Judicial Ruling that Encourages Impunity

Retrial Before a Competent Court Is Necessary to Hold Those Involved in the Killing of Abdulmalik Al-Sanbani Accountable

Saturday, October 14, 2023
Judicial Ruling that Encourages Impunity

Mwatana for Human Rights strongly condemns the verdict delivered by the military court in Aden on the morning of Wednesday, October 11, 2023, in the case of the murder of Abdulmalik Al-Sanabani. Mwatana asserts that this verdict, which acquitted four of the accused and convicted a fifth, further exacerbates the climate of impunity and distressingly endorses further violations against civilians by armed groups. The ruling was pronounced after a trial that alarmingly failed to adhere to even the most basic principles of a fair trial. Abdulmalik Al-Sanabani, a 30-year-old, was killed on September 8, 2021, after he was brutally assaulted and had his hands and feet bound.

After nearly two years, the primary military court in Aden, southern Yemen, acquitted four accused individuals and sentenced a fifth to a one-year suspended prison term, accompanied by a monetary compensation totaling less than two thousand dollars.

Abdulmalik Al-Sanbani, aged 30, met his tragic end when he was fatally assaulted by armed individuals associated with the Southern Transitional Council. This incident occurred after his apprehension at the "Al-Farshah" checkpoint in the Tur Al-Baha district of Lahj governorate at approximately 10 a.m. on Wednesday, September 8, 2021. At that time, he was en route from Aden to visit his family in Sana'a after arriving at Aden International Airport from the United States, where he had resided for approximately seven years.

Radhya Al-Mutawakel, the Chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights, remarked, "The closure of a case that profoundly shocked the Yemeni public and dominated the public discourse in such a farcical manner serves as a stark reminder of the catastrophic impact the conflict has had on judicial institutions in Yemen. The deliberate obstruction and distortion of these institutions by various parties erode their genuine responsibilities in upholding justice and enforcing the rule of law." Al-Mutawakel continued, "The issuance of such a ruling by an incompetent court underscores the alarming disregard for the lives and rights of individuals, bolsters the culture of impunity, and widens the door for further grave violations."

Throughout the years of conflict, Mwatana has documented a spectrum of violations committed against civilian travelers by the Southern Transitional Council checkpoints, strategically positioned along the interconnecting roadways of Yemeni governorates. These violations encompass various patterns, such as arbitrary detentions, extortion for financial gain, denial of passage, and fatal violence.

It is of significance to note that the armed units associated with the Transitional Council in Lahj Governorate steadfastly declined to surrender the accused individuals involved in Al-Sanabani's killing to the Public Prosecution. Rather than transferring the accused to the competent judicial authorities, they were brought to a military court. This occurred despite the fact that the defendants are linked to independent armed formations affiliated with the Transitional Council and not part of the official armed forces. Consequently, they do not fall under the purview of the existing military judiciary, which exclusively holds jurisdiction over government armed forces personnel.

The rights of individuals to life and security represents fundamental rights guaranteed by various national and international laws. These rights are sacrosanct, inviolable, and not subject to compromise under any circumstances, even in exceptional contexts like war and emergencies. Similarly, the right of individuals to freedom of movement and travel is a cornerstone of international human rights law. Importantly, it remains applicable during periods of armed conflict. As explicitly articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every individual possesses the inherent right to move freely and select their place of residence within the borders of a state.

Mwatana for Human Rights has called upon the Supreme Judicial Council in Aden to thoroughly reevaluate the ruling, as it contravenes established national laws and was handed down by a court lacking proper jurisdiction. Furthermore, it signifies indifference to the lives of civilians. Mwatana has additionally advocated for the imperative need for a retrial before a competent and impartial judicial authority, carried out in strict accordance with the law, thereby fortifying the principles of accountability and ensuring that the requisite penalties are levied against perpetrators.

On Wednesday, October 11, 2023, the military court rendered its verdict in the case of Abdulmalik Al-Sanbani, a 30-year-old who met his tragic fate at the hands of armed individuals affiliated with the Southern Transitional Council. This incident transpired following his detention at the "Al-Farshah" checkpoint in the Tur Al-Baha district of Lahj governorate on Wednesday, September 8, 2021.

The wording of the verdict makes it evident that the military court, as well as the trial sessions, treated the murder, which occurred after the victim was assaulted and had his hands and feet bound, as if it were a minor traffic violation, akin to a driver accidentally breaking a U-turn sign. In response to this, the victim's family declined to participate in the trial sessions, a decision prompted y the Southern Transitional Council (STC) refusing to transfer the case file to the public prosecution and the competent judicial authority. Instead, the STC redirected the accused individuals to the military prosecution and subsequently to the military court, seemingly with the intention of shielding them from accountability. This stands in stark contrast to the principles of justice and the laws currently in effect.