Mwatana for Human Rights
A society where every person enjoys rights and justice
We document, support, and influence
It is our belief that people in the human rights movement need to be able to read about our experiences as an organization and evaluate our work themselves. We therefore provide this window into Mwatana’s experiences the way we lived it: starting from the moment we were established, tracing our trajectory from the early stages up until the present day.
On May 22, 1990, the Republic of Yemen was established with a constitution articulating the importance of democracy, political pluralism, freedom of the press and freedom to form civil associations in its constitution. This was a pivotal moment that led to the emergence of Yemeni political parties, newspapers, civil society organizations, and unions. Despite the relentless authoritarian efforts to control this emerging field and limit its activity and impact to create a “formal” democratic experience, many of these structures remained. Since that time, the voices of these organizations have been valiantly struggling to expand freedoms and defend democracy and human rights under an undemocratic Yemeni regime.
16 years into the birth of this moment came the hotly contested 2006 presidential election: one of the most important checkpoints for the emerging Yemeni democracy. It was at that time that the founders of Mwatana for Human Rights, Abdulrasheed Al-Faqih and Radhya Al-Mutawakel, met. Each with their respective experiences and acquaintances, they agreed to establish a civil rights organization together that would work to promote human rights and freedom.
To that end, they submitted an official request to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor in accordance with the legal procedures of early 2007. Even after they fulfilled all the necessary legal requirements, the Ministry refused to grant the permit due to the past human rights work of the two founders, which encompassed working to rectify human rights violations against the peaceful Southern Movement, during the Saada wars, and generally of press freedom. In one attempt to obtain the permit, a government official said, “even if you come trying to establish a dancing group, you will not be given the permit. These are orders from above.”
Despite this, the two founders continued their human rights advocacy, eventually establishing relationships with international organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Open Society Foundations. Through these experiences, they were exposed to various mechanisms in human rights work, such as monitoring and documenting violations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
The two founders’ exposure to these pioneering international human rights strategies reinforced their conviction that Yemen needed a Yemeni human rights organization that worked with new human rights standards, mechanisms and determinants. They imagined an organization that enjoyed independence, competence, commitment, and faith towards rights causes, free from the negative professional and institutional barriers that weakened civil society and reduced its impact. They felt that the organization should work within a victim-centered framework with staff of both genders handling various cases. It should be governed by clear policies, procedures, and rules of conduct, with a focus on achieving impact in the short, medium and long terms. It should be committed to specialization within clear and strict limits, and avoid confusing political work with other related fields on one hand, and the human rights field on the other hand.
The two founders learned about the mechanisms and standards for documenting human rights violations within the framework of international humanitarian law and international human rights law through their work with various international organizations. They understood the importance of information for any human rights action aiming to protect victims and achieve justice. As a result, the field investigations with professional standards became the base of Mwatana’s efforts in advocacy, accountability, awareness-raising, training, and legal support.
During this time, many questions came up. The most prominent question, however, was what new and different human rights work Mwatana could offer in Yemen. Reaching a final answer to this question required a number of years and several important events and transformations within Yemen.
The most prominent of these events was the Arab Spring. In Yemen, the protests began in early 2011, aiming to overthrow the regime of President Saleh. The protesters involved in the demonstrations faced widespread human rights violations under conditions of severe political polarization. That time period tested the competence and independence of the existing Yemeni human rights and civil rights organizations and revealed an urgent need for new human rights, civil rights, and media actors who would maintain their stance and responsibilities under any circumstances.
Before 2011, Yemen was ruled by President Ali Abdullah Saleh for 33 years. The years of his regime trampled on the hopes of generations of Yemenis wishing for a better life. The Arab Spring protests turned to a new page of Yemen’s history. The agreement that ended the protests allowed Saleh’s deputy, Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi, to assume power and manage a transitional period in which Yemenis could discuss and plan their country’s future. When Hadi assumed power on February 21, 2012, Yemenis hoped he would lead the country through a new phase of stability and modernization. It was during this time that Mwatana for Human Rights was able to begin a new phase; after six long years of arbitrary refusals, Mwatana received its legal registration certificate on April 23, 2013. After that, the organization could build its team, strengthen institutional capacity, to expand its substantive and geographical scope.
