Threats and Attacks Plague Yemen's Brave Human Rights Defenders



Report of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights

Mission to Yemen: 14 to 19 April 2013

  May 2013


 Gulf Centre for Human Rights


A. Summary and Introduction 

B. Historical and Political Background 

C. GCHR Mission Framework  

D. Incidents of Threats to Human Rights Defenders 

E. Legal Framework

F. Conclusion  


 A. Summary and Introduction

It is now more dangerous than ever to be a human rights defender in Yemen. Under the previous regime the source of the threat was clear; the government was deeply corrupt and those who sought to expose that corruption faced direct and often violent repercussions. In the present period of political transition, the situation is more complex and the dangers faced by those who report events and those who campaign for social justice are not only intensifying but are also increasingly unpredictable. These attacks range through assassinations and beatings, wide scale online campaigns of abuse and intimidation and the use, of court processes to repress legitimate journalism. There has been an overwhelming failure by the transitional government to prevent, investigate or punish these attacks.

B. Historical and Political Background  

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world. More than 50% of its 24 million population live in poverty[1]. The country is running out of water and oil, its main source of revenue. Various tribal regions provide a base for the armed group Al- Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula[2]. These areas, as a result, are subject to the deeply controversial United States policy of targeted killings by covert missile and drone strikes in which many civilians, including at least 35 children, have been killed[3].

Yemen was two separate states until 1990, when the leaders of the Arab Yemen Republic in the north and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in the south declared unity. Ali Abdullah Saleh, the President of North Yemen assumed power over the newly created state. Unaddressed political and economic issues arising from unification led to a period of civil war, which was won by the forces of Saleh. The grievances continue to fester in Yemen, however, and present an on going challenge with the “Southern Movement”, a loose coalition of an armed separatist movement and a political movement for autonomy, seeking a resolution[4].

There is a concurrent conflict underway in the north between government forces and the rebel group known as the Huthis who accuse the government of religious and political discrimination[5].

In 2011, the widespread revulsion at despotic and corrupt government practices resulted in thousands of Yemenis taking to the streets, in protests inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, seeking to end the 33-year rule of President Saleh. The protests were overwhelmingly peaceful but were brutally put down by government forces. It is reported that 270 protesters were killed and thousands injured[6].

By November 2011, domestic and international pressure resulted in Saleh stepping down against the background of a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council and backed in large part by the United Nations Security Council. In January 2012, parliament granted Saleh full domestic immunity against prosecution for political crimes, in breach of international legal obligations to prosecute those responsible for gross human rights violations.

In February 2012, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, the sole candidate, was elected to serve as interim President for a two-year period. He presides over a United Nations facilitated transitional process within which a new constitution is to be drafted and fully democratic elections should be held in 2014. A central part of this process is the National Dialogue Conference convened by the President, which has the aim of drawing all sections of Yemeni society together, to address the grievances of all groups including the Southern Movement and the Huthis. The process also allows space to debate and to formulate policies on human rights and social progress.

A major force in the current politics of Yemen is the Joint Meeting Parties, an opposition coalition of six parties, including Islah, the largest party in the country. Islah is a conservative religious force that advocates stricter adherence to Islamic precepts[7]. The clarity and structure offered by this approach seems to offer a way forward to many people in Yemen and this party is gaining in strength. Many of the people met during the mission who campaigned for social justice in the revolution and who are politically unaligned are deeply opposed to Islah. There is great concern amongst them that the hard fought gains, particularly in the fields of freedom of speech and equality for women, are being eroded as the influence of Islah extends.

C. GCHR Mission Framework 

The purpose of the mission by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) was to meet human rights defenders, including activists and independent journalists, listen to their accounts, report these events, and seek to draw some conclusions as to the state of human rights in Yemen at this time. This report is based upon many hours of meetings and discussions including with those described below. 

