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Yemen: UN panel discusses the ongoing attacks on public freedoms during wartime

2017-06-22

On 20 June 2017, a panel discussion focused on the ongoing attacks on public freedoms in Yemen was held on the side lines of the 35th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council currently convening in Geneva. Participants at the panel of the side event, entitled “The ongoing attacks on public freedoms in Yemen during wartime”, called for an international investigation into the crimes committed by all sides in the conflict in Yemen. The side event was organised by Mwatana Organization for Human Rights, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Human Rights Watch, Index for Censorship, PEN International, the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) under the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, the Women Human Rights Defenders – International Coalition, and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The panel featured Radhya Al-Mutawakel, Chairperson of Mwatana, Afrah Nasser, a Yemeni human rights defender and blogger, Sherif Mansour, MENA Program Coordinator at CPJ, and Kristine Beckerle, Yemen and Kuwait Researcher at Human Rights Watch. The panel was moderated by Khalid Ibrahim, Executive Director of GCHR.

Radhya Al-Mutawakel said, “In every war there is no winner but there are criminals and victims.” She also talked about violations committed against the press and journalists in Yemen and said, “The Houthi authorities are still detaining 17 journalists until now.” She added, “Many violations of freedom of the press are committed by Hadi’s government.”

Afrah Nasser declared that "Today’s event is much focused on public freedoms and I get a headache when I think of that – because how can we talk about freedoms when the public is in a life or death situation? Actually, it’s in a death or death situation. By the UN humanitarian chief’s account, today, the largest humanitarian crisis worldwide is in Yemen.”  She added, “I would also say that the largest disgrace for humanity today is what’s happening to millions of people in Yemen. How could we, humankind, in 2017, allow a man-made disaster to rip the lives of thousands and thousands of people? The inaction by the international community and the world’s silence to the suffering of millions of human beings in Yemen is baffling to me."

Sherif Mansour said that journalists in Yemen are battered by civil war, without rule of law, and are threatened without recourse by the Houthis, the Saudi coalition, and Islamic militias. There is no venue for local, independent and critical voices to exist, let alone help foster dialogue and build trust as the wars enters its third year without a resolution in sight. He said that “the UN, the US government, and others must pressure both the Saudi government and its coalition, and the Houthi forces to show restraint when it comes to targeting journalists in Yemen.” He added, “An adequate impartial and independent international investigation into press violations during Yemen’s civil war must start soon, including for the recent death of investigative journalist Mohamed Ebsi and Voice of America freelancer Almigdad Mojalli.”

Kristine Beckerle called on the civil society in Yemen to continue documenting human rights violations despite the difficulties they are facing as they do their important work. She also noted: “It is becoming very difficult for people to discuss openly or talk about or push and advocate against issues such as detention centres that are based in the north and the south.” She ended by saying: “Without efforts of the members of the HRC and other states we won’t be able to see progress in Yemen.”

A report was launched and distributed during the event, entitled “Press in Yemen Faces Extinction: Journalists Need Support”. The report, prepared by Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights, documents violations against journalists. GCHR provided the report with a legal framework in Yemen.

After a healthy round of questions and answers by an audience that included representatives from Yemen, diplomats, representatives of civil society organisations and other stakeholders, Khalid Ibrahim concluded the activity by calling on all sides of the conflict to respect public freedoms in Yemen. He also stressed the urgent need for an international investigation into crimes against humanity committed in the country.

Click here to download a copy of the report in English. It is also available in Arabic.