A Group of Migrants’ Bodies Found Near an Informal Detention Facility in Saudi Territory

This brutal way of treating a group of Ethiopian and Yemeni immigrants inside Saudi territory, who were killed and tortured, is one of a series of violations against civilians in the border areas between Yemen and Saudi Arabia..

Wednesday, September 14, 2022
A Group of Migrants’ Bodies Found Near an Informal Detention Facility in Saudi Territory

Credible investigations, accountably and reparations urgently needed

September 19, 2022

( Sana'a //) -- On May 12, 2022, people found a group of bodies of Yemeni and Ethiopian migrants piled near an informal detention facility in southern Saudi Arabia. The migrants had crossed the border from northern Yemen into Saudi Arabia the day before, according to those that collected the bodies. A doctor examined the bodies of seven Yemenis found with the group, and the medical report revealed that two of the bodies had gunshot wounds, and the remaining five bodies had marks of torture.For years, Saudi Arabia has failed to prevent abuses against migrants in its territory and to conduct credible investigations into these abuses. A failure to investigate and prosecute serious abuses committed against migrants by private individuals as well as by public officials would violate Saudi Arabia’s obligations under international law. States should take immediate steps to ensure credible investigations, criminal accountability, and for violations and abuses committed in this horrible incident, Mwatana for Human Rights said in a statement today.In the context of the armed conflict, Saudi Arabia, as well as other warring parties, have failed to credibly investigate abuses, to punish those responsible, and to provide reparations to victims. Mwatana, and dozens of other rights groups, have called for states at the UN Human Rights Council to create an international, independent criminal accountability mechanism for Yemen.“This brutal way of treating a group of Ethiopian and Yemeni migrants inside Saudi territory, who were killed and tortured, is one of a series of violations against civilians in the border areas between Yemen and Saudi Arabia,” Radhya Al-Mutawakel, Chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights, said. “The international community must know that the absence of an independent international criminal accountability mechanism in Yemen is a green light for an unending chain of crimes against civilians.”A Mwatana team visited the city of Saada and ​​Souk al-Raqo area in northern Yemen between 14 and 18 May 2022 to investigate the incident. Mwatana met with 5 people, including 3 people that transported the bodies from next to the informal detention facility in Saudi Arabia to Souk al-Raqo (Al- Raqo market) in Yemen, which is near the border between the two countries, and two relatives of those who were killed. Mwatana also obtained photos and video of the bodies of the seven Yemeni civilians once the bodies had been gathered in Al-Jumhouri Hospital in Saada. On May 15, Mwatana visited Al-Jumhouri Hospital in Saada and viewed the seven bodies of the Yemenis who were killed, obtaining the names of six of the Yemeni victims, who were between 20 to 40 years old when they died. Mwatana also obtained a report from a forensic pathologist who examined the seven bodies in the mortuary of the hospital. According to witnesses, the bodies of the Ethiopians were buried near the border, on the Yemen side, in a cemetery used by the Ethiopian community.A doctor that examined the bodies of the seven Yemeni victims concluded in a 14-page report that they had been subjected to “extremely severe external violence using a hard tool or devices” and that “there were signs of vital and frequent injury with electric current. All are signs that are usually seen in cases of deaths resulting from exposure to torture.” The doctor also found that two of the bodies had been shot—one in the head and the other on the right side of the body, that at least two of the bodies were subjected to electric shock, and at least one had an “incision around the penis resulting from being tied with a compression bandage.”​On Wednesday, May 11, 2022, in the early evening, a crowd of about 30 Yemeni and Ethiopian nationals set out on foot towards the Saudi border, walking east of ​Souk Al-Raqo, a witness told Mwatana. Souk Al-Raqo area, located on the Yemeni border with Saudi Arabia, is considered an unofficial point of departure for human smuggling and the transfer of smuggled materials, especially the “Qhat” plant, into Saudi territory. Many African and Yemeni migrants head for this area in order to cross the border and seek better economic opportunities in Saudi Arabia.It is unclear what happened after the group entered Saudi territory. The next day, a young Ethiopian man found a group of piled bodies on the “Abu Ali” hill, in Shuwayra area, Al-Dayer Governorate, Jazan region, Saudi Arabia. The bodies were near an informal facility that Saudi border guards use as a detention center. The man went to alert those on the Yemeni side of the border about what he had found. About half a dozen people went to look and saw the pile of bodies. A Saudi border guard shot warning shots in the direction of the group. A while later, the group returned to Yemen. In about a quarter of an hour, the guard was gone, the six people returned to the same place to take the bodies back to Yemen. They buried the Ethiopian bodies near Souk al-Raqo and the Yemeni bodies were transferred to Saada’a city.