The mission took place between 14 and 19 April 2013[8].  It was carried out by British lawyer Melanie Gingell, an advisory board member of GCHR, who remained in Sana’a throughout the mission and who conducted the interviews with the assistance of a translator.  To a great extent she was reliant on the accuracy of their descriptions of the events described in this report, but by the end of her visit there was a high degree of consistency between the many different accounts given. Further, the separate discussions proffered a high degree of support for one another and at no time did Gingell detect any basis to doubt that which she was told.

Finally, her research encompassed the many reports produced by other NGOs including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and, once again, these supported and corroborated the picture that emerged from the mission's work.

D. Incidents of Threats to Human Rights Defenders  

I. The role of social media as a threat to human rights defenders

During the revolution, social media was an effective conduit for disseminating information about the struggle and greatly expanded the means available of exercising individual freedom of expression. Facebook was a means to communicate, inform, entertain and campaign particularly amongst youth[9]. In the course of discussions with activists in Yemen it became apparent that there is however a very different flavour to Facebook campaigns in the current climate. Vast armies of “facebookers” are now often directed to intimidate and harass someone who is either known to be treading an independent path, to be exposing corruption or to be advocating views that do not suit a particular political party. These campaigns often involve hundreds of people posting abusive messages on an identified person’s Facebook page. The abuse is often associated with accusing the victim of un-Islamic behaviour and ultimately of apostasy. The implications of this are potentially that the person targeted is in fear for their life, as the punishment for apostasy is considered by many to be death. In the mission's conversations with women activists, the Facebook campaigns were referred to by many of them as “social execution”.

II. Threats to journalists and media freedom organisations 

Interviews were carried out with the following individuals and organisations, which reported on their cases and threats to freedom of expression:

Freedom Foundation, media freedom organisation 

Freedom Foundation is a non-governmental organisation set up to monitor violations and abuses against media freedom in Yemen[10]. It also seeks to advance democracy, human rights, and press freedom by supporting and building links between media organisations and individual journalists locally, nationally and internationally. The Foundation runs a hotline to encourage the reporting of abuses against a free press.

Last year, the Foundation recorded a total of 260 attacks against journalists. The figures recorded for 2013 are deeply disturbing,  showing that attacks on journalists are accelerating with 109 cases of violence or threats of violence against journalists already listed and 32 separate legal cases having been filed against journalists by the middle of April 2013. [11] Many of the journalists who have suffered these attacks have reported stories of corruption in the energy or construction business.

The attacks recorded include the following typical examples of the types of abuse experienced on a regular basis: 

An assassination attempt against Mansoor Noor, a journalist reporting on a Southern Movement demonstration in Aden on 17 April. He was shot by an unidentified gunman and subsequently had to have his leg amputated in hospital.

Also on 17 April in Sana’a there was an attempt to destroy the offices of Yemen Shabab Television station and the Al Masdar Newspaper with an explosive device. Fortunately the device was discovered and defused.

On 8 April, Husam Ashour, a news editor who consistently reports on alleged corruption in relation to a reconstruction fund, was convicted of insulting a public official and sentenced to three months' imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 Yemeni Rials. He is appealing against the sentence.

On 9 April, the editor of the daily paper Al-Oula, Mohamed Ayish, reported having received more than 30 text messages from Yemeni and foreign phone numbers threatening to kill him, cut off his hand or cut out his tongue.

On 27 April the camera crews of Al Jazeera and Sky News Arabia, whilst reporting on a Sothern Movement demonstration in Aden, were subject to attacks in which they were physically assaulted, threatened with daggers and their cameras confiscated.

Freedom Foundation has also been campaigning for the release of journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye who has been detained since 16 August 2010. Shaye worked for the official news agency Saba and was an expert on terrorism. He reported on the aftermath of a missile strike on Al-Maajala village in Abyan province in which more than 50 civilians including 21 children were killed. He was convicted of terrorism related charges after a trial condemned by Human Rights Watch as unfair[12]. Amnesty International said, “There are strong indications that the charges against [Shaye] are trumped up and that he has been jailed solely for daring to speak out about US collaboration in a cluster munitions attack which took place in Yemen.”

