Yemen HR record remained poor in 2004, US report says [Archives:2005/821/Front Page]

March 3 2005

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
The US government report on Yemen confirmed that the Government's human rights record remained poor in 2004.

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2004 released by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor on February 28, 2005 said, “The Government continued to commit numerous abuses. There were limitations on citizens' ability to change their government. Security forces arbitrarily continued to arrest, detain, and torture people. In many cases, the Government failed to hold members of the security forces accountable for abuses, although the number of officials in the PSO and MOI police forces tried for abuses increased for a second consecutive year. Prison conditions remained poor, although the Government took some steps to alleviate the situation. Despite constitutional constraints, PSO and MOI police officers routinely monitored citizens activities, searched their homes, detained citizens for questioning, and mistreated detainees. Prolonged pretrial detention, judicial corruption, and executive interference undermined due process. During the year, there was a marked increase in limits on freedom of speech and of the press. The Government increased its harassment of journalists. The Government imposed some limits on freedom of movement”.

It said that the Yemeni government did not respect the freedom of speech and of the press which the Constitution provides. “The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press “within the limits of the law”; however, the Government did not respect these rights in practice. The country's security apparatus, including the newly formed NSB, often threatened and harassed journalists to influence press coverage. Although most citizens were uninhibited in their private discussions of domestic and foreign policies, they generally were cautious in public, fearing harassment for criticism of the Government. The 1990 Press and Publication Law criminalize “the criticism of the person of the head of state… [that] does not necessarily apply to constructive criticism,” the publication of “false information” that may spread “chaos and confusion in the country,” and “false stories intended to damage Arab and friendly countries or their relations” with the country,” the report said.

“The Ministry of Information influenced the media through its control of printing presses, subsidies to certain newspapers, and its ownership of the country's sole television and radio outlets. Few newspapers own their own presses. There are 6 government-controlled, 19 independent, and 14 party affiliated newspapers. There are approximately 80 magazines of which 50 percent are private, 30 percent are government-controlled, and 20 percent are party affiliated. The Government selected the items to be covered in news broadcasts, and it often did not permit broadcasts critical of the Government. The Government televised parliamentary debates, but edited them selectively to remove criticism,” it added.

It also said that “violence and discrimination against women remained a problem. There was some discrimination against persons with disabilities and against religious, racial, and ethnic minorities. Child labor remained a common problem. The Government imposed restrictions on labor unions.”

Concerning torture and other inhuman treatment the report said, “There were reports that members of the PSO and MOI police forces tortured and abused persons in detention. There were also reports that authorities used force during interrogations, especially against those arrested for violent crimes,” despite that, the Constitution prohibits such practices.

“The Government acknowledged publicly that torture occurred; however, it claimed that torture was not an official policy. Most observers reported that both the instances and severity of torture in PSO and of the Ministry of Interior prisons have declined; however, there were reports the PSO increased its use of nonphysical indicator abuse such as sleep deprivation, cold water, and threats of sexual assaults. There were reports that the CID routinely used torture in order to obtain confessions,” it pointed out.

The report, which is issued, on a regular basis every years gave some reasons for this practice.

“Illiteracy, lack of training among police, PSO and MOI forces, corruption, and pressure from superiors to produce convictions also played a role in the undue use of force. The immunity of all public employees from prosecution for crimes allegedly committed while on duty hindered accountability. The Government has taken some effective steps to end torture and to punish those who commit such abuses. In 1998, the use of leg irons and shackles in confinement was outlawed. This was adhered to in most MOI-run prisons in the past year,” it said.

However, the report stressed that some measures have started to be taken against perpetrators of such practices.

“During the year, approximately 54 police officials were disciplined or tried for abuses. All received sentences ranging from 20 days to more than 10 years imprisonment for physical attacks during investigations, shootings, accidental and intentional killings, fraud, and extortion. Seven members of the police force in Taiz were undergoing trial for the severe torture of a juvenile murder suspect in 2002. The case was suspended in October after the defendants failed to appear for court. At year's end, the defendants remained at large, and there was further action in the case,” it said. It confirmed that there were no reports of amputations or floggings during the year despite the fact that the “Constitution may be interpreted as permitting amputations, in accordance with Shari'a (Islamic law), and physical punishment such as flogging for some crimes.”

The report described the prison conditions in Yemen prisons as poor. “The prison conditions were poor and did not meet internationally recognized standards, and the Government permitted limited visits by independent human rights observers. The Government allowed limited access to detention facilities by parliamentarians and some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs),” it pointed out.

“Prisons were extremely overcrowded, sanitary conditions were poor, and food and health care were inadequate to nonexistent. Prison authorities often exacted bribes from prisoners to obtain privileges, or refused to release prisoners who completed their sentences until family members paid a bribe. In some cases, authorities arrested without charge and held refugees, persons with mental disabilities, and illegal immigrants in prisons with common criminals,” it added.

The same thing was reported in women prisons. “Women were held separately from men, and conditions were equally poor in women's prisons. By custom, young children and babies born in prison were likely to be incarcerated along with their mothers. At times, male police and prison officials subjected female prisoners to sexual harassment and violent interrogation. Local tradition requires male relatives of female prisoners to arrange their release; however, female prisoners regularly were held in jail past the expiration of their sentences because their male relatives refused to authorize their release due to the shame associated with their alleged behavior. Security and political prisoners generally were also held in separate facilities operated by the PSO,” the report illustrated.

The report said that unauthorized private prisons do still exist. “Unauthorized “private” prisons, in rural areas controlled by tribes, remained a problem. Tribal leaders misused the prison system by placing “problem” tribesmen in “private” jails, either to punish them for noncriminal indiscretions or to protect them from retaliation. At times, such prisons were simply rooms in a tribal sheikh's house. Persons detained in such prisons often were held for strictly personal or tribal reasons, and without trial or sentencing. Although senior officials did not sanction these prisons, there were credible reports of the existence of private prisons in government installations. During the year, modest efforts by the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Human Rights continued to implement directives intended to align the country's arrest, interrogation, and detention procedures more closely with international standards,” it said.

With respect to arbitrary arrest the report said “the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the Government generally did not observe these prohibitions. Enforcement of the law was irregular and in some cases nonexistent, particularly in cases involving security offenses. The CID reports to the Ministry of Interior and conducts most criminal investigations and arrests. The CSO, also a part of the Ministry of Interior, maintains a paramilitary force. Corruption was a problem. There was no official government response to or investigations of police corruption during the year.”

“There were reports that some police stations maintained an “Internal Affairs” section commissioned to investigate abuses, and that any citizen has the right to raise an abuse case with the Prosecutor's office commissioned to investigate cases. Enforcement of the law and effective investigations were irregular due to weak government power in tribal areas and lack of resources. Fifty-four police officials were prosecuted for abuses,” it further elaborated.

It also said that most judicial reform has been made, describing the trials of the al-Qaeda militants on charges of the USS Cole and Limburg bombings as “fair”.

“The Government continued modest judicial reform efforts. During the year, the Ministry of Justice conducted conferences around the country to strengthen the reform process. Some improvements included an increase in judges' salaries, an increase in the Ministry's budget, participation of judges in workshops, and study tours conducted by foreign judicial officials,” it said, adding, “There were no reports of prosecutors being dismissed for violating the law. The security services continued to arrest, charge, and submit cases to the prosecutor's office to try persons alleged to be linked to various shootings, explosions, and other acts of violence. Citizens and human rights groups alleged that the security forces and judiciary did not observe due process in most cases.”