Annual Report: Yemen 2011

May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Yemen 2011

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  • In April the British ambassador narrowly escaped a bomb attack in Sana'a claimed by al-Qa'ida.
  • In June, three women, a child and seven security officers were killed during an attack on a security forces building in Aden that the government alleged was carried out by al-Qa'ida.

Tens of people suspected of links to al-Qa'ida or armed Islamist groups were killed by the security forces, some in circumstances suggesting that no attempt was made to arrest them. No judicial investigations were known to have been held to establish whether the use of lethal force by the security forces was justified and lawful. Scores of other al-Qa'ida suspects were arrested and subjected to a wide range of abuses, including enforced disappearance, prolonged detention without charge, and torture. Several were under sentence of death or serving long prison terms after unfair trials before the SCC.

  • On 25 May, an air attack by security forces killed four people in a car in Ma'rib. Among the victims was Jaber al-Shabwani, deputy governor of Ma'rib, who was reported to have been travelling to meet al-Qa'ida members to help mediate their surrender. The outcome of an investigation had not been disclosed by the end of the year.

In March, following an investigation by a parliamentary committee, the government acknowledged that an air raid on 17 December 2009 that killed 41 men, women and children in Abyan region had been a mistake and that there was no evidence of a military camp at the site, as first alleged. Photographs apparently taken following the attack suggest that the operation used a US-manufactured cruise missile that carried cluster bombs. Such missiles are only known to be held by US forces, and Yemeni armed forces are unlikely to have the military capability to use such a missile. A diplomatic cable leaked by the organization Wikileaks in November corrobated the images that had been released by Amnesty International earlier in the year.

Sa'dah conflict

The government's military offensive, code-named "Scorched Earth", which began in August 2009, ended with a ceasefire on 11 February 2010. It involved the deployment of military force against the Huthis (followers of Hussain Badr al-Din al-Huthi, a Zaidi Shi'a cleric killed in 2004) on a scale not witnessed before, particularly after Saudi Arabian forces became involved in November. Weeks of heavy bombardment of Sa'dah, by Saudi Arabian and Yemeni forces in December and January, killed hundreds of people not engaged in the fighting and caused widespread damage to homes, other civilian buildings such as mosques and schools, as well as local industries and infrastructure. Some of the attacks appeared to violate international humanitarian law in that they appeared either to deliberately target civilians or civilian objects, or to be indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks that took little or no account of the danger they posed to civilians. Neither the Saudi Arabian nor Yemeni government provided any explanation for the vast majority of such attacks nor explained what, if any, precautions were taken by their forces to spare civilians taking no part in hostilities.

By the end of the year, over 350,000 people from Sa'dah were displaced, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, some of them for the second or third time. Only a fraction found refuge in specially constructed camps. The scale of the destruction and unexploded ordnance and landmines hampered the early return of the displaced families. In July, the authorities announced that compensation would be paid to families affected by the destruction. In August, the government and Huthis signed a peace deal in Qatar that began the process of political dialogue.

Hundreds of suspected Huthi fighters or supporters were held in the main prisons in Sa'dah and Sana'a, and in other detention centres. Some disappeared for weeks or months after capture or arrest. Many were said to have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated. Most remained held at the end of the year, although dozens of Huthi fighters were released in May under the presidential pardon. Few details of the detainees still held were available.