The Status of Human Rights Work in Yemen in Light of the Armed Conflict

The Status of Human Rights Work in Yemen in Light of the Armed Conflict
The Status of Human Rights Work in Yemen in Light of the Armed Conflict

Human Rights Situation in Yemen

By: Abdulrazzaq Qasem - Writer and Researcher

In one of the definitions, War is portrayed as an unreasonable act and a departure from the established order through the use of arms over the force of the law, which is intended to be the only basis for handling all files and cases, as well as a reference for resolving conflicts and disagreements that arise and settling them within the framework of its provisions in a way that guarantees the achievement of justice and the securing of human rights for all citizens, and at the same time to be the sole basis for managing all files.

According to this definition, many cases are subject to special considerations that work to broaden the differences and escalate them to levels that lead to bypassing the legal solution and resorting to the option of armed force to impose a certain faith on everyone and force them to accept it, so the first spark of war breaks out, which is only a first step towards the path of chaos and violence, which is difficult to control later on by all parties.

At this point, the existing laws that govern society's life and the relationships between its members, as well as the relationship between them and the state, are disrupted. This obstruction is carried out not in an official or public manner, but rather through practices that do not adhere to law or order, which in this case means opening the way for illegal behavior, whether individual or collective, and in systematic ways, which encourage and lead to the infringement and violation of human rights due to the ability to impunity and the lack of accountability that achieves justice and compensation for the victims.

This is the current situation in Yemen, where a brutal conflict has had catastrophic effects on many levels directly related to citizens' rights and means of subsistence, turned many of their lives into true tragedies, and left behind a number of heartbreaking tales that are difficult to imagine.

For eight years (the duration of Yemen's ongoing war), oppression has afflicted the vast majority of Yemenis. Everyone has become vulnerable to violations everywhere, and they are all civilian victims who have been abandoned by all the authorities who control them. None of these authorities will protect or compensate them. However, certain groups in society were more vulnerable to violations than others, and these groups are known under International Humanitarian Law as: the most vulnerable groups, such as women and children; as well as specific areas whose residents were subjected to violations more than others, and these areas were mostly an arena for armed conflict between warring parties.

In addition to direct violations, it is widely assumed that many situations in which violations occurred were the result of one party luring another party into human rights violations in order to later use these violations to condemn the other party. In fact, this use of the human being in the conflict as a means of entangling opponents is a crime against humanity for which the perpetrator bears full responsibility.

War As a Setting for Violations

Yemen had a fragile human rights situation with numerous abuses that affected civilians even before the war. But the conflict that started in late 2014 made it possible to document a startling number of violations, ranking Yemen as one of the world's most unsafe places to live. Because of the war, which has been raging for around 8 years and cost 100,000 lives since 2015, Yemen has become the world's worst humanitarian disaster, according to the United Nations, this is a hazardous indicator of the danger that confronts the citizens of this nation. [1]

Human rights violations in Yemen cover almost all human rights fields, beginning with the right to life and ending with the right to safe drinking water and there is a long list of violations affecting Yemenis, some of which are classified as genocides.

Since the war is the primary cause of these enormous numbers of violations, it can be said that every day the war continues without any significant indications of genuine peace, the number of violations doubles from the day before. The only way to end this war, which harms vulnerable citizens every hour of every day and leaves the majority of them unable to provide for themselves and their children's next meal, is to find a comprehensive solution.

In terms of the disastrous consequences for human rights and the humanitarian situation, wars are not measured or evaluated by the casualties of the warring parties, but rather by the losses in civilian lives and damage to infrastructure, private and public property, particularly those related to humanitarian services for citizens such as hospitals, health and education facilities, roads, electricity, water, the environment, and other services.

Intentional violations of human rights accompany war and rights confiscation, whether done with or without justification. Extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, enforced disappearances, physical torture, house raids, terrorizing civilians in any form, confiscation, vandalism of property, seizure of salaries and livelihoods, or causing the loss of jobs and businesses, or sources of earning and income, are just a few examples of the rights violations that often accompany war.

