(Beirut) – A hunger strike by dozens of detainees in Yemen’s provisional capital of Aden highlights the mistreatment of prisoners throughout Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today.
Relatives and others reported that family members held in an informal detention facility at Bir Ahmed, a military camp controlled by the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-backed “Security Belt” forces, began refusing food on October 21, 2017. An announcement issued the same day in the name of detainees’ family members said the men would forego food until granted their “legal and humanitarian rights.”
“Detainees should not have to refuse food to be treated humanely and free from abuse,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The UAE and their Yemeni proxies should stop denying responsibility for mistreatment and investigate and act on the complaints.”
The parties to Yemen’s armed conflict should treat detainees humanely, free those arbitrarily held, and ensure that they have access to lawyers and family members, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch spoke with five people who said their family members were being held in the detention facility and refusing food. One woman said she had not seen her husband for about a year and a half. Another woman said her son, a university student held in the detention facility for more than a year, “had lost his future and his education.” A detainee’s sister said she had not seen him for more than 11 months.
The families’ announcement said that security forces had held men in Bir Ahmed for up to 19 months without access to lawyers, their families, or information on any charges against them.
Local media outlets, citing sources in Bir Ahmed, reported that the prison director, Ghassan Al-Aqrabi, had called on the detainees to end their hunger strike, and reportedly threatened to transfer them to another informal detention facility. Three days after the strike began, a relative of one detainee said that four other detainees had lost consciousness.
Human Rights Watch has documented many cases of men and boys arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared in areas of Yemen nominally under control of the Yemeni government, including in the southern port city of Aden. Most, but not all, had been taken into custody by UAE-backed Yemeni security forces. The Security Belt, which controls Bir Ahmed, has been implicated in many abuses.
The families’ hunger strike announcement addressed their demands to both the UAE and the Yemeni government. The UAE has denied having a role in mistreating detainees in Yemen, despite reports of forced disappearances, torture, and other ill-treatment by a United Nations expert panel and Yemeni and international human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch.
Other warring parties in Yemen have also tortured and mistreated detainees, Human Rights Watch said. In the northern part of the country, Houthi-Saleh forces have swept up activists, journalists, students, and members of the Baha’i community, and tortured those it held. Human Rights Watch has documented 2 deaths in custody and 11 cases of alleged torture or other ill-treatment, including the beating and threatening of a child, in Houthi-Saleh detention facilities. Yemeni rights groups have reported hundreds more cases of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance by Houthi-Saleh forces, including in Sanaa, Hodeida, Ibb, and other governorates under Houthi-Saleh control.
“Families across Yemen are calling on the warring parties to end abuses against detained men and boys, allow those wrongfully held to come home, and grant those held for cause their rights to lawyers, family visits, and legal review of their detention,” Whitson said.