Yemen: A leader in Human Rights?

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Yemen: A leader in Human Rights?
Yemen’s repressive government praised by UN Human Rights Council 

On May 11 and 13, 2009, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC) debated and adopted a report on the human rights policies of Yemen.  Despite the dire human rights situation in this country, the vast majority of states involved in the process offered praise for the government’s human rights policies, or failed to make substantive recommendations on how to improve the situation. 

“Once again, states at the Human Rights Council, lead by Arab governments, have chosen to uphold political convenience instead of protecting human rights victims,“  said Moataz El Fegiery, Executive Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), adding, “Unless it can begin to deal with real human rights challenges, the Council will continue to lose credibility and relevance.” 

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Yemen occurred this week at the HRC.  In complete contradiction with two compilation reports by UN experts and human rights NGOs, both of which pointed out many particular instances of grave human rights abuses being carried out by the Yemeni government, the vast majority of states at the HRC choose to praise the Yemen authorities.    Only a few states commented on particular human rights violations committed by the government, or offered specific recommendations on how to improve the situation. 

As has occurred during the UPR of other Arab governments, states belonging to the League of Arab States and the Organization of Islamic Conference lead the way in attempts to undermine the effectiveness of Yemen’s review.  Out of the 63 states that spoke almost half belonged to either the Arab League, Organization of Islamic Conference or both.  Without exception, all of these states used most of their time to compliment Yemen on its “significant progress in Human Rights” (Pakistan), the “great achievements” (Morocco) it has made in this field, and its “proven commitment to human rights reform” (Saudi Arabia).    Some states even used the opportunity to question the validly of the concept of human rights, recommending the government of Yemen to “reject foreign values,” (Egypt), and that human rights in the country should be conditioned on “cultural and historic particularities” (Iran).  

Furthermore, all states, including Western states, failed to adequately address the wide-scale violations of international humanitarian law being carried out by the Yemeni government in the ongoing civil war occurring in the northern Sa’dah province, or seriously examine the severe restrictions on political participation and freedom of association enforced by the government. 

“This type of behavior by states at the HRC will only encourage the Yemeni government to continue its repressive and inhumane policies,” said Mr. El Fegiery.

However, some substantive recommendations were included in the final UPR report adopted by the HRC.  It is now incumbent on Yemen to immediately begin to take concrete action to ensure effective follow-up of these recommendations, including ensuring that women’s rights and equality are respected, all juveniles are taken off death-row and ending governmental repression and censorship of journalists. 

 Arabic:  Ziad Abdel Tawab-  International Advocacy Program Officer- CIHRS        English:  Jeremie D. Smith-  Geneva Office Director-CIHRS

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