A three-person Human Rights Watch team visited Yemen for two weeks in July 2009, carrying out research in the capital, San’a, and in the southern Yemeni cities of Aden and Mukalla. We interviewed more than 80 victims of and eyewitnesses to human rights abuses, in addition to local journalists, human rights activists, intellectuals and academics, politicians, and activists in the Southern Movement, government officials, and diplomats in the capital. We also conducted follow-up phone interviews after completion of the field mission.
For many of the cases documented in this report, Human Rights Watch also reviewed accounts in the local and international media, as well as extensive videos taken at the protests and made available on such public websites as Youtube and websites devoted to Yemen. Video materials were usually uncut and covered long periods of the incidents. We closely scrutinized video and photographic materials to determine the presence, or lack thereof, of armed persons among protesters, a crucial point of contention in the differing accounts by southern activists on the one hand, who claim that there are no armed persons at their protests, and by government officials on the other hand, who claim that deadly violence often results because of the actions of armed protesters. These videos, while invariably taken by persons affiliated with or at least sympathetic to the goals of the protestors, can provide additional evidence to supplement witness accounts Human Rights Watch collected because they generally comprised lengthy, raw, unedited footage. Human Rights Watch cross-checked videos about attacks in Habilain in April and in Zunjibar in July with detailed interviews with eyewitnesses present at the time.
We conducted most interviews in Arabic: one native Arabic-speaking member of the team interpreted for the non-Arabic-speaking member; the third member of the team conducted separate interviews in Arabic. Most interviews were conducted in a private setting, with only the interviewing team and the person interviewed present, although crowded interview settings in Mukalla made strictly private interviews difficult.
Yemeni authorities did not interfere with Human Rights Watch’s research in southern Yemen, but heavy security presence and the general security situation in some rural areas complicated field work. Local activists advised Human Rights Watch against visiting rural areas in Radfan, al-Dhali’, Abyan, and Shabwa, both because of dangers posed from armed persons in rural areas as well as the possibility that the security forces would detain our team and confiscate notes or other materials.
Websites and television stations in south Yemen announced Human Rights Watch’s visit while the team was conducting research in the area. The authorities did not directly interfere with our work in Aden, but an escort of armed tourist police and an armed security officer in civilian clothes waited for our team at our hotel in Mukalla, and insisted on accompanying our team on our second day, citing concern for our safety, which made further research impossible. Agents of the Political Security Organization, a domestic intelligence agency, that same night telephoned a local taxi driver, who had briefly driven the team around on its first day in Mukalla, and questioned him about our activities. An official of the National Security Agency in San’a, another intelligence organization, told a Yemeni human rights activist that he was aware of our activities and presence in Aden before such news became public.
Human Rights Watch is grateful to the Minister of Human Rights, Dr. Huda Alban, for promptly accommodating our request for a meeting, and for the detailed information her office provided. Unfortunately, that meeting coincided with the timing of a separate meeting the Ministry of Interior had arranged with its deputy minister; we were only informed of that meeting by phone while we were at the meeting with Dr. Alban. We appreciate the Interior Ministry’s willingness to meet to discuss the situation in south Yemen.