Along with flaws in leading and managing the transition, the armed Houthi group stormed Yemen’s capital city Sana’a on September 21, 2014. Not only did this destroy Yemen’s chances of a smooth and nonviolent transition, it pushed Yemen into a bottomless trap of a war in which local, regional, and international interactions overlapped.
Despite the catastrophic situation of the Houthi takeover and being aware of the high costs and risks, Mwatana’s team was determined to continue working to address human rights violations. The organization nevertheless continued their partnerships and cooperation with international organizations such as Amnesty International, Open Society Foundations, and Human Rights Watch.
While Mwatana worked to respond to the countless human rights violations that followed the Houthi takeover, Yemen was hit with another blow, this time from the outside. On March 26, 2015, a coalition of nine countries led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. That moment was the beginning of a relentless flood of human rights abuses, suddenly adding a great deal more responsibilities onto the shoulders of the small Mwatana team.
However, the organization redoubled its efforts in the wake of the two catastrophes, tirelessly working to document violations by all parties and amplify the voices of their victims despite massive polarization, risks, threats, and smearing campaigns.
The war raged on in the years that followed, inflicting enormous material, military and human costs. Mwatana continued its struggles against a large propaganda campaign that allowed the war to keep expanding, devouring more areas, more victims, and adding new patterns of violations. Armed with the trust of the victims of this enormous tragedy perpetrated by all parties to the conflict, Mwatana began a new chapter in its story.
In addition to all the war challenges and its various violations, Mwatana constantly reflects at an institutional level to see if its operations and activities are in line with its vision, objectives and strategic plan. Despite the complex country situation, Mwatana always strives to design efficient and effective work plans that interact with various local, regional and international human rights actors. Engaging in this type of institutional building is what has helped Mwatana take steps towards achieving its goals: documenting and limiting human rights violations, advocating for justice for victims and holding perpetrators of human rights violations accountable.
As the organization grew, it also parallelly worked to develop efficient and effective financial and administrative systems based on effective policies that were in line with determinants of good governance. Such policies include preventing conflicts of interest, combating corruption, and ensuring transparency and accountability.
One of the factors that makes Mwatana the strongest is its strong women representation. 52% of the staff are women, across various units and at all levels. This underlines the organization’s firm belief in the importance of female leadership and women’s rights. The organization’s statute states that the representation of women shall not be less than 50% of the organization’s human resources.
Units and Managements
Mwatana carries out its operations through ten specialized units and managements:
Mwatana is also working on establishing an eleventh unit: a training unit that will eventually become the nucleus of Mwatana Academy.
Operations and mandates
Mwatana seeks to achieve its vision, mission, objectives, and strategic plan to serve human rights through a combination of integrative processes:
Accurate information is power.
This is Mwatana’s core belief and the mandate that led it down the path of documentation and field research. Mwatana researchers conduct in-depth investigative fieldwork across all Yemeni governorates to uncover human rights violations, uplift victims’ voices, and build a Yemeni human rights memory as a basis for accountability and redress.
The results of the investigative research are subject to several rounds of review and scrutiny by specialists and experts. Mwatana then uses the research to produce reports, studies, statements, blogs, letters, and human rights documentaries.
Mwatana has been recognized for its information accuracy related to human rights violations on many international platforms, including the UN Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism for the Six Grave Violations against Children in Armed Conflict (MRM), the UN Group of Eminent Experts formed by the Human Rights Council, and various international media outlets.
In Yemen, all parties to the conflict commit arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and torture as the heaviest human rights profile in Yemen. In an effort to reduce these violations and to try to make a direct impact on the lives of the victims, Mwatana established the Legal Support Unit.
Mwatana’s men and women lawyers provide legal support to victims of enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and torture. They work alongside victims and their families on a daily basis in 19 out of 22 Yemeni governorates.
Over the years, Mwatana lawyers have contributed to the release of hundreds of detainees in various areas and to ending the enforced disappearance of others. Through the efforts and perseverance of its lawyers, Mwatana has brought perpetrators to court in Taiz, Sana’a, and Hajjah despite powerful efforts to ensure impunity for those perpetrators.
