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Women participating in a demonstration demanding the release of detainees from the Bir Ahmed detention facility, which is controlled by Yemeni authorities affiliated with the United Arab Emirates-backed Southern Transitional Council. Banners read: (left) "We demand the immediate release of arbitrarily held detainees in Bir Ahmed due to coronavirus. All the world has released prisoners, except in Aden"; and (right) "Release the detainees and the disappeared due to coronavirus.”  Aden, Yemen, March 30, 2020. © 2020 Private.

(Beirut) – All parties in the Yemen conflict should reveal the fate and whereabouts of hundreds of civilians forcibly disappeared or detained arbitrarily, eight national and international groups including Human Rights Watch said today. The following is their statement:

As the war in Yemen approaches its seventh year, many families continue to suffer as the fate of their loved ones remains unknown in both official and unofficial detention centers run by different parties to the conflict across Yemen.

We stand in solidarity with the families of hundreds of civilians who either have been arbitrarily detained, abducted, or forcibly disappeared for no reason, or particularly for their political views, profession, activism, or religious affiliation. We urge all parties to the conflict to respond to their pleas and reveal the fate and whereabouts of the forcibly disappeared, and urgently release all those arbitrarily detained.

The parties to the conflict have prioritized the exchange of military detainees over civilian detainees following the Stockholm talks in 2018. All parties should immediately make it a priority to release arbitrarily detained civilians, including journalists and activists whose detention touches the lives of thousands of Yemeni families who are left to their own devices in fighting for truth and justice for their loved ones.

The families of four journalists who were sentenced to death in April by a court in Sanaa on charges related to their journalistic work is but one example. The journalists, Abdulkhaleq Amran, Akram al-Waleedi, Hareth Hameed, and Tawfiq al-Mansouri, as well as five of their colleagues, continue to be held and have been tortured and denied medical care for more than five years. Other journalists throughout Yemen also continue to be arbitrarily detained and disappeared, such as Waheed al-Sufi, who has been missing for over five years.

The parties to the conflict, including the Saudi/United Arab Emirates (UAE)-led coalition and Ansar Allah (the Houthis), have committed unlawful attacks against detention centers, killing and injuring a number of detainees.

As part of their basic rights, detainees should be given access to legal assistance and legal proceedings that adhere to international fair trial standards. Prison conditions, including access to medical care, sanitation, and hygiene need to be improved for all those deprived of their liberty. Given the risk of an outbreak of Covid-19 in over-crowded prisons, where access to health care is almost non-existent, current conditions pose a threat to the lives of all prisoners and prison officials.

The authorities in both official and unofficial detention centers need to prevent and put a stop to torture and ill-treatment. The parties to the conflict should respect international humanitarian law, perpetrators should be held accountable, and appropriate redress should be provided to victims.

Parties to the conflict should issue accurate lists of detainees in both official and unofficial detention centers, and allow for visits from family members and regular communication between detainees and their lawyers. The parties should also provide families with information on the fate and whereabouts of relatives who have been forcibly disappeared or arbitrarily detained. All parties to the conflict should give unimpeded access to independent international monitors to visit detainees in all places of detention.

Since 2016, Mwatana for Human Rights has documented 1,605 cases of arbitrary detention and 770 cases of enforced disappearance by all parties to the conflict, including the internationally recognized Government of Yemen, Ansar Allah group, the UAE, and UAE-backed forces. The Mothers of Abductees Association has documented another 236 cases of enforced disappearances since the start of the conflict.

Finally, recent flash floods have caused many buildings and much infrastructure to collapse, leading to hundreds of deaths and injuries and the displacement of thousands of families. We worry that many prisons and places of detention have also been affected since they are not regularly maintained. Therefore, the need to reveal the fate of the arbitrarily detained and the forcibly disappeared is ever more pressing.

Amnesty International
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Committee to Protect Journalists
Mwatana for Human Rights
Human Rights Watch
Mothers of Abductees Association
International Federation for Human Rights
Yemen Journalists Syndicate

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