartime, say panelists at UN side event

2015-06-23

On 22 June 2015, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) organised an event co-sponsored by CIVICUS, Freedom House, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), and Sisters Arab Forum (SAF), on the situation of human rights defenders and journalists during wartime in Yemen. The event was attended by NGOs, member state representatives, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNESCO, and others. GCHR co-director and moderator Maryam Al-Khawaja opened the event by introducing the report on Yemen released by GCHR in May (see also: http://www.gc4hr.org/report/view/36) and then introduced the panelists.

Amal Al-Basha, co-founder and director of SAF in Yemen, provided background for the current situation in Yemen and called for accountability for all sides involved in the fighting, whether internally or foreign intervention. The audience then listened to the 2014 Dawit Isaak award-winning journalist and Yemeni blogger Afrah Nasser talk about the complexities of the situation on the ground and the importance of a cease-fire and peace talks. Luai Saeed, a youth activist and founder of the first English youth magazine, talked about the statistics and data of the humanitarian situation on the ground and the absence of the role of youth in the different processes. Finally, Egyptian human rights lawyer and director ANHRI Gamal Eid spoke about the situation of media and journalists on the ground. He noted that inside Yemen, the coalition between the Houthis and Ali Abdallah Saleh were cracking down on the media and journalists to make sure that only their version of events is covered. On the other hand the coalition of Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi and Saudi Arabia own most of the media in the region, thus also controlling the portrayal of the situation. He concluded by saying that in Yemen today, due to the attacks by both sides in the war, there is no longer independent media, but only independent journalists.

After the panel, there was an interactive Q&A session, during which all of the panelists re-iterated their recommendations, calling for:

-  An immediate cease-fire from both sides of the conflict;

-   An international fact-finding mission to Yemen;

-   Accountability for all parties involved in war crimes against humanity;

-   The involvement of youth, women and civil society in the peace talks;

-   Follow-up on UN Resolution 2216 (2015) calling for an end to violence in Yemen;

-   Light to be shed on the situation in Yemen by the UN Human Rights Council whether with joint statements, individual statements, and/or resolutions.

It is with great disappointment that the GCHR has learned of the publishing and distribution of an article in the “Yemen Journal” relaying false information and misattributing untrue quotes to one of the panelists at the event.

From the beginning to the end of the side event, all panelists confirmed and re-iterated their call for accountability and the cessation of violence on all sides. At no point did any of the panelists call for violence or for the death of any faction in Yemen for any reason whatsoever. Even when a member of the audience at the event, who claimed to be an independent journalist, called for the continuation of Saudi airstrikes on Yemen, the panelists insisted that the violence must stop on all sides.