Mwatana’s experiences and extensive fieldwork led the organization to the conclusion that the absence of international criminal accountability, and therefore confidence of the parties to the conflict in their immunity was one of the main reasons for the large number of violations and war crimes against civilians and civilian objects. It was the accountability gap that made Yemen the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Mwatana believes that accountability not only protects civilians, but also contributes to creating durable peace. Accordingly, we began our arduous journey on the path for accountability and redress.
The Accountability and Redress Unit works strategically to find opportunities for an international comprehensive criminal accountability to keep all violators accountable under international criminal law and to provide redress to the victims. The team keeps track of precedents in various countries and international mechanisms and files complaints where appropriate.
For example, Mwatana has filed a criminal complaint with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the Italian Network for Peace and Disarmament with the Italian Public Prosecutor in Rome. Alongside ECCHR and other international organizations, Mwatana has submitted a communication with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. In cooperation with Global Legal Actions Network (GLAN), Mwatana has filed a legal intervention, supported by evidence, in the administrative case brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) regarding British arms sales to the Saudi-led coalition. Mwatana continues to work in other available arenas related to accountability.
Mwatana’s leaders work with the Advocacy Unit and the Accountability and Redress Unit to relay the stories of victims and reveal the truth about human rights violations in Yemen to the international community through various international mechanisms and platforms.
Previously, Mwatana has briefed the U.N. Security Council, the Human Rights Council, the European Parliament, the U.S. Congress, and the U.K. Parliament. Mwatana has met with representatives, diplomatic missions, government officials, decision-makers and legislators of various governments around the world. The organization also had a prominent role in pushing for the formation of independent international investigative mechanisms, particularly in the establishment of the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEE) in September 2017. This was made possible with sincere support from Mwatana’s partners, including international and regional human rights and humanitarian organizations.
In addition to participating in dozens of high-level events and conferences around the world, Mwatana interacts with students and professors from prestigious universities and academies through events and activities, partnerships, or in response to requests, questions and consultations by researchers and scholars.
Mwatana’s efforts with various civil, human rights and media platforms around the world have contributed to shaping the war narrative by highlighting the suffering of civilians, exposing the involvement of all parties in this suffering, ending the deliberate state of neglect, and pushing for the formation of an international investigation mechanism through the Human Rights Council. In addition, Mwatana’s efforts included raising urgent humanitarian calls to alleviate the suffering of civilians and advance peace and accountability.
The Media and Communications Unit works to uplift the voices of victims through the website and social media platforms accounts. The team also designs and publishes reports, studies, statements, messages, blogs, documentaries, and online advocacy campaigns to highlight violations and raise awareness about human rights issues.
Due to the reputation and confidence Mwatana has built on its methodology and the information accuracy, major newspapers, channels, radio stations, and media outlets around the world have interacted with Mwatana’s work in a variety of ways, including: news about Mwatana’s reports, press statements, interviews, using Mwatana’s information in their reporting and coverage on Yemen, and hosting op-eds.
Some of the most prominent platforms that Mwatana has worked include: Washington Post, The Guardian, New York Times, BBC, CNN, France24, Sky News, The Independent, Foreign Policy, USA Today, Al-Monitor, Daraj, Raseef22, Khuyut, Aljazeera, and Yemen Future.
In addition to pushing for the protection of civilians and accountability for perpetrators, Mwatana’s efforts and activities contribute to recovering the rule of law, which was undermined by the war.
As part of its activities and endeavors, Mwatana conducts open, in-depth discussions within Yemen about human rights, the rule of law, and justice, through a series of community meetings held with various human rights groups.
Mwatana has moderated discussion panels in Sana’a, Aden, Taiz, Ibb, Hadramawt, Shabwa, Marib, Dhamar, and Al Dhale’e, which are governorates under the control of various parties. Attendees have included security sector workers, prosecutors, judges, university students, academics, teachers, and civil society activists. During the discussion panels, participants share ideas, suggestions, objections, questions and experiences with seriousness, vigor, and responsibility.