Freedom Foundation observed that if the Yemeni government is to be held to account for its actions in relation to missile strikes in its own country, it is imperative that the reporting of the facts is allowed. Shaye was to be pardoned by former President Saleh but the pardon was revoked following the personal intervention of the United States’ President Obama on 3 February 2011.[13] He remains in custody and is not due to be released until next year.

Khaled Al-Hammadi is the director of Freedom Foundation. He is a respected journalist in his own right who has worked for international media such as Al-Jazeera as well as locally.  He has personally suffered attacks this year in relation to an article he wrote for the UK-based paper Al-Quds Al-Arabi at the end of last year. The article noted that President Hadi had appointed 180 members of his family to military positions and compared this appointments policy with that of the former regime. Shortly afterwards, on January 8 2013, an article appeared on the Ministry of Defence website severely admonishing Al-Hammadi. This highly critical piece against al Hammadi has been widely reprinted in government supported websites and newspapers. He says that the effect of this, apparently government backed, campaign amounts to an open call for murder. He believes he is now under surveillance and the Foundation is deeply concerned for his safety.

In 2005, Al-Hammadi was the victim of a similar attack when he wrote an article about corruption in the air force and was subsequently kidnapped and held for two days of interrogation at a Sana’a airbase. In 2011, he was honoured for his commitment to his work with an International Press Freedom award by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

Samia Al-Agbhry, journalist and activist 

The case of Samia Al-Agbhry, a young woman activist and journalist writing for the paper Alshare, is an example of how social media campaigns are used to threaten and intimidate people.  Samia Al-Agbhry is a member of the Socialist Party of Yemen and has suffered many such campaigns. She was politicised during the revolution and was involved in many of the “mixed marches” of men and women that took place. Her experiences there taught her that women can be leaders and organisers contrary to the traditional social roles assigned to women. She is now a well-known speaker and writer on political issues.

In December 2012, Al-Agbhry made a speech at a socialist party conference. She alluded to the “ugly connection” between religion, politics and tribes, which has destroyed the dream of creating a modern civil Yemen. She has suffered repercussions as a result of making this speech. The comment in question was taken from a wide ranging article that she had written and had published in Alshare. She also talked about how Islah had bribed people to support them with payments of sugar and fuel.

A prominent Islah member Akram Al-Guaizi started a facebook campaign against Al-Agbhry; a video has been posted of her with photo shopped devil’s horns, bleeding eyes and a background of hell fire. A militant song plays in the background and Islamic writings have been added to provoke violent attacks against her. The picture clearly shows her hair exposed at the front of her headscarf. There is a comment attached saying “faces like these do not make Yemen proud.” She has received numerous threats to kill her as a result. Al-Guaizi has now filed a lawsuit against her for insulting Islam. The maximum penalty for this crime is death.

Al-Agbhry is a member of the National Dialogue Committee on anti–corruption. This high profile role has afforded her some protection from the campaign of abuse; nevertheless she was forced for some time to hide behind the veil. She still lives in fear of attack.

Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani, journalist 

Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani is a political journalist and former editor of Yemen's weekly newspaper Al-Shora. He is a member of the Transitional Justice Committee in the National Dialogue Conference. Prior to 2011, he persisted in writing articles fiercely critical of the Saleh regime despite being convicted and imprisoned five times for the views expressed in the articles. In June 2008 he was sentenced to six years in prison for writing critical articles about the war with the Huthis the previous year. He was never told the precise nature of the charge. President Saleh pardoned and released him in September 2008. Amnesty International awarded him their  Special Award for Human Rights Journalism Under Threat  in 2008 in recognition of his consistent courage.

Al-Khaiwani said that in this transitional period it is harder to tell who is ordering the violence. He believes that the violence against him originates with conservative Islamic forces inspired by or under the control of Islah who are seeking to divert the progressive momentum of the revolution. He has suffered numerous attacks since former President Saleh was forced to step down. He has been threatened with violence with knives and approximately six months ago there was an incident in which gunmen who surrounded his house threatened him, firing shots at the house, terrifying him and his family.

