On the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

Over more than seven years of war in Yemen, even though the warring parties represent multiple, different authorities, they share the same unlawful behaviors, including torturing detainees and subjecting them to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Saturday, June 26, 2021
On the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

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Remember the tortured victims in Yemen

26 June 2021

Over more than seven years of war in Yemen, even though the warring parties represent multiple, different authorities, they share the same unlawful behaviors, including torturing detainees and subjecting them to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

In June 2020, Mwatana for Human Rights issued a report, "In the Darkness", which sheds light on the incidents of arbitrary detention from May 2016 to April 2020, and the practices associated with, such as enforced disappearances, torture, and deaths in detention centers. The report shows the involvement of all parties to the conflict in these hideous behaviors.

Forms of Torture and other inhuman treatment

The report named unofficial detention sites, where people are subjected to various forms of torture and inhuman, cruel and degrading practices, including pulling out nails, severe beatings with sticks, wires, butts of weapon, kicking, electrocution, sexual humiliation, threats of rape, sleep deprivation, hanging from the ceiling, body cavities searches, forced and humiliating nudity, torture by burning with fire.

Also; Banning the use of toilets, using loudspeakers to make noise to prevent sleep, withholding food and water, burning with cigarette butts, denial of performing religious rituals, forcing them to prostrate to the flags of countries, hitting their limbs with hammers, forcing them to drink urine, and burning their genitals.

Since 2016, Mwatana has documented 344 cases of torture and 66 deaths in detention centers. The internationally recognized Yemeni government bears responsibility for 65 incidents of torture, and 14 deaths in detention centers, while Ansar Allah group (Houthis) bears responsibility for 138 incidents of torture, and 27 deaths in detention centers. And the UAE forces and UAE-aligned armed groups are responsible for 141 incidents of torture, and 25 deaths in detention centers.

Cases and Testimonies

On the evening of Thursday, October 20, 2016, eight armed men in military uniforms and in a military vehicle seized Sultan (pseudonym – 43 years old) from the vicinity of his home in the capital, Sanaa. They took him to the Criminal Investigation headquarters in Sanaa. He was then transferred to the Political Security Agency, where he was forcibly disappeared for three months. His family did not know where he was being held.

Sultan’s brother told Mwatana,

“Sultan called me, and his voice appeared to be forced and he seemed in pain. He asked me to hand over his computer to the Criminal Investigation Department. I went to hand over his computer, and I found out that he was no longer in the Criminal Investigation Department. I did not know where he was for three whole months.”

After the period of Sultan’s disappearance, Sultan’s brother managed to visit him in the Political Security Agency in the capital, Sanaa.

He said Sultan was tortured while in detention:

“Three of his toenails in his right foot were removed, and they whipped him using whips and wooden rods. He was also hung from a rope for up to 12 hours, burned with cigarette stubs, and deprived of sleep for several nights…”

Sultan’s brother added:

“Not only was he tortured but his family was also prevented from receiving his financial dues. Even the most dangerous criminals are not punished by having the salaries that their children depend on withheld.”

Furthermore, On the evening of Friday, September 16, 2016, seven hooded men in military uniforms and black scarves with the Security Belt of the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council arrived in a military vehicle and arrested Saleh (pseudonym - 26 years old) in the Ja’ar area, Khanfir district, Abyan governorate. They blindfolded Saleh and took him in the military vehicle to an unknown destination. Saleh remained disappeared for a year and three months, when his family learned of his death.

Mwatana was able to interview witnesses detained with Saleh and who saw him being tortured. A 24 year old man said:

“I was in Waddah Hall with Saleh. Seven of us were held in one very narrow cell without adequate ventilation. In separate times of the detention period, soldiers used to take Saleh at night for two or three hours, during which he would be interrogated and tortured. Saleh told me that two or three masked soldiers asked him to confess to having a connection to alQaeda and they beat him with the handles of their rifles, kicked him with their military shoes and tortured him with electricity. The effects of the torture were visible on his back and abdomen and his face was constantly swollen and bruised. There were days when he was unable to speak due to the severity of the pain, and in some instances, he could not walk so the soldiers dragged him to the torture room. One day, we asked the soldiers to take him to the hospital. One of the soldiers said ‘it is forbidden for any prisoner to leave or for any doctor to come. This prison does not exist.”