“Nabil,” (a pseudonym), a 31-year-old man who helped transport the bodies, said:On the morning of Thursday, May 12, I was sleeping in ​​Souk Al-Raqo, when I woke up terrified by the screaming of a young, Ethiopian man telling people that there were bodies lying on the ground next to a nearby house. This house is located on the Abu Ali hill on the southern Saudi border. It is used by the [Saudi border guards] as a detention center.So I and other Yemeni youths who were in the market rushed forward in a state of shock and daze. The walking distance was less than ten minutes. When we arrived, I saw with my own eyes the lifeless bodies of a number of Ethiopians and Yemenis, all of whom were lying dead, hurled on top of each other.We found a [Saudi] soldier who was meters away clad in a military uniform. He started to fire warning shots close to us when he saw that we were advancing to take the bodies. He told us, ‘You won't take any of those corpses now. Let them rot!’ I screamed at him: ‘Fear God.’ He replied, and fired another volley of warning shots at us.After a quarter of an hour, we returned back to the Saudi territory in order to take the bodies. The soldier had left the place. All the bodies thrown on the ground were stiff, with marks of torture.A 21-year-old Ethiopian man who helped transport the bodies said:I went to take the bodies with another friend. We sorted the bodies of our friends. We knew them by the color of their skin. Some were damp with water, some were naked and others were in underwear. Their bodies were stiff and we began to move them to bury them. We buried more than one body in one grave in Souk Al-Raqo. Every two known were buried together.“Saleh,” a 30-year-old man who also helped transport the bodies, including the corpses of two of his relatives, said:The traces of blood were in the ears and noses of my brother and my cousin. We took them to the Yemeni side, with five others whom I do not know, including only two who I managed to find their ID cards and phone numbers in their pockets. I called their families in the Az-Zuhrah area in Hodeida, and told them that there are two bodies in the name of so-and-so on the Saudi border. They did not believe me and were in shock. After a while they phoned back and told me, ‘Please tell us that this is not true.’Mwatana met the brother of one of the Yemeni men that was killed. He traveled from his residence in Hodeida governorate in Yemen as soon as he received a phone call informing him of the death of his brother. He examined and verified his brother's body in the hospital’s mortuary. He told Mwatana:My brother Imad (35) has been the only breadwinner for us for more than five years after the death of my father. We had our last contact with him the day before he died, when he called to check on our mother's health. I told him that she is sick in the hospital and we have no money, and she needs a solar panel and a battery to run the fan because Al Hodeidah city is very hot. He replied in a sad tone on his voice and said to me: ‘Okay, brother. I am entering Saudi Arabia tomorrow and it will be a few days before I send you money to buy a solar panel and a battery.’According to interviews conducted by Mwatana, one of the men killed worked as a driver of motorcycle for a living, and others did physical work as construction workers. Usually, if persons are not able to find decent work opportunities in Yemen to meet the basic needs of themselves and their families, they may decide to migrate to Saudi Arabia and cross the border there to work as farmers, take care of livestock and camels, and perform physical labor like construction.Many African and Yemeni migrants consider immigration to Saudi Arabia as a way to improve their living standards. Deteriorating living conditions and the difficulty in securing employment in Yemen may require people to seek sources of income across the border. Information gathered by Mwatana shows that some of the victims had previously entered Saudi Arabia. In general, migrants crossing into Saudi territory are led by smugglers, who help them evade Saudi border guards and bring them into Saudi Arabia.The Saudi and Yemeni authorities should immediately investigate these allegations of abuse against Yemeni and Ethiopian migrants, including unlawful killing, torture, and other ill-treatment. Investigations should be effective, prompt, thorough, and impartial. Those responsible should be prosecuted and tried fairly according to international standards. Families and dependents of the victims must be afforded effective remedies, including reparations.The absolute prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is guaranteed in international law, including during armed conflicts. Saudi Arabia and Yemen are bound by the UN Convention against Torture, which further affirms their obligations to take credible steps towards accountability and redress for acts of torture or other ill-treatment. All migrants are entitled to the protection of the right to life, and States have an obligation to ensure that migrants are not arbitrarily deprived of this right in any territory under their jurisdiction. State authorities should investigate and prosecute right to life violations, including unlawful killings that occur during migrants’ journey across borders.African and Yemeni migrants and asylum seekers have faced severe threats to their lives and safety at border areas between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Since the start of the armed conflict in Yemen in late 2014, Mwatana has documented at least 55 incidents of ground shelling by Saudi border guards in these areas that killed 64 African and Yemeni migrants, including 25 children and 3 women, and wounded 145 African and Yemeni migrants, including 53 children and 9 women. Mwatana also documented 20 incidents of shooting at the border by Saudi border guards, resulting in 6 deaths, including 3 children and 3 women, and the injury of 28 African and Yemeni migrants, including 10 children and 9 women.