As well as human rights violations related to freedoms, such as the human right to political, intellectual, or trade union affiliation or any form of affiliation, as well as the right to express an opinion, the right to practice journalism and the media, the right to organize demonstrations and cultural and public events, the right to practice worship, etc. These are some of the rights related to human freedom to do, say, or embrace what he wants, as long as it does not cause conflict with the public interest that is determined by the law. War gave the conflicting parties the opportunity to confiscate or restrict these rights.

The Human Rights Situation in Yemen

There is no denying the dire situation of Yemen's human rights situation, the miserable living conditions of its citizens, and the emergence of numerous authorities, each of which has control over a different region of Yemeni territory and imposes influence over millions of its residents (even those authorities that seem to be one authority, or are supposed to be so, in reality suffer from fragmentation into separate entities).

Additionally, the war has resulted in the emergence to armed organizations and groups that operate independently, much like gangs or organized crime organizations. All of this exacerbates the current political and security situation, with the citizens who choose not to support one of the parties to the conflict as its first casualties.

In light of such a fragmented political and security situation and in the face of such a complex general situation, it is not surprising that Yemenis appear to be living in a jungle that is not governed by any law and where only the law of the jungle prevails, where the strong oppress the weak. Which means there are no human rights except with the approval of a powerful party, as evidenced by the numerous reports on the human rights and humanitarian situation in Yemen, and each year these reports reveal shocking statistics and numbers in this regard.

Furthermore, the announced frightening reports should not be treated as statistics and numbers, but rather as indicators of the grave danger that surrounds the Yemeni people, which necessitates accepting responsibility for the situation and rethinking how human rights activities are carried out in Yemen. Assess the situation from all angles, identifying the problem, the factors influencing it, the reasons for failure to limit violations, as well as the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges. Ultimately, accomplishing the target.

Human Rights Activities and Disappointing Outcomes

With the extension of the war, human rights figures (activists), civil institutions working in the field of human rights, and mechanisms emerged through which human rights activity is practiced; the intended outcome of these developments is to put an end to the violations affecting civilians or, in the worst-case scenario, to mitigate them. However, the number of violations is rising year after year. The statistics are growing, suggesting that these institutions' work ultimately had the opposite effect of what they had hoped for because there was no pressure put on the parties to the conflict to reduce their violations or hold the perpetrators accountable.

Such a result implies that there is a definite imbalance in the mechanisms and methodology of the work of these organizations active in human rights and humanitarian work, or that there are reasons that must be investigated and remedied that led to this weakness and failure to achieve the essential goal of human rights activity, which is to protect civilians and prevent or limit violations that affect them, and then begin to put in place arrangements that guarantee the following:

    • Non-recurrence of violations, especially in the cycle and stages of the conflict.
    • Hold those responsible for the violations accountable and bring them to justice so that they can be punished.
    • Redressing and compensating the victims in accordance with the principle of reparation stipulated in international humanitarian law.

Despite the numerous organizations and institutions working in this area and the horrifying reports they publish every year assessing the human rights situation in Yemen, monitoring and documenting violations, and frequently mentioning the perpetrators by name, none of these three goals have yet been met. This failure, in my opinion, is caused by a number of factors, the most significant of which are:

    • Lack of professionalism in many institutions working in the field of human rights protection.
    • Lack of transparency in work mechanisms, monitoring and documentation of human rights violations.
    • Political and partisan influence on the activity of most organizations.

This activity serves no purpose for the victims themselves; instead of putting an end to violations and giving victims justice, it sometimes aims to draw attention to a particular party's involvement in violations so that it can later be used against it.

To be fair, this applies more accurately to organizations that claim to be neutral, but their work is tainted by many defects, which makes them clearly classified as one of the parties to the conflict, either formally or informally. Nearly all political parties have institutions involved in looking into allegations and human rights cases. What would be the situation with the institutions that are formally connected with the parties to the conflict if the civil organizations that are supposed to be completely biased towards the victims and completely void of any discrimination function in this manner? And what can we anticipate from these organizations in this regard?