The man continued, saying that one night,

“Soldiers took Saleh to the torture room at about 10:00 pm, hung him with iron cables and tortured him with electricity. His nails were pulled, his hair was plucked, and he was brutally beaten, after which they left him hanging.”

He added,

“My heart was almost torn when the soldiers ordered us to take him down and dig a grave for him. We buried him at 04:00 am, in the courtyard of Waddah Hall. Saleh was not the first to die under torture. There is a cemetery in the courtyard of Waddah Hall.

Saleh died in detention on Tuesday, January 2, 2018. The other detainees were forced to bury Saleh in the courtyard of Waddah Hall. They were not allowed to perform any religious rites as part of the burial. The mother of one of these detainees was the one to inform Saleh’s family of his death. He had been forcibly disappeared for more than a year.

In the same context, After midnight on Thursday, May 25, 2017, masked gunmen affiliated with the Counter-Terrorism Forces raided a residential house in the Al Mansura District, Aden governorate. They arrested Mohsen Mohammad (Pseudonym - 47 years old), handcuffed him and took him in a military vehicle to an unknown destination. Mwatana interviewed Mohsen after he was released from prison on July 2, 2018.

He explained that Emirati officers searched him in a humiliating manner, including searching the anal cavity. Mohsen described the experience:

“I went to the medical examination room and an officer who spoke in an Emirati dialect asked me to strip, lay down on the medical bed and lift my legs to my chest. I expressed my objection, but to no avail. Eventually, I lied down and one of the Emirati officers stood above my head and pulled my legs towards my head. Then the other officer opened my legs and looked at my anal cavity. One of the officers told me: ‘Perfect! Get up.’ These are directions and procedures that take place for the first time. I asked myself silently, ‘Did the Emirati army come to Yemen to look at my anal?"

The internationally recognized government also has a share in these practices, On Sunday May 22, 2016, gunmen in a number of military vehicles detained Hassan El Sherif while he was in a market in Ma’rib Governorate. He was immediately transferred to the Political Security Department. He appeared to be detained because he belonged to the El Sherif family, which is perceived as being very close to the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group. Mwatana interviewed other people detained in the Political Security Department in Ma’rib with Hassan. They said Hassan was being held in a room next to them and that they could hear him cry for help when he was beaten with a whip. After three days, the soldiers brought Hassan to their cell. He was naked. His weak body had signs of torture on his hands and feet. A detainee told Mwatana,

“We saw him and he was very skinny. He had signs of torture on his hands and feet and he repeatedly lost consciousness while he was talking to us.”

He added that Hassan told them that he was kept hanging from a rope tied to his legs for many hours during which the soldiers beat him with a whip, and that when he asked for food, they would bring him hot water with salt.

According to the witnesses, other detainees requested medications and medical supplies for Hassan, but the prison officials refused to provide them and refused to transfer Hassan to the hospital while he had signs of torture on his body. After Hassan’s condition worsened, other detainees protested and demanded his transfer to the hospital. Soon after, Hassan was taken to the yard of the detention center. Other detainees learned he had died two days later. His family was asked to collect his body from the Al-Thawra Hospital in late 2017, more than a year and a half after his initial detention.

A crime against humanity

Torture, cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity constitute war crimes in non-international armed conflicts. When committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population, torture constitutes a crime against humanity.

Under the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court, the systematic practice of enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity. Yemen is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, but many of the provisions of the Rome Stature are reflected in customary international law.

The UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen found reasonable grounds to believe that Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Ansar Allah violated the right to liberty and security of the person, namely through enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, as well as torture and other ill-treatment, including rape and other forms of sexual violence. The Experts further found that “people involved in the commission, ordering of, or with command responsibility for the above enumerated acts may be held responsible for the following war crimes: torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and other forms of sexual violence.”

International humanitarian law provides for a state to make full reparations for the loss caused by violations. States also have an obligation to provide reparations for human rights violations. Reparation entails appropriate compensation, and where appropriate, can involve restitution, rehabilitation, and measures of satisfaction, such as public apologies, public memorials, guarantees of non-repetition, and changes in relevant laws and practices, as well as bringing to justice the perpetrators of human rights violations