REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

United Nations urged to intervene to save dozens of Yemenis sentenced to death, in light of the recent execution of 9 defendants after flawed trial proceedings

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

On 24 September, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights (CIHRS) and Yemeni human rights organizations sent an urgent appeal calling on the special procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council to intervene to halt impending executions of detainees held by the Ansar Allah (Houthi) armed group, following the unlawful execution of nine Yemenis on 18 September 2021 by Ansar Allah, the de facto Yemeni governing authority. The UN should further act to address arbitrary detention by all parties to the conflict.

All parties to the conflict in Yemen have engaged in serious violations of Yemenis’ fundamental rights  since the start of the war in 2014.

On 18 September 2021, the Specialized Criminal Court under the control of Ansar Allah executed nine civilians following the death sentences issued against them in previous years by Ansar Allah criminal judicial authorities. The civilians executed included: Ali Ali Ibrahim al-Quzi (43 years), Abdul Malik Ahmed Mohamed Hamid (55 years), Mohamed Khaled Ali Haig al-Omar (34 years). Mohamed Ibrahim Ali al-Quzi (46 years old), Mohamed Yahya Mohamed Noah (46 years old), Ibrahim Mohamed Abdullah Aqil (44 years old), Mohamed Mohamed Ali al-Mashkhari (47 years old), Abdul Aziz Ali Mohamed al-Aswad (17 years at the time of arrest), and Moaz Abdul Rahman Abdullah Abbas (23 years old). Abdul Aziz Ali Mohamed al-Aswad was a minor at the time of his arrest and subsequent torture. The execution took place in the presence of journalists and hundreds of attendees, in a public square, where chanting and dancing were encouraged.

This represents a dangerous escalation and turning point in Ansar Allah’s abuses of human rights.  The execution of Abdulaziz al-Aswad, who was 17 years old at the time of his arrest, is of grave concern.

The Houthis arrested the nine individuals against a backdrop of allegations of their involvement in the assassination of the former head of Ansar Allah’s Supreme Political Council, Saleh Al-Sammad, who was killed in April 2018 in Al-Hodeidah Governorate in an air attack launched by the Saudi/UAE-led Coalition.

Ansar Allah arbitrarily arrested and forcibly disappeared the victims on different days between September and November 2018. The victims were subjected to torture to extract confessions.  Ali Abdo Kazaba was reportedly killed under torture on 7 August 2019, during his detention.

Since their arrest, the place of detention of the victims  was not revealed, and their relatives were only allowed to visit them when the detainees were brought from their unknown locations of detention to the courts where they were being tried. Relative visits were rare and for a few during the 4 years of detention in the court. The relatives were supposed to be able to visit the detainees on 17 September 2021. However, when                                                                                                                                                                              they requested to postpone the visit due to time constraints and the long travel distance from Hodeidah (where the families reside) to Sana’a (where the detainees were held), they were denied this request. Instead, the prosecution informed the families that the execution of the detainees would be carried out the following day, on 18 September 2021.

The trial of the victims was marred by many fundamental procedural flaws, including extracting confessions under torture, failure to investigate the victims’ denials, rejecting appeals, and other violations included in the case files. The trial phase witnessed a continuous and unjustified harassment of the defendants and their defense representatives, in violation of their right to a defense. The first instance court scheduled three court sessions to look into the case in only two weeks. The defendants also requested that the judge be changed based on several violations committed against the defense by the judge, including: changing the facts of the case and claims in a manner that is contrary to the indictment following his issuing of a decision; rendering a judgment before the defendants and their defense representatives had the opportunity to present their evidence; more broadly, not guaranteeing the defendants’ right to a defense and violating their right to a fair trial.

The victims’ lawyer, Abdul Majeed Sabra, said, “When the criminal prosecutor informed me of the decision, I was shocked. As a defense lawyer in this case, I can confirm that the case was marred by serious violations, including legal violations, rendering it null and void, as it didn’t meet the basic standards for a fair trial. As I have the details of the case, I know for sure that these defendants are innocent of any participation in the assassination of Saleh al-Sammad, and his companions.”

CIHRS and a group of 28 Yemeni groups   condemn the violations that marred the procedures, including enforced disappearances and torture, and the irregularities that marred the court sessions, including the prompt execution of the death sentences. Moreover, the Supreme Court ratified this appeal judgment in less than 27 days, before providing the opportunity for the defense to file appeals, which reflects the tendency by Ansar Allah’s judicial system to carry out death sentences in violation of defendants’ fundamental rights, including their right to defense.

According to the OHCHR, “international law establishes very strict conditions for the application of capital punishment, including compliance with fair trial and due process standards. The execution of juvenile offenders is unequivocally prohibited under international law, regardless of the circumstances and nature of the crime committed. In the context of an armed conflict, carrying out execution without affording judicial guarantees is also a violation of international humanitarian law and amounts to a war crime.”

In their latest report, the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEE) continued to investigate and report on “disappearances, arbitrary detention and/or torture of journalists, human rights defenders and religious minorities, practices designed by parties to the conflict to silence their perceived opposition or to punish them for their religious beliefs, and to legitimatize their power through the spread of fear.” The GEE emphasized that “such acts may amount to war crimes, including cruel treatment and torture, and committing outrages upon personal dignity.”

The organizations stress that the violations by Ansar Allah against activists and civilians violate the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1989, to which Yemen is party, and other laws that guarantee the right to life, physical integrity and a fair trial. Ansar Allah’s actions also violated the text of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 20, 2006, which states that “[n]o one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance” and emphasizes that “[t]he widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity.”

Today, dozens of Yemenis are facing death sentences in Yemen, including four journalists (Akram Al-Walidy, Abdul-Khaleq Omran, Harith Hamid, and Tawfiq Al-Mansoori) and a number of academics who are all currently being detained by Ansar Allah. The international community must act to ensure the protection of these individuals and the release of all individuals who have been arbitrarily detained in Yemen.

The signatory organizations urge the special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council to urgently intervene and:

  • Condemn in the strongest terms extrajudicial executions in Yemen, especially the execution of the nine civilians without a fair trial on 18 September 2021 by Ansar Allah.
  • Repeal the death sentences against Yemenis who have been arbitrarily detained and sentenced to death without a fair trial.
  • Demand that Ansar Allah puts an end to the use of death sentences without fair trial, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances, which constitute flagrant violations of Yemeni and international law.
  • Monitor the state of death penalties and executions closely in Yemen, especially focusing on the implementation of a series of death sentences handed down by the Specialized Criminal Court and other courts.Call on competent local and international bodies to investigate the case in the wider context of arbitrary detentions and the use of torture to extract confessions.
  • Call on the international community to establish a criminally-focused investigative mechanism, as recommended by the GEE in their latest report, with a mandate to create case files to be used by competent prosecutorial authorities.

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