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Yemen: UN panel discusses human rights defenders, journalists, and civilian casualties in Yemen

2016-06-21

On 16 June 2016, a panel discussion on the human rights and humanitarian situation in Yemen was held on the sidelines of the 32nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council currently convening in Geneva. Participants at the panel, entitled “Under Fire: human rights defenders, journalists, and civilian casualties”, called for greater protection for those on the ground in Yemen. The panel was organised with Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Human Rights Watch, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), CIVICUS, and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

The panel hosted Radhya Al-Mutawakel, Chairperson of Mwatana organization for Human Rights via video statement, Afrah Nasser, a Yemeni Human Rights Defender and blogger, Sherif Mansour, MENA Program Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CJP), Nicolas Agostini, FIDH's representative to the UN, and Khalid Ibrahim, Co-Director of GCHR. The panel was moderated by John Fisher, Director of Human Rights Watch Geneva.

Radha Al-Mutawakel of Mwatana Organization of Human Rights highlighted human rights violations by all parties to the conflict in Yemen related to press freedom, detentions, enforced disappearance, torture, extrajudicial killing, recruiting children, and attacking civilians, hospitals and schools by different armed groups. 

"Wedding into funerals", a human rights documentary film produced by Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, sheds light on details of two aerial attacks by the Saudi-led coalition on two weddings in two rural areas in the Yemeni provinces of Taiz and Dhamar.

Human rights defender and blogger Afrah Nasser stressed the need to support the peace talks and to solve the conflict in the country immediately without any conditions. She said that it is “heart breaking” to see what is going on in her beloved country. She also talked about the failure of the UU to stop the killing in Yemen.

Sherif Mansour from CPJ said, “The Yemeni press is under threat from all directions, and journalists are unable to report or even defend their own colleagues without fear of retaliation.”  He added “Airstrikes, shelling, and street-by-street urban combat put journalists and civilians in Yemen at risk of death and injury.”  He urged the international community, including UN bodies and leading member states such as the United States, which is providing logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led campaign, to call on all parties in the conflict to stop attacks against journalists.

Khalid Ibrahim of GCHR called “on all those who are party to the conflict in Yemen to protect civilians and continue negotiations; and respect and protect freedom of expression from all sides of the conflict.”  He also demanded “the release of detained human rights defenders and for those responsible to guarantee the safety of journalists.” He also called for “an immediate, impartial and thorough investigation into the murder of Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani and all other crimes committed against human rights in Yemen with a view to bringing those responsible to justice in line with local laws and international standards.”

Nicolas Agostini from FIDH denounced “the double standards that are applied with regard to Yemen: while influential diplomacies rightly denounce the war crimes committed in Syria, they are turning a blind eye to those likely to have been committed by all parties to the conflict in Yemen, including by the Saudi-led coalition.” He added, “This is in addition to double standards applied to Saudi Arabia, an active member of the UN Human Rights Council despite its abysmal human rights record.” He concluded by saying that the HRC “must create an international inquiry into the conflict in Yemen to promote accountability and stop the violence.”

In general, the panellists called on UN member states to ensure that all parties to the conflict end all violations committed against civilians in Yemen, respect and protect freedom of expression and release detained human rights defenders and journalists. They further called on the Human Rights Council to create an international inquiry into the conflict in Yemen in order to address ongoing impunity for grave violations committed by all parties to the conflict and stop the violence, a call which was repeatedly made by civil society representatives to members of the Council.

After a healthy round of questions and answers by an audience that included representatives of all sides in Yemen, diplomats, representatives of civil society organisations and other stakeholders, John Fisher, Director of HRW Geneva Office concluded the side event by asking: “How many more Yemeni civilian will be lost, how many more Yemeni homes, hospitals, schools destroyed, before the Human Rights Council takes the action needed to fulfil its mandate and put an end to impunity?”