Revenge in Yemen: Between the tribal culture and absence of justice and law [Archives:2005/855/Culture]

June 30 2005

Hassan Al-Zaidi
The episodes of revenge and feuds are still being staged in different Yemeni tribes, killing thousands of people most of them whom are innocent. The State is silent and NGOs are not interested in eliminating revenge issues, which find a place in Yemen because of tribal traditional values such as dignity and stigma. What further coaxes the fire of revenge is lawlessness and injustice.

Revenge is initiated by premeditated killing or deaths in tribal fights, that break out from time to time.

As it was said, revenge takes place in retaliation of a previous killing that happened as a culmination of tribal disputes, or it may happen as a response on the part of an individual, group or tribe when they feel they are oppressed or wronged. They ignore the peaceful alternatives and resort to the option of force and violence. Sorrowfully enough, the tribal culture of revenge is blind: the retaliators may kill anyone belonging to their enemy tribe or clan even if they know he is not the killer and that the killer is in custody. Such a culture does not criminalize the murderous act of taking revenge for a relative's blood -brother, father, son, etc.

They violate all conventions and values most primarily the tenets of Islam.

The cases of revenge are still taking place in Yemen, most of which are the result of tribal fights across the country from Hadhramout in the south to Sa'adah in the north.

Examining the present reality of Yemen's tribes, one realizes that tribal violence threaten the majority of this big society's members. This violence oversteps the limits of the family, and place of residence. It, however, spreads out to invade cities, public places, roads, markets, schools and even universities in the center of the Capital City.

Thus, the culture of revenge has expanded personal disagreements into tribal conflicts involving masses of people and killing many lives. A vivid example is what has recently happened in the province of al-Jawf. Some 30 men were shot dead and 27 wounded in one hour for a simple reason of YR 20 thousand.

Revenge, tribal conventions, and law:

Tribal conventions limit the occasions when revenge can operate. These codes also set forth severe punishment for unjustifiable murders as well as revenge during a truce or conciliation. The tribal customs state that a tribe must give up a killer(s) in case there is no justification for the murder.

The absence of law and justice are two major factors behind revenge. Other reasons include the lack of governmental efforts to resolve tribal disputes before they develop into bloodshed or intervene to resolve ongoing fighting. Courts, on the other hand, add insult to injury by delaying the settlement of murder cases. Those who wait for a belated justice get impatient and tend to take their right by themselves.

As tribes have access to arms and means of destruction, under a state of lawlessness and lenient State's controls, innocent people such as women and children pay the price although tribal conventions ensure their safety. The culture of tribe has developed into some sort of social and economic siege struck around the whole members of a tribe.

There is another aspect of the problem related to education. Some students drop out of their school because the school is located in an area where people wants to take revenge. Moreover, revenge disintegrate families and increases the number of divorces.

Figures reveal serious problem:

Referring to the official figures, which quite often are inaccurate in terms of computing the exact number of revenge cases, one can find that revenge victims average 300 persons per year. The total number of deaths over the last two decades exceeded the point of 5000, most of them whom were innocent.

All this happens amidst official and public silence although revenge forms one type of terrorism because it is based on violence and force. It takes killing as a medium for satisfaction and ruining lives. The daily incidents in Yemeni cities, markets, schools universities and even courts necessitate that we should stand against revenge in Yemen as seriously and determinedly as we fight terrorism. Violence is the same whatever labeled, terrorism or revenge.

The State should do its duty to limit such incidents and help replace the culture of revenge with another fruitful culture through establishing justice, security and stability for the whole society. NGOs and political parties, mosques and media means should play their role for the same end. The whole society should mobilize its capacities to combat the monster of revenge. It is not enough to call for a general reconciliation as it happened. However, what should be done is multi-fold requiring the consideration of all factors. Reconciliation is the beginning; the end should see revenge razed. But, there are many steps between the beginning and the end.