The threats towards Al-Khaiwani continue and are increasing in severity. He is being aggressively monitored by the state. "The only thing they haven’t done to me," he said, "is to kill me." He says that he feels less safe now than before the revolution because the source of attacks is unknown and more unpredictable. He feels that his life is under serious threat.

Mohamed Al-Absi, blogger and journalist 

Mohamed Al-Absi[14] is a blogger and journalist who focuses on exposing corruption at all levels of Yemen society. He has published over 2000 documents in relation to the restructuring of the army, Al-Qaeda, money laundering and arms deals. He has exposed, for example, the corrupt energy policy of former President Saleh. [15] The articles he writes are compelling and damning in that they not only set out the allegations of corruption at the highest levels but also contain documentary proof of what is alleged.

The more he published, the more people sent him documents as they realised he was brave enough to publish them. Many of these documents are classified and are leaked to him from concerned workers in government departments. He is in possession of many more documents and has put in place a sort of insurance policy against those who may wish him harm by placing them with people who will publish them if anything happens to him.

Al-Absi, however, now faces a court case. In an article in November 2012, he exposed the allegedly corrupt practices of Wafaa, the charity set up to distribute funds to those injured in the popular uprising of 2011 and a Ministry of Defence pension fraud. The President of the Islah Charity Forum and the Ministry of Defence responded by issuing a writ against him in the Press and Publications Court.

Al-Absi had called for Wafaa’s accounts to be published.  He explained that there is great anger in Yemen that those who risked their lives in the uprising against the corrupt regime of President Saleh have not, some two years after the event, received payments in compensation for their injuries, payments which in some cases were necessary to get urgent treatment. One person, for example, had to have his legs amputated because he was unable to afford the treatment that would have saved them.

Al-Absi stated that the Ministry of Health had compiled a list of the injured people and had prioritised and assessed them The fund was to disperse monthly sums equivalent to a soldier’s pay, about 20,000 Yemeni Rials, or US$93 for those severely disabled and for families of those killed as well as medical costs at home or abroad for the severely wounded. Wafaa, he claims, has in collaboration with the Ministry of Information, compiled an alternative list from which payments are awarded to those who are supporters of Islah.  Al-Absi has the documents to prove this and has published them on his website.

The Ministry of Defence has, according to other published documents, been involved in a similarly corrupt operation in which pensions due to 314 families of soldiers killed during the conflict in 2011 were diverted to Sadiq Al-Ahmar, an important Islah leader. 

The publication of these documents places Al-Absi in a dangerous situation in which many powerful actors would benefit were he to be silenced. He says that he has survived so far by publishing documents against the interests of all sides of the complex political configuration, thereby ensuring he is seen both as a neutral figure and as having a value to all sides by exposing their opponents.

Al-Absi was due in court on 7 April 2013 but the hearing was adjourned because the judges were on strike. The first hearing took place on 14 April. He faces a long term of imprisonment if found guilty.

Nabeel Sobai. founder of Al-Share newspaper 

Nabeel Sobai is a journalist with a national profile and Al-Share is one of the most widely read papers in the country and is known for its stance in exposing corruption and government abuses. He reiterated how the present political climate was unpredictable and dangerous for journalists, particularly those who expose corruption.

He receives numerous lurid threats on a weekly basis. The anonymous calls consist of threats to kill him, to cut off hands or to cut out his tongue. He recalled an incident in 2011 in which a prominent writer, Walid Al-Ramishi, was attacked by having his tongue cut out and the blood smeared over his work. He does not therefore take these threats lightly.

Historically, Sobai has suffered physical attacks. In 2005 he was stabbed in the neck by an armed gang. He believes this was in retaliation for articles published by his paper. No one was brought to justice for this attack.

Iona Craig. British journalist, Yemen correspondent for the Times 

Iona Craig has lived and reported from Yemen since 2010. On 27 February 2013, she was the victim of what appeared to be an assassination attempt. Her car was forced to stop by another vehicle blocking the road. A shot was fired into the car, breaking the window nearest to where she was sitting. A crowd quickly gathered and she was able to get away. There has been no investigation into this incident despite the high number of witnesses at the scene and the proximity of an army checkpoint. The motivation for the attack therefore remains unclear[16].

