Yemen in Focus: Soon-to-be-released detainees dying in Houthi prisons

Yemen in Focus: Abducted prisoners awaiting release are dying in Houthi detention
5 min read
02 October, 2020
This week we focus on abductees dying in Houthi prisons, a damning UN report revealing grave violations against children and more.
Thousands are being held in Houthi prisons [Getty]
A Yemeni official participating in negotiations to release prisoners revealed Houthi rebels have killed hundreds of abductees and prisoners throughout the conflict.

Majid Fadayel, the undersecretary of the ministry of human rights and a member of the government delegation taking part in the UN-sponsored prisoner swap talks in Switzerland, said the findings were presented in Geneva.

"We presented to the office of the envoy during consultations in Montreux, Switzerland, a detailed list of 158 victims whose killing under torture was verified until the end of 2019," Fadayel said in a tweet on Wednesday, adding many more deaths remain unverified.

"The United Nations and the international community must pressure and carry out their duty to prevent these grave violations against the abductees," the Yemeni official added.

Just a day later, a prisoner due to be released as part of the exchange was announced dead.

"Today the Houthi group informed the family of the abducted prisoner Lt, Col, Adel Muhammad Kawat of his death in one of their prisons," Yemeni lawyer and rights defender Abdulrahman Berman said on Thursday.

"The victim's family was preparing to receive him among the prisoners due to be related on October 15," the lawyer added in a tweet.

Earlier in the week, another prisoner was announced dead.

The body of Muhammad al-Sabari, which had signs of torture since his imprisonment in March 2019, was handed back to his family by the rebels, local Almasdar Online reported.

Thousands of civilians, including prominent activists, academics and preachers have been abducted and left forgotten in Houthi prisons across the country since the rebels captured control of the capital and other major cities in 2014.

Earlier this month, the Association of Abductees' Mothers said more than 1,300 civilians were abducted in the past year.

"Since the Houthi de facto authorities assumed control of the justice system in 2015, they have progressively utilised the Sanaa-based SCC (Specialised Criminal Court) to target persons they deem to be opponents or even just critics," said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty's Middle East research director said in a statement published in 2019.

Fadayel's remarks came as both sides in Yemen's war agreed to exchange more than 1,000 prisoners during the UN-sponsored talks.

The deal includes the release of "681 rebels, and 400 government forces (and allies), among them 15 Saudis and 4 Sudanese", added the source.

Read more: Will UAE-Israel deal draw Tel Aviv into Yemen's war?

"It must be implemented in two weeks," he said.

A Houthi source close to the talks confirmed to rebel-run Al-Masirah TV channel that this round of the talks was due to end Sunday with the announcement of the agreement.

The talks started in an undisclosed location in Switzerland on September 18 aimed at agreeing the release of 1,420 prisoners. Among them is the brother of Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi.

But the release of General Nasser Mansour Hadi from the hands of the rebels "has been postponed", according to the government delegation member.

The International Committee of the Red Cross will oversee the return of detainees to their families.

Senior rebel commander Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi tweeted: "What matters to us is implementing the deal, not only signing it."

The Yemen conflict has killed more than 100,000 people, most of them civilians, and sparked what the United Nations calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Violations against children

Meanwhile, a damning UN report found grave violations committed against children including abduction and sexual abuse.

The Report of the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen found that over the past year children as young as seven were killed and maimed, and suffered "abduction, sexual abuse, the denial of access to humanitarian aid and attacks on schools and hospitals".

Children under the age of 15 were also found to have been recruited to fight in the brutal conflict.

Over the past year, the report found, there was a high rate of child casualties, along with unlawful attacks against civilians.

One of the most shocking findings of the report was that almost one in three of the civilians killed or maimed in the armed violence in the first half of 2020 were children.

"The evidence presented by the Group of Eminent Experts is clear. Children and their families are not only being killed by bombs and bullets, but countless are also dying silently because they are denied food, access to clean and safe water, and medicines," said Xavier Joubert, Country Director for Save the Children in Yemen.

"These horrific violations show how vulnerable children are during armed conflict. One in three of all casualties is a child – these are horrifying numbers. It must stop and perpetrators should be held accountable. We must break the cycle of impunity – for too long people who have been targeting children in this terrible conflict have gotten away with it."

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"In particular, we share the concern raised by the Group on the de-listing of parties to conflict from the UN Secretary’s annual ‘list of shame’ whilst this report shows that children continued to be killed or maimed by airstrikes," Xavier added.

Millions of Yemenis are internally displaced and many are currently facing danger due to the Houthi offensive in Marib.

Yemen's internationally recognised government has called for UN action to stop the Houthi offensive. It says that approximately three million Yemenis are at risk from fighting there.

"Yemen remains a tortured land, with its people ravaged in ways that should shock the conscience of humanity," said Kamel Jendoubi, the Chairman of the Group of Eminent Experts.

Read more: Abducted: 300 days in Houthi prison

"The international community has a responsibility to put an end to this pandemic of impunity, and should not turn a blind eye to the gross violations that have been committed in Yemen," he added.

"After years of documenting the terrible toll of this war, no one can say ‘we did not know what was happening in Yemen’. Accountability is key to ensure that justice is served to the people of Yemen and to humanity."

Agencies contributed to this report.

Yemen In Focus is a regular feature from The New Arab.

Sana Uqba is a journalist at The New Arab. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Sanasiino