Arbitrary Detention

The most common violation in the Yemeni war

Saturday, January 2, 2021
Arbitrary Detention

Mwatana for Human Rights has been providing legal support to victims of arbitrary detention since 2016, and has documented as of December 2021, 1928 cases of arbitrary detention. In 2021 alone, Mwatana documented the detention of 291 people, including 12 children. In the governorates it controls, the Ansarallah Group (Houthis) detained 126 people in Dhamar, Amran, Al Bayda, Mahwit, Hajjah, Dhala, Saada, Capital Secretariat, Hodeidah, Taiz, Ibb, Marib, Rima, Al-Jawf and Sanaa governorates.

Arbitrary detention means a process of detaining individuals so that there is no evidence or suspicion that detainers have committed any act contrary to the domestic laws in force or that detention process is not part of the legal process. In other words, it is an extrajudicial deprivation of liberty, or an extrajudicial arrest or detention of individuals. 

In 2021, Mwatana also documented the detention of 80 people by the government forces in the governorates of Marib, Shabwa, Taiz, Lahj, Aden, Dhalae and Hadramout, while the forces of the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) are responsible for detaining 57 people in the governorates of Aden, Lahj, Abyan, Dhali and Hadramout. The UAE-backed Joint Forces in the West Coast also detained 5 people in Taiz and Hodeidah governorates. During 2021, Mwatana documented the detention of 22 people by the UAE-backed Hadrami Elite in Hadramaut governorate. In addition, Mwatana’s documentation in 2021 included cases of arbitrary detention of 12 women by the government forces in Marib and Taiz governorates, the Ansarallah group (Houthis) in Hajjah and Amran governorates, the STC forces in Aden governorate and the Hadrami Elite forces in Hadramaut governorate.

A human rights study conducted by Mwatana on the condition of detention facilities found that the detention facilities were overcrowded and unhealthy, and lack adequate ventilation, toilets or shower facilities, where detainees often did not have access to materials such as soap. Routine health care is also not available, and in some cases all detainees are denied this service. Prison administrations do not have the capacity to absorb all these numbers of detainees, medical supplies or materials needed to cope with a rapidly spreading pandemic such as COVID-19. This increases the risk of detainees being exposed to contacting such diseases and consequent loss of life. 

While conditions of detention facilities throughout Yemen, including at official detention centers, are often appalling, non-official detention centers are of particular concern as access of independent observers and detainees’ families is usually limited or unavailable. Torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are particularly prevalent in these places (Non-Official Detention Centers), where many of these places are used to hide individuals for long periods.

On Saturday, October 15, 2016, armed men in plain clothes arrested Osman Abdo (21 years old) from the courtyard of the mosque next to his home in Dhula’a area, Hamadan district, Sana'a governorate. He was taken on board a car with no license plates to an unknown location. Othman's family had not known his whereabouts until they received a phone call from him four months after his disappearance, telling them that he was being held in Sana'a Political Security Service. After many attempts, his relatives were allowed to visit him. 

The field team of Mwatana for Human Rights conducted an investigative research through which they were able to interview Osman's mother, who described her first visit to her son in detention. His mother, Hafsa Yahya (55 years old), says,

“When I saw him the first time, his condition was deplorable. It was clear that he was tortured. He had a dislocation of his wrist and was suffering from pain in his joints and back.”

Relatives of Osman say that he faces ill treatment in the detention centre, that conditions there are also poor, and that he is in dire need of medical care, which is not allowed by those responsible for the detention center. His mother also reported that she had to sell the family house to meet the expenses of following up the case and provide for the needs of her son in detention. 

Osman's relatives add that he was investigated and accused of communication with the coalition and Hadi government. Osman's file was transferred to the specialized criminal prosecution in a group of 36 detainees. They were accused of “false accusations and malicious claims”, according to his mother.

Both international humanitarian law and international human rights law prohibit arbitrary detention.  Article 9 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (Yemen is a signatory) states that “No person may be arbitrarily arrested, detained or deprived of his liberty except for reasons prescribed by law and in accordance with the procedures established therein.” The UN Human Rights Commission has stated that the State has no right to impose a state of emergency to justify arbitrary detention. There must be a justifiable reason for both initial detention and the continuation of such detention in order to prevent arbitrary detention. A person must be informed of the reasons why they are arrested, and immediately brought to justice in order to have the opportunity to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. Depriving a person of the right to a fair trial is a war crime.