Salah Al-Dakak. journalist and poet 

Salah Al-Dakak, an independent journalist based in Taiz, has been subject to death threats both before and after the revolution. He wrote several articles on the theme of the dangers of the revolution being hijacked by political parties. He has been accused of apostasy and of being a supporter of the former regime.

In July 2011 he was attacked by a gang armed with guns and two bystanders were shot. This incident was widely reported but no one has been prosecuted.

It is hard for him to have paid work as a writer now. He continues to publish his own blog but he lives in constant fear of threats to himself and his family.

III. Threats to Human Rights Defenders 

During the 2011 uprising, state security forces and pro-government armed gangs attacked, harassed, and threatened hundreds of human rights activists. The mission was given multiple reports and examples of these abuses. Many of them were for taking part in marches, for organising independent campaigns outside the protection of an organised political group and for speaking at meetings.

The abuse and harassment of human rights defenders continues across the country although the perpetrators are now harder to identify as there is no single clear opponent to the cause of social progress.

The matters set out below are examples of the incidents recorded and the atmosphere described both during the uprising and in the months that followed. None of the victims who were interviewed has had received any redress for the violations they suffered.

Judge Ahmed Saif Hashid, social justice campaigner 

Ahmed Saif Hashid was a judge for six years in Yemen but also a civil society campaigner for social justice for the marginalised and disadvantaged in society. He took part in the protest marches in 2011. He was attacked by security services on more than one occasion.

For the last two years he has championed the cause of a group of 64 people who were seriously injured during the revolution. They urgently needed medical attention and the committee Wafaa, as referred to above, was set up by the government to administer a fund of two billion Yemeni Rials for their benefit. So far this committee has failed to make the necessary payments to those assessed as being in need despite a court ruling in November 2012[17]. It is alleged however that they have made payments to a small group of people who are members of Islah. There is great anger in Yemen about this.

On 12 February 2013, Hashid joined the injured in their sit-down protest in front of the cabinet office. Some of the protestors were on hunger strike. They were calling for payments to be made by the fund in line with the assessment of needs. It was the 15th day of the protest when the group was attacked and Hashid nearly killed: a squad of men wearing riot squad uniforms, some with their faces covered, beat him around the head with iron bars. They targeted him specifically from amongst the demonstrators. As he fell to the ground, the injured formed a circle around him to try to protect him. Cabinet guards also intervened to try to protect him.

An ambulance arrived and the injured people managed to get Hashid inside. The ambulance was attacked as the armed squad attempted to stop him leaving. Hashid is clear that this attack was an attempt to kill him. He feels he owes his life to the injured people and others who intervened and managed to get him out of the area to the hospital where he was treated for serious head injuries and remained in intensive care for some days.

The perpetrators of this attack are clearly identifiable in a series of photographs, of which the above is an example. They were in uniform, they were briefed by a senior member of the security forces half an hour before the attack, but nevertheless remain at liberty and have not been subject to any official investigation.

Hashid is a long-term campaigner for social justice and this is not the first time that his life has been endangered. In 2007, he campaigned for the rights of inmates in the Sana’a immigration detention centre where conditions were notoriously inhuman. He visited the centre and compiled photographic evidence of the inmates many of whom were dying of disease and had no prospect of release. Hashid was kidnapped, beaten, imprisoned for some hours and threatened with further beatings if he dared to publish the results of his research.

Some months later after a series of further threats, his car was attacked and his driver died as a result of injuries he received. Hashid left Yemen and sought refuge in Switzerland for eight months after that incident There have been no official investigations in relation to any of these attacks.

Hashid is now an independent Member of Parliament and President Hadi has recently vowed that there will be an investigation into the most recent attack, which occurred during the protest of the injured. As of the date of this report however, that is yet to happen.