This is not to say that there are not independent institutions operating with a sound methodology and open procedures, but they appear to be the least present or least able to cover the entire Yemeni territory for reasons we may not fully understand; perhaps their limited capabilities come on top of them. In addition, the UN and other international organizations are working to monitor violations in Yemen, but so far, they are lagging behind. Apart from a few minor instances, its activity had no noticeable impact. Punitive actions were taken against those responsible, but they fell short and did not have the desired deterrent effect. These actions were limited to imposing sanctions on those in charge of the violations, such as travel ban or the freezing of their financial assets. Practically speaking, these sanctions have no effect on them because they do not travel outside of Yemen, or they find a way to get around sanctions. In reference to This issue does not constitute a crucial element that prevents them from violating human rights.

Neglected Issues from Monitoring and Documentation

Despite Yemen's long history of human rights violation, many issues continue to be beyond the scope of the work of human rights organizations. These neglected issues from monitoring and documentation are categorized as follows for a number of reasons:

The first type: whose owners have no knowledge of the concept of human rights, and the organizations are unable to contact them because there are no field observers in their localities. Additionally, their cases are not reported to the media, and the violations they are subject to go unreported.

The second type: cases in which the owners have been subjected to violations and prefer not to report them in order to accept a settlement with those who violated their rights, which is usually unfair, or out of fear of retaliation if the victim reported the violation and the perpetrator were aware of it.

The Third type: Honor and reputation crimes, specifically rape, are the victims of these violations, and sometimes the victim has been abused at least twice, the first when the rape occurred, and the second by the parents when they learn about it, and if the parents do not turn the victim into a convict, he/she will be subjected to assault and beating, and possibly murder. They may handle the case in a way that does not redress the victim and does not achieve justice that deters the perpetrator, and this falls under covering up the crime, which is considered an additional crime, as well as complicity with the violators, the result of which is the victim's right to justice being neglected.

Influences On Human Rights Work

Work in the field of defending human rights issues in Yemen is affected by several factors that have an impact on its activity, whether in terms of interest and priority or the mechanisms that are used. The most important of these influences are the following:

    • The human rights institutions' interests, as well as the kinds of violations and human rights issues that, in their opinion, should be given priority among the institution's concerns.
    • The institution's affiliation with one or more of the parties to the conflict, which weakens those in charge of it and makes it more difficult for them to act impartially and uphold human rights work rules.
    • The funding of the institution, the factors that influence funding, particularly the political ones, and the agendas, concerns, and priorities that arise from these factors are frequently wholly unrelated to the objective of human rights work.
    • Non-compliance with international standards in monitoring violations, as well as when preparing human rights reports.
    • the lack of legal expertise and ignorance of all cases deemed to be violations among some active individuals working in the human rights area.
    • The failure of human rights activity to bear any fruit so far, which does not motivate society, including the cases holders themselves, to cooperate with organizations and monitors.

Reasons Behind the Weak Impact of Human Rights Work and Its Failure to Put an End to Violations

A number of reasons combine to explain why human rights activism in Yemen has little impact and hasn't been able to stop abuses of human rights. Some of these explanations pertain to the organizations that work in this area, while others relate to parties to the conflict. Additionally, certain causes are a product of the country's overall situation.

Below we review some of these reasons:

    1. The disregard of the parties to the conflict and the lack of respect for human rights, which gives such issues no priority in their policies or decisions.
    2. Failure to hold leaders of human rights violating parties accountable, or a lack of effective pressure on them, which leads to their leniency with their members in cases of violations occurring within their territory.
    3. Failure to prosecute those found guilty of crimes against humanity.
    4. The country's political and security fragmentation, as well as the inability of independent organizations to easily cover the entire Yemeni geography, making movement of observers and human rights activists difficult.
    5. In addition to administrative imbalances and the resulting corruption in the legal system and the Public Prosecution apparatus, judicial divide is a product of political and security divides, the judiciary's lack of independence, and its identification with politics.
    6. The absence of a specific mechanism and binding standards to which all workers in the field of monitoring violations must adhere when compiling human rights reports.

