Yemeni authorities have carried out grave human rights abuses as part of an internationally-backed crackdown on a range of security threats facing the country, rights groups have said.
In a report issued on Wednesday, Amnesty International says that growing US concern over al-Qaeda’s presence in Yemen, combined with domestic challenges to the legitimacy of the government, has prompted a marked deterioration in the human rights situation in the impoverished country.
The group says that over the past year, the Yemeni government has carried out vicious military campaigns, arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings as it faces international pressure to tackle al-Qaeda-affiliated groups, and seeks to quell a growing secessionist movement in the south while fighting periodic battles with Houthi rebels in the north.
“Yemeni authorities are abandoning human rights in the name of security,” the report, entitled Cracking Down Under Pressure, says, cataloguing a range of abuses carried out by government forces against opposition groups in Yemen.
Amnesty International says that some of the violations have been carried out under the pretext of complying with international demands to prevent al-Qaeda and other groups from launching attacks from the country.
“An extremely worrying trend has developed where the Yemeni authorities, under pressure from the USA and others to fight al-Qaeda, and Saudi Arabia to deal with the Houthis, have been citing national security as a pretext to deal with opposition and stifle all criticism,” says Malcolm Smart, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director.
The US has dramatically expanded its counter-terrorism operations in Yemen since an al-Qaeda-affiliated group attempted to blow up a transatlantic airliner over Detroit last December.
Human rights activists operating in Yemen say that the subsequent security crackdown, which has seen increased military and diplomatic co-ordination between the Yemeni and US governments, has coincided with a major increase in reports of human rights abuses.
“There are many people who have been arrested and jailed as a result of American demands,” says Khaled al-Anisi, the executive director of the Yemen-based National Organisation for Defending Rights and Freedoms.
“Other people have been killed by the Americans and by Yemenis for America’s sake.
“Because this security cooperation is beneficial to the Americans, they ignore the human rights situation in the country.”
The US has been criticised for carrying out recent drone attacks in Yemen which have killed civilians, including a high profile incident in May when the deputy governor of a Yemeni province was killed by a missile as he tried to talk al-Qaeda members into abandoning their fight.
Yemen’s government has never officially admitted the extent of its cooperation with Washington, but US officials have been more forthcoming in explaining the scope of their operations in the country, making the so-called “shadow war” against al-Qaeda an open secret in Sana’a.
But far from increasing Yemen’s security, some believe that the US is sacrificing the domestic legitimacy of Yemen’s government in a bid to ensure its own security.
“American policy in this country is done without respect for the Yemeni state, without respect for the Yemeni constitution,” al-Anisi says. “That makes people feel that [the] government is just a policeman for the US, and makes al-Qaeda stronger here.”
Abdul-Ghani al-Iyrani, a Yemeni political analyst, agrees that the campaign is having counter-productive results.
“It contributes to the fundamental problem in the political situation in Yemen, which is the erosion of the government’s grass-roots legitimacy,” he says.
But he says that al-Qaeda related operations represent only a “small part” of the human rights abuses being carried out by the government. Worse, he says, were the violations last year.
The Amnesty report offers disturbing details of the Yemeni government’s “Scorched Earth” military operation against the Houthis, during which it carried out heavy aerial bombardment of civilian areas, displacing more than a quarter of a million people.
When the fighting spilled over the border into Saudi Arabia, Riyadh joined military operations in Yemen, sending troops and aircraft to attack Houthi rebel positions as tens of thousands of civilians were trapped in the area.
“The Yemeni government’s Scorched Earth operation between August 2009 and February 2010 signalled the deployment of military forces against the Houthis on a scale not witnessed before, particularly after Saudi Arabian forces joined in,” the report says.
Al-Iyrani says that during the fighting many civilians were left stranded with no food as the city of Sada’a was besieged by Yemeni forces. “What happened in Sada’a was just unspeakable,” he says, accusing the government of leaving thousands of civilians ‘starving’ during the operation.
After negotiating a ceasefire with the Houthis in February, Yemeni authorities turned their attention to quashing a growing secessionist movement in the south of the country, where many people believe they are subject to discrimination by the government.
The report says that the government has carried out a campaign of “unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests and the use of excessive force against peaceful demonstrations” against southern Yemenis who want formal independence from the north, under the guise of fighting terrorism.
The government has accused the Southern Movement, a loose coalition of political groups calling for greater rights for people in the south, of having links with al-Qaeda, and has set up special “terrorism” courts in which to try activists.
Amnesty has called on Yemen’s government to ensure that its security operations respect human rights concerns, and says that the US and Saudi Arabia should play a more constructive role in preventing such abuses.
“Enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, and extrajudicial executions are never permissible, and the Yemeni authorities must immediately cease these violations,” Smart says.
“It is particularly worrying that states such as Saudi Arabia and the US are directly or indirectly aiding the Yemeni government in a downward spiral away from a previously improving human rights record.”
JERUSALEM — Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood said settlers attempted to enter the Al-Ein Mosque early Thursday morning, sparking skirmishes that lasted until after sunrise.
Israeli forces arrived as locals said they were attempting to drive the settlers out of the mosque area. Two settler cars were torched, and several windshields smashed in the violence.
The incoming border police force was described as “massive,” and said to have been firing tear-gas canisters and rubber-coated bullets toward Palestinians.