Arwa Othman, writer and human rights defender 

Arwa Othman is a well-known writer and intellectual in Yemen. She founded an organisation, Heritage House, which is committed to preserving the ancient heritage of Yemen. It studies, documents and publishes its research in Yemen and internationally. She is a human rights defender who was prominent in the revolution. She received the Minerva Anna Maria Mammoliti prize awarded by the Il Club delle Donne association in Italy.

She has been appointed as President of the Rights and Freedoms committee in the National Dialogue Conference. She described the complex and uncertain political landscape in Yemen, speaking of the fragmented and ephemeral nature of the opposing forces. When human rights violations occur, as they do with almost crushing regularity, it is often impossible to know from where and from whom they originated.

Othman was a regular at the protests in Change Square often leading the “mixed marches” which caused so much outrage amongst conservative forces in society and which were described as blasphemous by former President Saleh. She described one occasion in which she headed a march that was made up of at least 25 women including her three daughters, as well as men. They marched purposefully together towards the square only to be confronted by soldiers firing shots in the air. These soldiers then beat the women with iron rods. The strategy to mute the protesters consisted of these beatings, with constant threats of violence and with the additional threat of the use of orchestrated social media campaigns to destroy their reputations. They were accused of trying to turn the protest movement into a “disco” and of being part of the mixed marches with the intention of meeting men for sexual purposes. Members of the security forces threatened to spread pornographic imagery or stories about the women on the internet. This was highly intimidating and potentially extremely dangerous for these women.

Magad Al-Hadad, teacher and human rights defender 

Magad Al-Hadad owned and ran a popular school in the decade before the revolution. In 2011 she was involved in the uprising. She went to Change Square and was a prominent part of the pro-democracy marches. She has, like the vast majority of the women met on the mission, discarded the veil and enters public society with simply a head scarf or with no head covering.

As a result of this stand she says that she lost possession of her school. Rumours were spread by unknown people about her morals and religious commitment. Parents gradually removed their children from the school and when the Ministry of Education withdrew her licence she was forced to sell the establishment. She then started an NGO called Page to address educational issues in Yemen for children and adults. She focuses on education for women and the link between education and democracy.

Al-Hadad has recently been the victim of a campaign of abuse since she began to do support work for the victim of a gang rape. An armed intruder has attacked her in her house. She believes this attack was part of the campaign against her. She has now had to move to a secure location.

She described being one of the victims of the wide scale Facebook-based campaigns against women who have been involved in political campaigning.

Sarah Jamal, blogger and activist 

Sarah Jamal was a leader of youth marches in the 2011 revolution. Her aim now is to garner international support for the new Yemen. She is an active blogger. She is widely travelled and a much sought after speaker at conferences where Yemen and transitional justice is discussed. She speaks out for those independent activists who, like her, are not backed by any political party or tribe. She describes her position as very exposed but is happy to be free to say what she believes. She is antithetical to the forms of protection that come with membership of a political group in a country where loyalty to the party or tribal line often forms a barrier to progress towards a unified state. She is concerned about what she describes as the destructive interference of international donors in the National Dialogue Conference.

E. Legal Framework 

Yemen is a signatory to all the main Human Rights Conventions including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the regional Arab Charter.

 Under Article 6 of its national constitution the state confirms its adherence to the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Charter of the Arab League, and principles of international law which are generally recognized.

 Freedom of Expression 

Freedom of Expression is guaranteed by the following provisions that impose obligations on Yemen:

 -Article 42 Constitution of Yemen      

-Article 17 of the Arab Charter

 -Article 19(2) ICCPR

 Although Freedom of expression guarantees in international law permit a degree of limitation, such limitations must be the least intrusive to address the need, be imposed by law and in a non-discriminatory manner, and be strictly necessary and proportionate in a democratic society.[18] The restrictive Press and Publications Law of 1990 has been widely used by the government and other non state actors to prosecute journalists. Article 130 of the law prevents journalists from criticising the head of state or publishing any material that defames the image of Yemen, Arab, or Islamic heritage.  The use of these criminal law restrictions by the Yemen authorities does not meet the stringent test for limitation of this basic right.

