(New York) - President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen should immediately order security forces to cease using unlawful lethal force against protesters, Human Rights Watch said today. At least six and possibly more than 10 people were killed on April 4, 2011, when security forces who report directly to Saleh's relatives opened fire on a largely peaceful anti-government protest in the highland city of Taizz.
"For two months Yemen's security forces have shown a reckless disregard for protesters' lives, shooting and killing them with impunity during largely peaceful rallies," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "President Saleh's calls to resolve the crisis mean little when his forces are firing on demonstrators."
Human Rights Watch has documented repeated armed attacks by security forces and government supporters in civilian clothes on protesters who have been seeking Saleh's resignation since mid-February. At least 82 people have been killed and hundreds injured during the attacks, according to Human Rights Watch investigations.
In Taizz, a center of anti-Saleh protests, uniformed Central Security and Republican Guards - units commanded by Saleh's nephew and son, respectively - fired on protesters on April 4 to prevent them from marching to the governor's building, several witnesses told Human Rights Watch. Media reports said government supporters in civilian clothing also shot at the protesters and that some protesters threw stones at the security forces after they tried to block the march.
A field doctor told Human Rights Watch that the bodies of six people shot dead during the protest were brought to local hospitals and that dozens of others received gunshot wounds. International media reported at least 10 protesters killed. The field doctor said hundreds were being treated for exposure to tear gas. A day earlier in Taizz, security forces had fired bullets into the air, fired teargas canisters at protesters, and struck them with batons during a similar march on the governor's building, witnesses said. At least 20 people were injured and hundreds suffered side-effects from tear gas, they said.
Security forces also fired on anti-Saleh protesters on April 3 and April 4, in the western port city of al-Hudaida, wounding six people, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. In the northern city of Hajjah, police, Central Security forces, and government supporters in civilian clothing simultaneously attacked anti-Saleh protesters with live ammunition and stones during a sit-in on March 31, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. Some of the forces fired on the protesters from nearby government buildings, they said. Nineteen people were injured, including three with gunshot wounds.
The United Nations Human Rights Council should schedule a special session to address human rights violations in Yemen, including the unlawful use of force against demonstrators, Human Rights Watch said. In addition, donors should suspend all military aid to Yemen.
"The United States and other governments should suspend military aid to Yemen until authorities stop the attacks and hold those responsible to account," Stork said. "These repeated attacks show that condemnation alone will not stop the bloodshed."