Open Letter : Rethinking International Support for Yemen by Placing Human Rights at the Heart of It: Any Effort to Improve Security by Undermining Fundamental Rights Is Bound to Fail

Press release
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Open Letter to the Attention of Ministers and Heads of States
Attending the New York Friends of Yemen Ministerial Meeting


For the first time ever, on September 24, 2010, a meeting to discuss Yemen is being held at a ministerial level between the Yemeni government and the Friends of Yemen group, a group resulting from the London’s January 2010 high level conference. The reason for this ministerial closed meeting is because today, the stability of Yemen has taken a new importance on the international scene. While you discuss, as planned, politics, economy, development, security issues and international support against extremism and radicalization in Yemen, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Yemeni Network for Human Rights (YNHR) [1] and Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF), call upon you to expressly place human rights at the heart of your analyses and planning.

So far, the international community’s main actions have been focused on urging on Yemen to fight terrorism threats. A range of new bilateral and multilateral cooperation security agreements were established in the past years. However, there has been insufficient international pressure on the government to do so in conformity with its international obligations under human rights law. Yet, as stated repeatedly by the United Nations Secretary General, the UN General Assembly, or the UN Special Procedures, no fight against extremism and terrorism can be successful without unconditional respect for human rights. It cannot be denied that the deprivation of fundamental rights, instead, directly feeds extremism. In this regard, we welcome the creation and efforts of the Working Group within the Friends of Yemen process dedicated to justice and rule of law in Yemen, and co-chaired by the Netherlands and Jordan. And, we strongly hope that human rights will be addressed as a highest priority within the framework of this working group debate but also throughout the whole Friends of Yemen process.

For the Friends of Yemen process to succeed in “support[ing] Yemen’s cross-Government efforts to tackle extremism and radicalization [2] , it must first recognize and understand the consequences of the fact that so far the government has done so in utter and complete violation of human rights instruments by routinely using torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions

Over the past few years, the government of Yemen has been showing significant setbacks in human rights and civil liberties, and has done so publicly in the name of security, as reported in FIDH-SAF-HOOD joint fact-finding mission report of January 2010. [3] The report illustrates how counter-terrorism efforts and exactions perpetrated in this context have been extended by the government of Yemen to any measure against threats to the national security. Moreover the government has been labeling political activists (including non-violent demonstrators), journalists, human rights defenders, and clergymen as “terrorists”, in the great majority of cases without any credible evidence. The government then regularly uses the war against terrorism as a tool to crackdown any form of opposition and has developed a series of extraordinary policies to repress opposition, and resorts to grave crimes.

Torture has that way recently become an institutionalized and organized practice perpetrated by three known security organs in total impunity: the Central Authority for Political Security, the National Security Authority and the Department of Anti-Terrorism under the Ministry of Interior. In addition, the hostage-taking of relatives has been used as bargain method to intimidate and coerce suspects, and incommunicado detention – including cases of months or years of solitary confinement – has been reported. Arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances are also common.

The government of Yemen has ignored the repeated calls issued by the United Nations Committee Against Torture on these issues in 2004 and again in May 2010. In fact, the country’s “Specialized Criminal Court” has accepted confessions obtained under torture, and was given broader jurisdiction after 2004, including for “crimes against national security” – a legal term that is yet to be clearly defined and under which people exercising their rights to freedom of expression or peaceful assembly are prosecuted.

The press and the civil society are today so targeted that chances for peaceful resolution of conflicts and popular demands are getting slimmer each day. The direct consequence of this is radicalization and resort to violence. Yet, the situation is about to get more worrisome as there are currently three draft legislations pending that would mark even further setbacks. In the end of 2009, the Yemeni government has submitted a series of amendments to the Law on association severely restricting the rights of association. On the other hand, the parliament is also considering a draft media law, submitted in 2005 by the ruling party and which would result if adopted, in serious media freedom backwards. This trend of harassment of journalists is also illustrated by the establishment of the Yemeni journalism court, in 2009 which is modeled on the country’s anti-terrorism court. Journalists tried before this court and terror suspects often face similar charges, such as "threatening the country’s security and stability". Finally, on August 2008, the government submitted a draft Anti-Terrorism law which is still before the Yemeni parliament based on the Arab Agreement for Combating Terrorism, which itself falls short of international standards regarding human rights and humanitarian law.

Consequently, FIDH, YNHR and SAF urge you, in the Friends of Yemen process, to concentrate your efforts on working for the people of Yemen by demanding that its government respects its human rights obligations, stops the use of torture and other grave human rights violations, thoroughly amend the legislative proposals mentioned above, and open to peaceful political dialogue with all parties. To help and secure Yemen, the Group should condition any technical or financial support to Yemen to concrete benchmarks and improvements in the field of human rights, and urge the country to follow-up on the recommendations issued at the occasion of Yemen’s Universal Periodical Review in 2009. Finally, the Yemeni civil society should be considered as a key partner in all those efforts, including in the fight against terrorism, and the Friends of Yemen must ensure that it does not suffer further alienation and marginalization.

We thank you for your attention and remain at your disposal for further information.

Souhayr Belhassen,
FIDH President

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