Arms in Yemen (Part II of II)A source of pride or instability [Archives:2003/635/Last Page]

May 12 2003

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

The right to carry arms
The Yemeni law does not ban carrying of arms; to the contrary, it considers it as citizens' rights. Article (9) of ARC states that “citizens of Yemen Republic has the right to carry rifles, machine-guns, revolvers and hunting guns, needed for their personal use with a quantity of ammunition for self defense”.
This article gives an absolute right to carry and possess arms. Without any restriction or prior license even the number of arms was not determined, so citizens have the right to carry rifles and machine-guns; just like this undetermined or limited to one piece of arms. Also ammunition quantity is not specified, and thus the quantity is subject to the citizens' understanding, which might see boxes of ammunition “the sought quantity”. It is obvious from the provisions of the law that carrying and possessing of arms is a basic right. Carrying of arms is regulated only in the capital and main cities. Thus, the code is to organize carrying of arms not to prohibit them.
From the title of the code we understand that arms are not prohibited in Yemen, this law came to merely organize carrying of arms not to ban them. These code's objectives were defined as follows: “organizing carrying of personal weapons in the capital of governorates and towns and their trafficking in the Republic” article (3) provision (1).
From the text of the law it is clear that the geographical jurisdiction is limited to the capitals of the governorates and towns, accordingly rural areas were exempted from this law. Furthermore, article (10) of the law elaborated in this regard where it states: “no one is allowed to carry firearms in Sana'a and capitals of the governorates and towns specified by the Minister, unless the obtains a valid license issued by the authorities concerned with licenses”.
So far no decision was made by the Minister to specify towns where arms are banned without license, though the ARC was issued in 30 May 1993, however, we can figure out these towns from the local administration system in Yemen, where there are 20 governorates with capitals, and major cities represent not more than 40%, and according to 1994 census there are 226 districts not more than 25% (of the population).

Impact of arms on human rights
The right to life is the most significant and crucial human right; one can lose his life not only because of dictatorship, but by deliberate killing as well. Here I'm going to link between the phenomenon of crimes in which firearms were used and the circulation of arms as Yemeni traditions. Recent statistics show that 45 thousand crimes were committed with firearms during last four years. 611 homicide crimes were reported in one year, this makes carrying of weapons unwelcome habit.
In another report the number of crimes committed in 1999 reached to 16517, 3877 crimes more than 1998. An official record shows that 1300 homicide crimes committed, 102 tribal wars triggered, 107 kidnapping cases and 155 suicide cases were reported during 1999.
Analyzing above figures we can easily conclude that easy availability and accessibility of arms helped in spread of crimes and violence. Although Yemen's traditions and culture looks into arms as part of character and traditions, not as a tool of violence and killing, it should not be used unless in cases of extreme violence of self-defense or to protect ones honor and retaliate to aggression, yet the escalating number of crimes and tribal wars can be attributed to the availability and circulation of small arms and light weapons, and lack of legal deterrent banning their circulation.

People's stand to carrying of arms
Despite repeated emphasis that arms are part of national character and are related to the heritage and traditions and not a means of violence, nevertheless general public are against carrying of arms. In recent questionnaire conducted on various categories 95 percent supported total elimination of arms, 86 percent of the specimen considered carrying of weapons as uncivilized act, while 83 percent supported carrying of arms under legal conditions.
From these indicators we may emphasis that carrying of arms does not meet that wide acceptance as presumed. However influential groups in the parliament are resisting the approval of new arms bill, and old one (ARC no.40/1992) remains valid, which is lenient and legalize the circulation of arms.

Recommendations to face this phenomenon
To face the carrying of arms phenomenon Yemen needs continuous efforts, rather than a political decision with limited impact. The process encounters legal, cultural and social constrains. Thus we should consider solving these challenges with a real political will.
Legal constrains
– Valid law should be revised, and new legislature should be enacted to clearly prohibit carrying of arms not only organizing its possession. Such legislatures could be implemented gradually starting from major cities and prohibit carrying of arms even among government officials, political and social dignitaries.
– Implement law provisions more strictly, and avoids multiplication of licensing authorities.

Cultural and social constrains
– The concept of national character does not necessarily mean carrying of firearms. Carrying of arms actually is spread out in Yemen during the last four decades due to the wars the country witnessed, during 1962 revolution, 1994, 1986, 1979 and 1972. Therefore spread of arms was due to circumstances of instability and civil wars, which no longer exists.
– To raises public awareness as to the hazard that arms represent, and that they are not a symbol of knighthood or good traditions.
– To raises public awareness towards the risks of circulation of arms, by publicizing the volume of the crimes and tribal wars.
– There should be a strong legal authority capable of enforcing law.
– To encourages regions where they get rid of arms with providing them with development projects.
– The state should perform great efforts to eliminate revenge and tribal wars, which is a major reason for carrying weapons.