Mwatana strives to keep evaluating its work and efforts to recognize weaknesses and work to overcome them. To this end, the organization has built mechanisms of monitoring, evaluation, and follow-ups that are conducted on daily, weekly, monthly, and semi-annual bases. These mechanisms are run by the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Management team.
For years, Mwatana has built a professional team that works with high international standards in the field of human rights. Therefore, another important component of Mwatana’s work is to build a community of effective human rights professionals.
Mwatana has designed its work courses and environment to be an open workshop that have helped dozens of young women and men hone their skills and knowledge are constantly evolving, and they necessarily constitute a qualitative source for human rights and civil work in the future, both within and outside Mwatana.
Geographically, Mwatana for Human Rights works across all Yemeni regions, and is constantly looking to promote broader field access within each region.
Thematically, Mwatana works on several types of violations, most notably: attacks on civilians and civilian objects by airstrikes or ground attacks, landmines, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, freedom of the press, torture, attack on and use of schools, attack on and use of hospitals, recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, sexual violence, denial of humanitarian access, US drone strikes and US ground operations, freedom of belief, freedom of movement, starvation, weapons, accountability and redress, fair trial, women rights, immigrants, internally displaced people, and antiquities.
Mwatana has documented violations by all parties in Yemen, namely: the Saudi and UAE-led coalition, the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group backed by Iran, the internationally recognized Yemeni government and its affiliated groups, the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council, the UAE-backed joint forces in the West Coast, the United States, and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It also documented remnants of weapons used in attacks that violated international humanitarian law, including US, UK and Italian weapons.
Between 2014 and 2021, Mwatana for Human Rights issued 23 human rights reports, including 4 annual reports and 3 shadow reports, 4 human rights studies, 114 press releases, 44 blogs, 25 articles, 23 messages, 20 documentaries and awareness-raising films, and 4 human rights booklets. Through these publications, Mwatana documented 22 patterns of human rights violations, which were committed by 7 main parties in 22 Yemeni governorates. Mwatana also carried out 637 investigative field visits, collected 11,113 testimonies, and documented 7,362 violations affecting 13,433 victims, including 3,784 children and 1,016 women.
During this period, Mwatana also held 23 public events, gave 12 briefings to parliaments and international forums, conducted 32 advocacy tours to several capitals around the world, organized 14 online campaigns, held about 53 community meetings and about 35 training courses for approximately 624 trainees, and organized approximately 3,460 awareness sessions.
In addition, Mwatana prepared and submitted 3 accountability files for international judicial bodies and provided legal support to at least 2,324 victims of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention. Mwatana’s legal support contributed to the release of 852 victims.
Since its inception, Mwatana has had to endure smearing and incitement campaigns. Over the years, the various parties have all launched campaigns to spread false information about Mwatana, its founders and its activities.
These campaigns broadcasted fabrications and false accusations, mostly focused on the organization’s chairperson and management, through TV channels, websites, and social media in continuous efforts to discredit and link Mwatana to one of the parties to the conflict. These campaigns aimed to narrow the scope of work and reduce the space for movement, as well as silence the organization and punish it for exposing violations.
In the face of all these campaigns, Mwatana has published some clarifications for the public as and when it was necessary.
Mwatana’s strict commitment to independency, professionalism and transparency and the resulting international and local reputation of that commitment, has created a relatively stable level of protection, enabling the organization’s team to work in all regions and under various circumstances.
However, Mwatana’s team has occasionally been subjected to direct violations, harassments and threats during the past years of fieldwork. As of 2020, there have been 16 cases of detention of its staff, all in varying lengths. For example, one of the organization’s researchers was forcibly disappeared for 45 days, another for 18 days, and a female researcher was forcibly disappeared by the Houthi group for five days.
Between 2015 and 2020, the organization’s chairperson was detained twice: once in Sana’a by the Ansar Allah group (Houthis), and the other by the Saudi/UAE- led coalition at Seiyun Airport. The executive director of the organization has been detained five times: three of them were in Sana’a at the hands of the Ansar Allah group (Houthis) who once even confiscated his passport, once in Marib by government forces affiliated with the Islah party, and once at Seiyun Airport by the Saudi/UAE-led coalition.
