Report of the High Commissioner on OHCHR’s visit to Yemen
A delegation from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) visited Yemen from 28 June to 6 July 2011 to assess the human rights situation in the country. As a result of nine days of extensive meetings and consultations with representatives from the Government and civil society in the cities of Aden, Sana’a and Ta’izz, the Mission observed an overall situation where many Yemenis peacefully calling for greater freedoms, an end to corruption and respect for rule of law were met with excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force by the state. Hundreds have been killed and thousands have suffered injuries including loss of limbs.
On 18 March 53 persons were reportedly killed in Change Square in Sana’a, an incident which lead to the resignation of a number of Ministers, Ambassadors, members of parliament, of the Shura council (the Upper House) and of the ruling party, and the defection of General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar who vowed to send his troops to protect the peaceful demonstrators in the square. In another major incident on 29 May in the city of Ta’izz, after a riot and a brief kidnapping of security officials, “Freedom Square” was forcefully cleared by Government security officials, burning tents and killing dozens of demonstrators. Tribes claiming to protect protesters sent armed supporters to the square and occupied certain public buildings.
By the time the Mission had arrived in Yemen the picture that was emerging in the major cities was of a number of separate, but at times intertwined, struggles taking place. One comprises peaceful demonstrators calling for change in a similar fashion to their counterparts in other parts of the region. Another is an increasingly violent struggle for power between President Saleh and his supporters on the one hand and armed opponents, including alleged elements of Al-Qaeda, on the other. Yet another comprises political opponents, including recent defectors, who are publicly renouncing the resort to violence and seeking a resolution that would bring about regime change.
The Mission noted that the Yemeni Government had lost effective control of parts of the country and within the major cities, where armed opponents appeared to have de-facto control. The Mission also observed that among those seeking to achieve or retain power some have deliberately sought to collectively punish and cause severe hardship to the civilian population by cutting off vital access to basic services such as electricity, fuel and water. The Mission notes the danger that the protests might become increasingly radicalized and more violent in response to the excessive use of lethal force by the government, and the growing involvement of, and intimidation by, armed elements within the demonstrations. In essence violence has led to more violence and it is a tribute to the street protesters that they have sought to maintain their peaceful character despite the heavy price in loss of life and in severe injuries that has been paid thus far. On the other hand, the Mission is alarmed by the deteriorating humanitarian situation, which is negatively affecting most Yemenis, but in particular the poorest and most vulnerable, such as children, IDPs and refugees. Isolated acts of sabotage cannot account for all the suffering witnessed by or reported to the Mission throughout the country and the availability of electricity, fuel, cooking gas, water and other basic services should not be misused to punish the entire population. The Mission is of the view that calls for investigations and prosecutions will be undermined unless urgent measures are undertaken to ensure the independence and integrity of the judiciary and to provide them with sufficient resources. Additionally, given the lack of confidence by many Yemenis in the judiciary to conduct impartial investigations into human rights abuses there is a need for international, independent and impartial investigations to take place.