The Attorney General in Aden Must Exert his Legal Jurisdiction to Safeguard Civilian Female Victims
Mwatana for Human Rights has meticulously documented the harrowing incidents of 18 women who fell victim to forced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture, and inhumane treatment, as well as the denial of procedural justice. These egregious acts were committed by security forces affiliated with the Islah Party and the internationally recognized government in Marib governorate, situated to the northeast of the Yemeni capital, Sana’a.
Between April 2016 and July 2023, Mwatana documented a series of horrible violations committed against 18 women. These violations encompass 9 cases of arbitrary detention, 3 cases of enforced disappearance, 2 cases of torture, and 4 cases of denial of procedural justice. These distressing occurrences are part of a larger pattern of 266 incidents involving enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, torture, and the denial of procedural justice rights. These transgressions have affected civilians residing in regions under the control of the internationally recognized government and the Islah Party in Marib governorate, which are violations of the applicable local laws, international human rights law, and international humanitarian law.
Throughout their detention, these women were subjected to a series of abuses, beginning with their arrest and detention without any lawful cause. The conditions within the detention facilities were dismal, devoid of essential requisites for proper detention— including sanitary facilities and ventilation to adequate sustenance, personal hygiene items, and gender-sensitive considerations. The victims were subjected to various forms of torture, degrading treatment, and forced disappearances. Additionally, they were not presented before the public prosecutor and the judiciary within the stipulated timeframe mandated by the Yemeni constitution and applicable laws.
Abdul Rashid Al-Faqih, Vice Chairperson of Mwatana for Human Rights, articulated, "The documented incidents by Mwatana are illustrative of the ordeal that civilian women undergo at the hands of security forces in Marib, who exploit the dire wartime conditions to persecute and intimidate women and their families."
Al-Faqih further emphasized, "The detention facilities, managed by security agencies, continue to operate without proper oversight from the public prosecutor and the judiciary, creating an environment conducive to severe violations of women's rights.. These security agencies not only engage in these transgressions themselves but also resort to a range of intimidation tactics directed at the victims' families and legal advocates. These tactics aim to obstruct any endeavors to file complaints with the Public Prosecutor, an authority that is inherently impeded from exercising its rightful jurisdiction over the facilities operated by these agencies. Moreover, the security agencies do not respond to the directives issued by the Attorney General regarding filed complaints."
Al-Faqih added, "The role of the Attorney General extends beyond issuing written directives; it includes enforcing the law and these directives on the ground, which involves requiring security agencies in Marib governorate to consistently adhere to them."
Recounting her traumatic experience during her detention in the central women's prison in Marib, Huda Omar (a pseudonym, 43 years old) shared with Mwatana, "I requested them to inform my husband about my detention; however, he has not been informed. My family only learned about my detention several days later, specifically when I was allowed, in exchange for a sum of money, to make a phone call to my mother." She further said, "During one of the interrogation sessions, the interrogator demanded that I unlock my mobile phone, which was in their possession. The moment I complied, they copied its contents onto a laptop. They used threats of confining me in a dhaghata [a very narrow cell], extracting my nails, and prolonging my detention indefinitely unless I confessed to the fabricated charges against me. The appalling detention conditions and unrelenting psychological pressure took a toll on my health, resulting in bodily swelling. The woman who was the prison director at that time even callously remarked, 'Die, and I'll bury you here.'"
Huda added, "The echoes of women enduring torture through beatings and electric shocks were distressingly audible. On one occasion, a fellow detainee, dressed in yellow, returned to the cell with her garments soaked in blood after a brutal beating on her abdomen. Another detainee underwent such intense torture that she lost her ability to stand or walk, writhing in excruciating pain. Throughout the period of our detention, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other organizations were denied access to visit or communicate with us.”
Based on the testimonies of woman victims shared with Mwatana, they were detained without proper legal arrest warrants issued by the relevant authorities. They were kept uninformed about the grounds for their detention or the specific charges levied against them. Their families remained unaware of their whereabouts. Communication with legal representatives was denied, and they were subjected to interrogations conducted beyond the legally mandated hours, with no legal counsel present to safeguard their rights. Violence, threats, and verbal abuse were utilized to extract confessions from them. Their personal privacy was violated, their phones were subjected to searches, and personal photos were exploited for blackmail. Their personal possessions were confiscated, and they were not presented before public prosecutors or the courts within the stipulated timeframes mandated by law for the resolution of their cases. Additionally, some of those victims continued to be detained despite having received release judgments or orders, including directives from the Attorney General in Aden.
Wafaa Ali (a pseudonym, 33 years old) recounted to Mwatana, "I underwent frequent late-night interrogations. On one occasion, they led me to the interrogation room at two o’clock in the morning. They showed me personal photos of mine that were on my mobile phone, as well as inappropriate photos of other women that I had never possessed on my phone. Using these images, they fabricated groundless accusations against me. When I asked them to check when these photos were added to my phone, one of them threw a water bottle at me." She added, "During another incident, the interrogator struck my chest, causing me to collapse to the ground. This was particularly alarming given that I suffer from asthma."
Mwatana for Human Rights is calling upon the Attorney General in Aden to exert his legal authority and transfer the oversight of detention facilities, which are currently managed by security agencies and internationally recognized government forces affiliated with the Islah Party in Marib governorate, to the jurisdiction of the public prosecution. Additionally, Mwatana has called for a transparent investigation into instances of enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture, and other cruel and degrading treatments perpetrated against women, which contravene the applicable Yemeni law. This encompasses practices that intimidate lawyers and legal representatives, obstructing victims' rightful access to defense. Furthermore, Mwatana calls for the immediate release of all women held in arbitrary detention, the revelation of the fate of all forcibly disappeared women, the probing of cases involving torture and ill-treatment of female detainees, the prevention of such occurrences in the future, and the cessation of all violations, including the denial of victims' right to procedural justice in accordance with laws in force, as well as holding all those involved in these grievous violations accountable.
As Mwatana maintains its resolute stance against incidents of enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture, and the denial of procedural justice that impact civilians of both genders, it emphasizes the heightened severity of these violations when they target women. This is especially pronounced given the breakdown of legal safeguards, particularly in times of war, as women are the most vulnerable segment within Yemeni society and are disproportionately subjected to gender-based violations. The repercussions for women who fall victim to these offenses extend well beyond their actual experiences of enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture, and the denial of procedural justice. These violations hinder their successful reintegration into society, presenting challenges in reestablishing normalcy after their release. Testimonies shared by women who have been released illustrate their struggles to reintegrate and resume regular lives following their release.
Mwatana for Human Rights has appealed to the Attorney General in Aden and the authorities in Marib to remove all constraints imposed on local and international civil society organizations and oversight bodies. This would grant them unhindered and consistent access to women's detention facilities. Additionally, Mwatana has strongly urged for the prosecution and punishment of those responsible for arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and torture against women, ensuring that they are not exempt from accountability.
Acts of arbitrary detention, forced disappearance, torture, and other manifestations of inhumane and degrading treatment represent grave violations that necessitate both accountability and retribution. In accordance with both national legislation and international treaties, it is imperative to emphasize that no exceptional circumstance or emergency context, including instances of conflict, can serve as a legitimate justification or exoneration for these grievous violations. It is imperative that these serious violations are not overlooked or disregarded under any circumstances.
Mwatana for Human Rights once again emphasizes the need for the establishment of an independent international criminally-focused mechanism empowered with legal authority to investigate the violations perpetrated by all parties involved in the conflict. This mechanism aims to seek justice, provide reparation to victims, and enforce accountability for those found responsible for violations. As a basis for ensuring a comprehensive and sustainable peace.