Arms in Yemen (Part I of II):A source of pride or instability [Archives:2003/634/Last Page]

May 5 2003

BY Ezzeddine Saeed Al-Asbahi, Chairman
Human Rights Information and Training Center
[email protected]

Visitors to Yemen are shocked to see a wide-spread of small arms and light weapons, particularly in the rural areas, as arms in Yemen are part of the national character, and it is linked to the norms and traditions, more than being means of violence and killing.
Arms spread among various social groups, even among university students, it is very common to see arms during various festivals and occasions – newly wedded youth are very keen to get their pictures snapped while carrying their RK47!
Arms are means of expression in Yemen as well. Gunshots are used to express joy, anger or to welcome guests. In weddings also the barrage of bullets is an expression of happiness. Gunshots are also use to call others and convey certain messages instead of loudspeaker; for instance if a car passed by, one shot could stop it, two is a warning, more shots mean that there is an attack Arms in Yemen are a source of pride; they determine the social status.. Before going into deep details I would like to define the term of arms in this paper.

Definition of Arms:
When talking about arms we strictly refer to the firearms and explosives, not daggers and swords, as all Yemeni deals with daggers as social heritage, so the dagger (Djanbia) will not come under the term arms.
Yemeni law defines weapons as: (every personal firearms whatsoever and every part it or piece of its spare parts and it includes rifles, machine guns, revolvers/pistols and it guns) article (1) provision (5) of Yemeni Arms Regulating code.
From this definition we came to know that arms meant are the firearms, either rifles or machine guns or hunting guns, with the emphasis that they are ” personal weapons” those which belong to the citizens, other army or security personnel weapons are not included. Therefore, we talk here about the volume of personal firearms that are outside the frame of the official institutions of the country.

Volume of the arms:
Till date there is no accurate statistic for the number of arms in Yemen and their circulation. The current number of arms is merely press statement but it does represent a documented study to the arms. Yemeni media estimate puts the total small arms and light weapons at 50 million pieces according to various official statements. However, these sources do not claim that they put this figure following a statistical study to the situation, it is merely based on guesstimate.

We can easily doubt this figure by revising the reality. The figure of 50 million pieces of arms means threefold of the Yemen population, and when we examine this figure we can easily notice how exaggeration it is, and when we go back to population census and demographic indicators, we found that Yemen's population according to 1997 census are 16.48 million; 8.23 million males (49.90%) and 50.1% females. Percentage of population below 15 years of age are 48.83%, out of which 50% are males, accordingly we can limit the number of males who can carry weapons at not more than one forth of the population i.e. 4.5 million persons. If we divide the estimated number, 50 million time 4.5 million persons, then every person in Yemen should have more than 12 pieces and it is obviously exaggerated. Taking in consideration that most of urban dwellers do not carry weapons, as the arms mainly available in the rural areas, where law legalizes carrying of arms without prior license. Also we should note that most of the central and southern Yemen's population are not tending to carry arms, and it does not represent any social need or habit for them; this proves the limited geographical circulation of arms, and confirms again that the estimated number of arms requires more accurate study.

Variety of arms:
Although Yemeni laws have legalized the carrying of small firearms only, there is an arsenal of heavy and medium weapons in Yemen, possessed by tribes who are in constant skirmishes with each other. In recent reportage-in April 2001- a journalist describes arms market saying he saw a massive quantity of different weapons piled in the shops, and here I quote ” the arms were displayed randomly, bombs are piled above each other as well as land mines in the ground or wooden shelves. Revolvers and ammunitions and small arms were kept in drawers while machine guns are displayed outside”.

Arms in Yemen are imported from different countries; Russia, USA, Czechia, Brazil, France, UK, Spain and Korea, and price range between $ 50 for pistols to 500 for RK 47 machine-guns.
Now we come to the legal point of view in carrying and circulating of weapons.