Firefighters called to put out the car blazes were reportedly confronted by angered residents in the area, Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported. According to the newspaper, four cars and two motorcycles were set alight.
A 22-year-old settler was said to have been injured, and the paper quoted a settler leader from the area, denying claims that an attempt to gain access to the mosque had caused the clash.
Israeli police said they were looking into the incident.
In the West Bank, three recent incidents of settlers vandalizing mosques have put residents on edge. In December, a Yasuf village mosque was torched and 12 settlers from the Yizhar settlement detained for their role in the incident. Also in the Nablus region, settlers torched a second mosque in May, Al-Lubban Ash-Sharqiya villagers said settlers drove up to the mosque, gathered flammables, and set them alight.
In June, officials from the Islamic Waqf said a recent wave of settlers moving into Jaffa, a Palestinian city now south of Tel Aviv, attempted to set ablaze the Jaffa Mosque as it was undergoing repairs.
Around 700 Bedouin women held a protest in Jerusalem challenging the demolition of their villages by Israeli forces. They travelled to Jerusalem from the Negev desert in southern Israel, where they live in ‘unrecognized’ villages that have been razed multiple times since Israel was created in 1948.
They gathered outside the Israeli Ministry of the Interior on Tuesday, after the destruction of al-Arakid village this past weekend, holding signs and chanting slogans. Even as the mid-day sun beat down, and the women maintained their daily Ramadan fast of no water and food from sunrise to sunset, they continued to chant and attempt to dialogue with employees entering and leaving the building.
The women also submitted a letter of demands to the Israeli Interior Minister’s advisor on minority affairs, Saeed Muadi. The demands included a recognition of their villages, and equal treatment under the law.
One activist, Hanan el-Sana, told the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahranoth, “The systematic razing of unrecognized villages in the Negev by the authorities shows the State has no respect for human dignity or the religious customs of the area’s inhabitants. The (Bedouin) women feel that no one is hearing their cries. They feel this is the beginning of a long public campaign that will continue until the Israeli government recognizes the villages. For 60 years, we have suffered in our villages without basic necessities such as water, sewage systems, and electricity, and we have also lost our traditional livelihood because of the land appropriation policy. Add to this the recent home demolitions – the situation has become intolerable.”
The head of the Council of Unrecognized Villages in the Negev, Ibrahim al-Waqili, called on Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to resign due to his blatant violation of international human rights law with his ongoing policy of destruction of Bedouin villages in southern Israel.
RAMALLAH — The Palestinian Authority’s security militias on Wednesday used excessive force to prevent dozens of Palestinians in Ramallah from participating in a conference opposing the US-sponsored direct talks with the Israeli occupation state.
The militias violently stormed the building where the press conference was supposed to be held and embarked on beating the participants.
They also beat two cameramen working for the local Al-Watan TV before confiscating their equipment.
Wednesday’s press conference was organized by the national conference against direct talks, a coalition consisting of hundreds of political factions, organizations, institutions and figures from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The event was supposed to be held simultaneously in the West Bank and Gaza through video conferencing.
A statement issued in the press conference held in Gaza strongly denounced this repressive move and considered it a serious violation of the Palestinian basic law and the national norms.
The participants in Gaza conference declared the launch of a plan to form a popular rallying against the decision to enter into direct negotiations with the occupation state.
Senior official of the popular front for the liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Jamil Al-Majdalawi explained during the conference that a joint committee in the West Bank and Gaza will be formed to follow up this plan and to organize events and protests against the direct negotiations.
The PFLP deplored in a separate statement on Wednesday the intelligence apparatus in the West Bank for sabotaging and disrupting this conference and called for an immediate probe into the incident and punishing the perpetrators.
It also expressed its dismay at this level of degradation which the security apparatuses in the West Bank have stooped to.
For his part, member of Hamas’s political bureau Ezzat Al-Resheq strongly condemned what he described as the brutal attack on national figures opposing the direct talks with Israel and reiterated his call for Abbas to step down from all his posts.
“Not only those who take up arms against the occupation in the West Bank are hunted and targeted by Abbas-Fayyad forces, but everyone having a position opposing the policy of concessions and compromises pursued by the authority in Ramallah against the national cause is also targeted and repressed,” Resheq stated Thursday.
HAIFA — Students at Haifa University reportedly prepared a list of “Pro-Palestinian” professors and a group of activists were preparing a boycott campaign targeting their classes and lectures.
Israel’s Hebrew Language daily newspaper Ma’ariv said a campaign began on Tuesday, targeting 20 lecturers from the sociology and political science departments who they said “participate in demonstrations against Israeli troops and the Israeli government” or who have publicly spoken out against them.
“We won’t choose courses of these lecturers and we won’t attend their lectures. It is unthinkable that at a time when our friends are fighting or receiving blows from activists on a ship that calls itself a peace ship that these lecturers stand up and demonstrate and speak out against these soldiers,” one student was quoted as saying.
“What is taking place here is fascism,” another student told the paper, “this is the beginning of a repulsive attempt to shut people up who think differently. If the lecturers make statements that try to make historic justice, they deserve praise.”
The University issued a statement to the paper, saying “Haifa University takes a serious view of any attempt to carry out an academic boycott or an attempt to harm academic freedom.”