Yemen: Urgent appeal to UN special procedures on civilian abductees

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

The abductees held at the Special Security Forces Detention Camp in Sana’a by Houthi forces in Yemen was the topic of a joint urgent appeal to the United Nations special procedures, sent on 28 October 2020 by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Abductees’ Mothers Association. Our organizations urged the special procedure mandate holders to call on Houthi forces to  disclose the fate of  civilian detainees and immediately release them. The appeal further urged the UN to pressure Houthi forces to close the Special Security Forces Detention Camp, which is exposed to bombing by warplanes of the Saudi-led coalition.

To the United Nations Special Procedures
An urgent intervention to release abducted civilians held in the Special Security Forces Detention Camp in Sana’a

Submitted by:

Abductees’ Mothers Association and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

For the attention of:

  • The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
  • The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
  • The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
  • The Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights

This urgent appeal is addressed to the aforementioned United Nations Special Procedures, concerning the abductees held at the Special Security Forces Detention Camp in Sana’a by of Houthi forces in Yemen.

Basic Information

In mid-October 2019, the armed Houthi movement kidnapped or forcibly disappeared 91 civilians, alongside hundreds of detained fighters. All abductees were detained in the Special Security Forces Camp, located in the Al-Sabeen district of Sana’a. The kidnapped and their families are fearful that the camp will be attacked by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, as the same camp was bombed in 2015 and 2016. The Dhamar Community College Prison was also bombed by warplanes belonging to the Saudi-led coalition on 1 September 2019; 137 detainees were killed.

In violation of human rights law and principles, the civilian detainees were held in the Special Security Forces Camp to be released through a prisoner exchange within the framework of the Stockholm Agreement at the end of the year 2018. 34 civilian abductees were released, and they were trusted by the Abductees’ Mothers Association within the Geneva Accord, which was implemented on 15 and 16 October 2020, while dozens of others remain detained there until today.

The civilian abductees held in the Special Security Forces Camp continue to face more violations of their fundamental rights. They are also deprived of their legal rights to submit complaints and access their case files. They were abducted by Houthi forces on the basis of allegations that even if true, are not serious enough to merit charges under the law. Financial extortion or ransom, and retribution for suspected political opposition, are more likely to be the reasons behind their abduction.

The Houthi movement has also failed to release several abductees requiring urgent medical attention, because the detainees’ names are on the lists of the Stockholm Agreement. This has made the UN-sponsored agreement seem like a burden that prolongs the duration of their abduction and exacerbates their suffering without effective pressure to implement it comprehensively and completely, and to release all kidnapped and detained persons.

Prohibited visits

The abductees are banned from any visits, as leverage for an exchange deal favoring the Houthis. The Houthi movement allows the abductees – without disclosing the location of their detention – to have a phone call once every one or two months, to request money transfers to the prison.

(M.A.), previously detained in the Special Security Forces Camp, said: “We did not receive the money transfers sent to us by our families in full, as some were deducted.  We definitely cannot inform our family about this, because all communication with family takes place in the presence of security personnel. We did not have the authority to issue complaints regarding these deductions, if we had even received any of the money at all to begin with.”

The father of abductee (Sh. B.) mentioned that when his son called and began to tell him about the poor conditions in the prison, he was stopped by one of the security personnel next to him, and was unable to finish his complaint about the prison’s conditions.

Any detainee who submits a complaint to the prison supervisor or other Houthi supervisors faces punishment.

Detention conditions

Several victims spoke of the poor detention conditions in the Special Security Forces Camp. They complained of extreme cold, as they are not allowed to wear protective or warm clothing and they also lack adequate coverings. Abductees are not allowed sunlight exposure on a daily basis.

Other abductees told of severe malnutrition in the camp, with frequent fainting from hunger and/or poor health conditions. Abductees are left with no choice but to drink toxic water from inside the prison or to buy food and drinking water at high prices from a grocery store outside the prison, delivered by the Houthi security personnel. The Red Cross had previously visited the Special Security Forces Camp, and provided aid such as mattresses and blankets.

The prison supervisors also prohibit books or newspapers; detainees are allowed access only to pro-Houthi television channels and newspapers. Any abductee who refuses to chant the Houthi slogan faces punishment.

Solitary confinement

Abductees at the Special Security Forces Camp endure solitary confinement, consisting of a meter and a half squared cell with a flimsy roof unable to protect from poor weather conditions. At times, up to six persons were detained in this small space for a period of fifteen days. (V. N.)  recounted being held in solitary confinement in a small cell without a bathroom, forcing him to use bottled water instead until he was transferred to the group ward.

Collective punishment

Prison supervisors mistreat and abuse all abductees, punishing them for periods up to two months. Detainees are prohibited from buying water and food from outside the prison, and are left with no choice but to drink the toxic water in the prison or to buy food and drinking water at inflated prices, delivered by the Houthi security personnel. Detainees also have their bathroom use severely restricted, forcing some of them to defecate and urinate inside their ward while being prohibited by prison supervisors from cleaning or washing themselves afterwards.

Abductee (M.Sh.) said that the Houthi security personnel in the Special Security Forces Camp searched the abductees after suspicions rose that one of them had a cellphone. He continued, “The abductee bought the phone from a security officer months ago to communicate with his family. When the phone was found in the abductee’s possession, all of us were punished. We were stripped of our clothes down to our underpants, and we were taken to the camp yards at 10 pm on January 8th, 2020. We were forced to stand, while they sprayed us with cold water despite the cold weather in January. We remained standing in this spot until 7 am. Some abductees could not stand any longer, they were beaten up. Even if we were fainting, they would lash at us with electric cables until we regain consciousness and then force us to stand up again. Two elderly men were among the abductees, unable to stand, so a security officer severely beat them and set their beards afire.”

Health negligence

Some released abductees during the year 2020 stated that there are two rooms inside the Special Security Forces Camp, which are called the health unit. However, these rooms are completely unequipped, and there is no doctor. Two prisoner nurses work in the unit, which provides virtually no medical services in the detention camp. Medications are purchased with the abductees’ money and are brought in through Houthi mediation, despite the Red Cross providing large quantities of medicines to the prison.

As international humanitarian law and international human rights law prohibit arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance, we urge you to use your mandate to urgently intervene and pressure the parties in conflict to:

  • Immediately release the abducted civilians detained in the Special Security Forces Detention Camp.
  • Close down the Special Security Forces Detention Camp, which is exposed to bombing by warplanes of the Saudi-led coalition. The camp must not be used as a place of detention.
  • Enable the abductees and arbitrarily detained to fully exercise their human rights.
  • Disclose the fate of all those forcibly disappeared.

Photo: REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

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