Enforced Disappearance

The fate of civilians as a bargaining chip in war

Friday, January 1, 2021
Enforced Disappearance

Mwatana for Human Rights provides legal support to victims of enforced disappearance. During the period from 2016 up to December 2021, Mwatana documented 955 cases of enforced disappearance.

Enforced disappearance, according with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance: “Enforced disappearance” means arrest, detention, abduction or any form of deprivation of liberty by State officials, persons or groups of individuals acting with the permission or support of the State or with the consent of the State, followed by refusal to recognize the deprivation of liberty or concealment of the fate of the disappeared person or her/his whereabouts, depriving her/him of the protection of the law. 

In 2021 alone, Mwatana documented 154 cases of enforced disappearance, including 9 children. The Ansarallah group (Houthis) is responsible for 49 cases of enforced disappearance in the governorates of Hodeidah, Dhamar, Ibb, Capital Secretariat, Taiz, Hajjah, Saada, Al Bayda, Dhalae, Sanaa and Raimah. The government forces are responsible for 47 cases of enforced disappearance in the governorates of Marib, Taiz, Aden, Dhalae, Mahra, Hadramout and Shabwa, while the armed formations of the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC) are responsible for 31 cases of enforced disappearance against civilians in Aden, Abyan, Dhala, Lahj and Hadramout governorates. The Joint Forces in the West Coast bear responsibility for the disappearance of two people in Hodeidah governorate. Coalition forces also bear responsibility for the disappearance of seven people in Hadramaut governorate.

On Wednesday, January 23, 2019, Sam al-shami was on his way from his residence in Sana'a to Seiyun Airport. At the entrance to Marib city, he was stopped at Al-Falaj checkpoint and taken on a military vehicle to an unknown location. Sam's relatives went to Marib governorate searching for him, but the security services there denied his presence. 

Sam's relatives filed a written complaint to the Undersecretary of the Interior Ministry. In turn, he directed the Security Department to release him with a request for guarantee. At the headquarters of the Security Department, Sam's relatives learned that he was being held at the headquarters of the Political Security Service in Marib. Officials in charge of the security services in Marib did not work under the direction of the Deputy Minister of Interior. The person responsible for the file of detainees in Marib governorate, who does not have an official status, did not even meet Sam's relatives.

Sam’s relatives told Mwatana for Human Rights that they were allowed to visit him for the first time on January 29, 2019, and were only allowed to revisit him for one time two weeks after that date. Amin Ali, 35 years old, a relative of Sam, said, “I met Sam at the detention center and found his psychological condition very dire. He told me that many accusations had been brought to him, including of being the responsible for the Iranian Communication with the Ansarallah group (Houthis). “Sam has nothing to do with this; he is a civilian man with his sole guilt is that his surname is Shami,” Amin added.

Sam remains in detention at the time of writing of this report. One of his relatives told Mwatana that one of the officials in charge of the political security department in Marib informed them of their intention to release him only through a deal to exchange “prisoners” fighting with the Ansarallah group (Houthis).

Enforced disappearances violate or threaten to violate a number of provisions of customary IHL, including forced detention, torture, cruel or inhuman treatments and murder. Enforced disappearance occurs when the authorities arrest a person and deny their detention or refuse to acknowledge the fate and whereabouts of a person. Forcibly disappeared persons are subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment, especially when they are held in non-official detention centers. Parties to the conflict must take steps to prevent enforced disappearances, such as registering the names of detainees, taking all appropriate measures to explain the fate of all persons who have disappeared as a result of the conflict and providing their family members with information about their fate.