Mwatana has developed a periodic safety and security training for its team if they face various risks. Mwatana is continuing to work to strengthen its institutional capabilities related to dealing with the physical and psychological risks associated with its work.
Many parties have expressed appreciation for Mwatana the influential role the organization has played in amplifying the voices of victims in Yemen.
On February 18, 2021, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and the Quaker Society for Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) nominated Mwatana for Human Rights and the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.
In March 2021, Alex Crawford, a prominent journalist at Sky News, won The Shafa Gardi Prize and dedicated his prize to Mwatana and the Marie Colvin Memorial Foudnation in appreciation of the organizations’ efforts.
On October 7, 2020, the human rights organization Reaching All Women in War (RAW in WAR) awarded the 2020 Anna Politkovskaya Prize to Radhya Al-Mutawakel for founding Mwatana and courageously leading efforts in Yemen to investigate and document war crimes against civilians.
On April 17, 2019, Time magazine selected Radhya Al-Mutawakel as one of the 100 most influential persons in the world.
On October 16, 2019, BBC listed Mwatana’s Legal Support Unit director Samah Subai on its annual list of the 100 most inspiring and influential women in the world.
On January 14, 2019, Columbia Law School awarded Osamah Al-Fakih, Advocacy Director (then Director of the Media, Communication and Advocacy Unit), the Global Advocate Award. Al-Fakih’s research and advocacy work focused on defending human rights in the face of escalating violations by all parties to the current conflict in Yemen.
On August 2, 2018, the Baldwin Prize was awarded to Mwatana, and Human Rights First announced that it had awarded Mwatana the 2018 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty.
On September 15, 2018, Mwatana was awarded the 10th Hrant Dink International Award for its role in informing the world about the human rights situation in Yemen and the struggle against human rights violations.
On June 6, 2017, Columbia Law School announced that Radhya Al-Mutawakel (Chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights) and Abdulrasheed Al-Faqih (Executive Director) would be awarded the Global Advocate Award, in recognition of their efforts to advocate for human rights.
On September 1, 2016, Mwatana was nominated for the Tulip Prize for Human Rights along with ten other human rights organizations.
Our activities are funded through unconditional donations and gifts by individuals around the world, as well as project-based support from human rights institutions and organizations. All of Mwatana’s finances are recorded and accounts are subject to audit. Mwatana rejects donations and projects from any party accused of involvement in human rights violations, inciting hatred, or any other form of violence.
Mwatana is constantly looking for more partners who can support the sustainability of its efforts in documenting and exposing human rights violations, providing legal support, accountability, and redress.
Mwatana’s human rights work is supported by finance and administrative teams. These teams undertake all financial, administrative, and logistical operations to manage Mwatana’s resources with integrity, effectiveness, and transparency. They follow the best standards and practices within the framework of good governance, transparency, combating corruption, preventing conflicts of interest, and accountability. Mwatana is committed to subjecting all its financial and administrative operations to reputable international external audit bodies for every project and every fiscal year. Reports are available to all partners, and Mwatana aspires to make all its reports available on its website in the future.
Mwatana is proud to have the support of allies and partners from Yemen and various capitals across the world who work with Mwatana and its team closely in the continuous struggle for human rights.
Mwatana’s efforts could not be possible without partners and supporters who possess our same vision, belief, and commitment to human rights. Although it has been difficult to find such partners, Mwatana continues to make careful efforts to strengthen and sustain these partnerships through transparency, integrity, and responsible institutional and human rights work. Mwatana’s code of conduct prohibits the organization from receiving any support from parties involved in human rights violations.
Mwatana for Human Rights’ achievements are due to the efforts of our entire team with invaluable support from our allies and partners both within Yemen and all over the world. Mwatana’s efforts are a small part of the justice that Yemeni victims deserve; there is much more we hope to contribute in line with our vision, mission, goals, and strategic plan. We will relentlessly continue our struggle with gratitude to all the human rights supporters who stand in solidarity with us.