As the world is celebrating Human Rights Day and 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, we find ourselves facing a great challenge calling for the attention of human rights organizations and feminist unions, nationally and internationally. This challenge is Yemeni women protection, safety, and support.
Since the beginning of 2018, many Yemeni women have been victims of abduction, arrest, forced disappearance, and long-term detention. Abductees’ Mothers Association has monitored 148 cases where women have been abducted by Houthi armed group. 11 of them have been fully documented. Abduction justifications have ranged from protesting to demand better life conditions to opposing Houthis, political affiliation, and traveling between districts. Abducted women have been subjected to verbal abuse and threats of sexual assault. Some of them were victims of physical assault and prevented from contacting their families. Detention periods have varied from hours to months. All these unfortunate incidents have caused the margin of freedom and women’s rights, which Yemeni women had fought to acquire, to grow ever smaller. They also resulted in more disruptions of social peace.
The 30 articles of Universal Declaration of Human Rights state that human rights must be applied and respected. They criminalize arbitrary arrest, forced disappearance, and defamation. Article 5 states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” Article 9. “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation.Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” Article 12. “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Article 13.
Abduction, Detention, and Threats of Physical and Sexual Assault
A.Z.H, a relative to the bride A.A.H, tells her story through her sobs. “I helped my newly wedded cousin and another bride get ready to travel to their husbands in Ma’rib. They were stopped at a Houthi checkpoint and taken to tent near the checkpoint. Their hijab was forcibly taken off. Then Houthis shaved the brides’ hair down to zero.” Houthi officers threatened brides who attempt to travel to Ma’rib with rape and murdering their fathers.
D.M.M, a sixteen-year-old student, tells her story of detention for hours and the threats she faced of imprisonment and rape. “We went to visit my grandfather in Sana’a during the holiday. On our way to Ma’rib, where my father lives after he fled, we were stopped at Al-Jawf checkpoint by Houthi armed group officers. There were six of us; myself, my three little siblings, and two other women. We were travelling in public transport. D.M.M said that the incident took place in May 2019. They were detained from 9am until 12 midnight in burning heat, with no food or water. They were verbally abused and faced with all kinds of threats. After many other travelers intervened to help, they were allowed to continue their way to Ma’rib.
Al-Hudayadah Women Have the Highest Number of Violations
Al-Hudayadah made the top list of women violations numbers committed by Houthi armed group. Madam Fatem and Madam Jabera, as well as three other young girls, were abducted by Houthi armed group, on April 23rd, 2019, as they were headed back from Ma’rib after acquiring Fatem’s passport in order to travel for pilgrimage. Houthis took the two women and three young girls, who accompanied them, to the house of BukairYahyaAraj, which had been turned by Houthis to a detention center. Houthis released the young girls after their families had paid a ransom of 200 thousand Yemeni Rial. Madam Fatem had to go in a hunger strike. She was forced to sign a committing pledge to cut off all means of communication with her son who lives in Ma’rib, and to never travel to Ma’rib again. She was released on May 14th, 2019, after many efforts from the association’s connections.
The activist, Thekra Abdullah, said “I was abducted by Houthi armed men in Al-Hudayadah right outside Red Crescent office on November 22nd, 2018. I was detained at Criminal Investigation Prison. I was held alone in a pitch dark cell with no toilet or ventilation for one day. I was, then, brought for interrogation where I was held at a gunpoint. I was locked up in solidarity confinement for three days. No visits were allowed. Then I was shared a cell with a woman who was repeatedly tortured. I was interrogated five times. The emotional and psychological torture was really severe.” Thekra was released after a month and half of her abduction on February 2nd, 2018.
F.M.A, a forty-year-old woman, tells the story of her detention along with her eight children for 13 days in a house, which had been turned by Houthis to a prison, at Abbs district. They were abducted at a Houthi checkpoint while they were traveling to see her husband in Hairan district in March, 2019. She went through 4 hard interrogations. Her mobile phone was confiscated and visits were prohibited. They were not even provided with drinking water. They were only released after paying a ransom of four thousand Saudi Riyal and five thousand Yemeni Rial. The family was taken back to their home district, Bura’a, where they put under house arrest.
Beating With Batons, Electrocution, and Detention
On October 6th, 2018, dozens of female students from Sana’a University participated in a protest that demanded better life condition, which they called Revolution of Hunger. They had no clue what Houthi armed group had prepared for them. Many of them were arrested and detained, while others managed to escape.
We met with the activists Hajar Al-Sharafi and Azal Ali, and the students J.A.J and R.M.N. Their stories regarding the protest on that day perfectly aligned. They said that they agreed to gather at Sana’a University campus to start their march protesting against the awful living conditions in the country. Some girls were drawn away from the gathering by Houthi female officers who had pretended to be protesters. The officers tied up the girls and dragged them onto a bus that had been prepared to detain protesters. There were about 20 female officers carrying heavy batons and stun sticks. “We were around 35 girls who were degradingly frisked three times and were not allowed to contact our families until the interrogation was over. It was great psychological pressure and worry. They refused my right to a lawyer despite my repeated demands.” J.A.J says.
J.A.J and R.M.N said that they were forced to write down their names and relatives’ numbers and to keep quite. Whoever disobeyed those instruction would have been electrocuted. They were taken into interrogation room one after the other then returned to the same room again. They were forced to sign committing pledges to never protest against living conditions again. Despite releasing many girls that night, some were not granted their freedom until their male relatives were detained in return.
Many women have been abducted from cafes and malls for no justified reason. L.A.G says “I once visited a female prisoner at Central Security Prison. I saw families visiting their detained daughters. A visitor told that her sister had been abducted from Al-Arab Mall and was forcibly hidden for three months. She said that there were more than 250 detained woman in secret prisons. Houthi armed group accuses those women of moral crimes in order to taint their reputation and prevent any support they can possibly have.”