There is a climate of impunity in Yemen in relation to threats and violent attacks on journalists. By permitting or acquiescing to the current pattern of attacks as described in the body of the report, Yemen is in breach of its obligations as set out above. It is failing in its duty to investigate , prevent and punish these violations. [19]

Threats to Life 

The state of Yemen is obliged under international law to ensure protection of the right to life and has positive obligations to investigate threats to life and ensure a remedy to those whose right to life is threatened.

Article 5 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights enshrines the inherent right to life which has to be protected by law.

Article 6 of the ICCPR sets out the right to life.

Article 17 of the ICCPR provides that each individual shall have protection against unlawful attacks on honour and reputation and to have such protection through the exercise of law .

The concerted pattern of threats and attempts on the lives of human rights defenders in Yemen constitutes a pattern of which the government is or should be aware. This includes the wide scale use of social media to threaten the lives of human rights defenders.

Article 23 of the Arab Charter guarantees that each State party to the Charter undertakes to ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms are violated shall have an effective remedy.

Article 7 of the ICCPR enshrines a duty to investigate and hold perpetrators responsible, and is evidence that there is an international duty to investigate human rights violations. The UN Human Rights Committee (HRC), the body of international experts that reviews state compliance with the ICCPR, has said that “the state party has a duty to investigate in good faith all allegations of violations of the Covenant made against it and its authorities.”

The Yemen authorities are in breach of their obligations to investigate, prevent and punish attacks on human rights defenders. There has been no attempt to investigate any of the serious incidents that were related in the course of this mission The attacks continue unabated.

F. Conclusion 

At present in Yemen the formal state structures are weak and different forces in society are increasing their power and filling the vacuum. These forces are disparate and nebulous: tribal, religious, political and military. Attacks are increasing but it is often hard to know from where an attack originates. There is no central powerful government to stop people from speaking out but neither is there a powerful centre to offer any protection to those that do. There is an overwhelming failure to prevent, investigate or punish attacks against journalists and human rights defenders. Thus although perversely in some ways there is a greater potential for freedom of speech than under the previous regime, there is also a consequent spiralling of serious cases of abuse against those who exercise that freedom.

For freedom of speech to flourish in Yemen there needs to be not only a strong government democratically elected and untainted by corruption but also a strong civil society supported by a free press. The voices of all sectors of society need to be heard not only those of the elite who are all too often beholden to international donors. As journalist Nabeel Sobai said in a plea simply for normality, “People need to love life, we need to move away from an armed society and embrace a civil one, only then can we really live.”

If there is a cause for optimism about the future of freedom in Yemen, it lies in the energy, commitment and sheer bravery of the many journalists and human rights activists whom it was a privilege to meet on this mission.


[1][1] United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Yemen Country Profile,

[2] World Bank Country Briefing

[3] Bureau of Investigative Journalism

[4] See Human Rights Watch Report: In the Name of Unity

[5] Human Rights Watch Report: All Quiet on the Northern Front

[6] Human Rights Watch Report: Unpunished Massacre accessed 4th may 2013

[7] Origins and Architects of Yemen's Joint Meeting Parties

[8] This report was written by Melanie Gingell and edited by GCHR Chair Kristina Stockwood, who helped arrange the mission with GCHR Co-Director Khalid Ibrahim. Local coordination was provided by Amal Basha. Local translation was provided by Luai Ahmed. The report was translated into Arabic by Souhad Khriesat. Photos by Melanie Gingell.

 [9]See report by Jeffrey Ghannam:


[11] Figures supplied by Freedom Foundation on 21 April 2013.

[12] Report on Human Rights in Yemen. Submitted by Human Rights Watch
To the UN Human Rights Committee on the Occasion of its Review of Yemen in March 2012

February 1, 2012




[15] The basis of that deal was that Saleh made a deal with France and Korea to sell them gas for 50 years at a very low rate, Saleh personally received a payment for signing the deal while the country lost out. This deal not only helps keep the country poor but also bolsters the acute energy crisis in the country.



[18] UN Human Rights Committee General Comment no. 34

[19] UN Human Right s Committee. Gen Comment 31