Lamri Chirouf: “Torture remains a major concern.” [Archives:1998/40/Law & Diplomacy]

October 5 1998

Mr. Lamri Chirouf is a researcher at Amnesty International Secretariat in London. Last week, he headed a delegation on a fact-finding mission to Yemen. The delegation include Ms. Elizabeth Mottershaw, a researcher at the Middle East Department at Amnesty International. Along with the Amnesty couple also came a film director/producer, and a cameraman.
Dr. Salah Haddash, Yemen Times Managing Editor, talked to the Amnesty team and filed the following interview.
Q: What is the purpose of your visit?
A: The visit has four purposes.
1. We have met with our colleagues in Aden and in Sanaa to see what activities they are preparing for the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We brought them documentation which has been produced by the International Secretariat. We also reviewed the activities they have been carrying so far.
2. Then we came to see how the human rights situation in Yemen is today compared to July 1996 when we had a high level delegation that met with ministers and other government officials.
3. As you notice, we are also shooting a film documenting the cooperation of Amnesty International with local partners worldwide.
4. Finally, we have a book we call “The Big Book” in which we are collecting signatures for the Secretary General of Amnesty International. He will hand all these books on the 10th of December to the Secretary General of the UN. The signatures basically pledge to abide by the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As you may know, in Africa, Nelson Mandella was the first president to sign this book. In the Middle East Yasser Arafat was the first one to sign.
Q: Is anybody from Yemen going to sign this book?
A: I have asked if the Prime Minister would like to sign. I don’t know whether he would have the time. I was told he is very busy at the moment.
Q: How do you go about your assessment of the human rights situation?
A: We have visited many Yemenis cities, including Sanaa, Aden, Taiz and Mukallah. We have spent time with Yemeni officials, including the Attorney General. We have met with Yemeni opinion mankers as well as people with grievances.
Basically, we are trying to find out if previous undertakings have been honored or not. In 1996, the previous attorney general promised to do a number of things to tackle the issues that were of concern to Amnesty International.
Q: What is your conclusion?
A: Of course, we have to go back to London to go over the information we have collected. But basically we still have quite a few concerns.
Q: Can you specify?
A: Torture remains a major concern in Yemen. Arbitrary political arrests continue. Even while we are here, we have witnessed the arrest of Dr. Al-Murtadha Al-Muhatwari, which is a classic case of prisoner of conscience.
The death penalty is a source of concern, especially after the recent law expanding the scope of capital punishment.
Shackles are still in prevalent use in the country. Prison conditions in general are below what could be expected.
Swift trials, especially in cases where there is public pressure is a problem.
Q: Other observers say that in general human rights conditions in Yemen have improved. Do you agree?
A: I think we have summarized our position in the report published in 1997. That was the result of two years of discussions with the Yemeni authorities and in-depth research visits.
We had submitted in June 1996 the big memorandum with all the cases of concern, and the patterns of human rights violations in the country. The Yemeni Constitution and the Code of Criminal Procedures have incorporated most of the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and all those standards were ratified by Yemen. But implementation is the problem.
We need to work together to solve any problem. The Attorney General then proposed that he would set up a monitoring unit in his office to receive and investigate complaints. I also proposed that he should issue a letter to all arresting authorities particularly the Political Security Office to remind them that Yemeni law does not allow anybody to arrest any one except with a court order.
Q: What have you discussed with the Attorney General?
A: We have discussed past proposals. So we have listened to his plans. We are partner in this effort.

Mr. Jeremy Llewellyn James is a producer director of TV documentaries in England, mostly for the BBC and Channel 4 but also for the Discovery Channel in the United States.
Q: What is the purpose of the film you are shooting?
A: We are making a documentary for the BBC about the work of Amnesty International. It is one of our programs, which will be ready for the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is part of the programs the BBC is doing to commemorate this important occasion.
Q: What have you been filming exactly?
A: The object of the film is to look into areas of Amnesty’s work, not to target individual countries. What we are doing is to show how Amnesty goes out, gets information, campaigns on different countries and then brings that information back to write its reports.
We have been to several countries. We have been to Cambodia, USA and Italy where Amnesty is lobbying for the International Criminal Court.
Q: We understand that you have an Amnesty chapter in Yemen. Could you tell us about Amnesty’s membership in Yemen?
A: We have two groups – a group in Aden and another in Sanaa. We also have some members in Taiz. According to our charter, Yemeni Amnesty members do not do any work on Yemen. They do not campaign on Yemen. That is a rule that applies throughout Amnesty International. So like other groups throughout the world, the Amnesty groups here are campaigning on issues in other countries.
One of the things they are campaigning on is the marking of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are working on collecting signatures. We have several books on which local groups are collecting signatures in support of the Universal Declaration.