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Yemeni Activist Wins Prestigious Human Rights Award

Huda Al-Sarari Courageously Documented UAE-Run Secret Prisons in Yemen

Demonstrators hold up pictures of detainees and a sign demanding "Justice for the prisoners and justice for the innocent" during a 2017 demonstration in Aden, Yemen.  © 2017 courtesy of Huda al-Sarari

Yemeni human rights lawyer and activist Huda al-Sarari is in Geneva today to receive the Martin Ennals Award, given by 10 of the world’s leading human rights organizations to human rights defenders who have distinguished themselves by their strong commitment and courage, often at the risk of their own lives.

Her award is well-deserved. I still remember the moment I saw Al-Sarari bravely give a video interview to the Associated Press (AP) in July 2017 on the secret prisons run by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in southern Yemen, about which Human Rights Watch and AP have published extensive reports. Later, I learned that Al-Sarari was critical to documenting those abuses, and I was struck by the courage of this young woman. It is this courage that is now rightly being recognized by a much larger audience.

I contacted Al-Sarari and said how proud I was of her. She has spent more than a decade working for local women’s rights and human rights groups in Yemen. Activists, journalists, and especially human rights defenders in Yemen face constant risks across the country. Many of them have experienced harassment, physical attacks, detention, and even assassination for simply carrying out their work.

From her home in the southern port city of Aden, Al-Sarari described the dangers she was facing, especially after the AP video aired. During our call, which I later wrote about, she emphasized how despite the risks she had no plans to give up, and that she would continue the fight for victims’ rights across Yemen.

If not for people like Al-Sarari, these secret prisons in southern Yemen would have remained a secret. Despite death threats, a vicious media slander campaign by UAE-backed militias, and the pain of losing her teenage son in March 2019, one of many civilian casualties of armed clashes in Aden, Al-Sarari hasn’t stopped battling for fellow Yemenis’ fundamental rights. I’m looking forward to seeing her on video again, this time accepting an award for her years of courageous activism.

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