Ethics Of Legal Institutions and Human Rights Activists

As a result of the emergence of more than one case confirming the existence of a deviation in this aspect by some workers in the human rights field, there has been much discussion about the ethics of human rights work and workers in this field, and the discussion in this regard has often focused on specific points, some of which are:

    • Fabricating malicious reports for the sake of political, social, or personal vengeance. Cases were frequently raised, and it was later discovered that they had no credibility. Human rights activists were involved in this incident. This would harm the reputation of human rights work as a whole.
    • Misleading the public, the media, and the relevant authorities about cases involving human rights violations. This deception is done to cover up and divert attention away from the main perpetrator, or to waste the case and forfeiting the victims' right to justice, redress, and compensation.
    • Extortion to obtain illegal personal benefits from human rights activities. These methods were practiced in two ways:
    1. Preparing correct reports and presenting them to the perpetrators of the crimes detailed in the report, and then negotiating with them to pay money in exchange for remaining silent and not mentioning them.
    2. Blackmailing victims and demanding money in exchange for monitoring the violations to which they have been subjected, issuing reports about them, or organizing media campaigns to discuss specific violations.

Proposals for Solution

Because the war has not been officially declared over, and no serious indications of a peace process in Yemen have emerged, it is natural for the human rights situation to deteriorate and retreat, expecting that we will face a worse humanitarian situation. A new list of victims will be added to the previous lists of victims, and in exchange, we will have perpetrators, whether entities or individuals, who are freer and are not subject to justice and accountability, which encourages them to commit more human rights violations. It is therefore unreasonable to continue with the previous work methodology, and it is necessary to consider proposals that include new mechanisms and procedures to be implemented or approved in the human rights field. The following are some of these proposals:

    • Forming a large human rights coalition made up of advocates, attorneys, judges, and organizations working in the field with the goal of taking a moral stand against the abuses occurring in Yemen and exerting pressure on all parties to put a stop to them, hold those responsible accountable, and punish them.
    • Establishing a unified automatic monitoring system connected to the UN will enable anyone to report instances of human rights abuses that take place throughout Yemen. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will then look into the reports' integrity, gather data on the incident, and create a report of it.
    • A special human rights court should be established to hear cases of violations against citizens in all Yemeni regions and decide these cases in accordance with Yemeni law. Cases that are not criminalized by Yemeni law should be decided in accordance with the International Humanitarian Law and the International Criminal Law.
    • Organizing awareness campaigns aimed at raising the level of human rights and legal awareness on two levels:
    1. To fully promote human rights awareness, which is directed at all Yemeni regions' residents of all affinities and groupings. The most at-risk populations should be given special attention, and they should be made aware of their right to report any violations they encounter as well as the channels and methods available to them for doing so.
    2. Raising awareness of the dangers of violations and the penalties that follow. At this level, it focuses on the parties that rule on the ground and form authorities in their areas of influence, as well as the parties that are thought to be more daring to commit violations. carried out or could be carried out and classified as human rights violations. At this level, the focus is on specifying the actions that they are doing or could do that are classified as violations of human rights, as well as defining the risks and legal penalties that result from carrying out such violations, and that they will be subject to accountability and prosecution, which will be a significant impediment in their lives.


Through this blog, I have attempted to throw a stone into the standing waters, by which I mean monotony and acting in a pattern rather than making a change based on the results of years of work in this field. I hope that what is stated in this blog will be accepted and welcomed by those working to reduce violations and abuses of human rights in Yemen. I hope that this blog is understood and that it is enriched by discussion and addition in the best interests of human rights work and the protection of Yemeni people and their rights from any violation.


[1] Institute for Economics and Peace IEP, 2021-2021 Global Peace Index:

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