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Rights group accuses Houthis of torturing detainees in Yemen

By Sheetal Sukhija, Cairo News
26 Sep 2018, 19:58 GMT+10

SANAA, Yemen - Accusing Iran-backed Shiite rebels, the Houthis of committing serious abuses in Yemen, an international watchdog has revealed documented cases in a new report.

Yemen has been facing a crisis since the 2011 mass protests that ended the then president Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule.

Subsequently, Abdrabu Mansur Hadi was handed power as Yemen's new president through a Saudi-brokered transition.

But Hadi did not remain in the position for long, as he was driven out of the country by the Houthis, a group of Iran-backed Shiite rebels.

Since then, the Iran-aligned rebels have controlled the capital city of Sanaa and most of Yemen’s populated areas.

In 2015, an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia intervened in the way after Hadi sought military support from Arab Gulf countries.

A vicious war has been raging between Houthis and the Arab coalition since then, as the rebels battle to protect the land they have claimed and the coalition tries to unseat the group and reinstate the internationally recognized government of Hadi, who remains in exile. 

Houthi abuse and torture exposed

On Tuesday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch released an explosive report, which contained documented cases of the abuse and torture meted out by the Houthi rebels in the country. 

The international watchdog announced in a statement that it had documented 16 cases in which Houthi authorities held people unlawfully, in a bid to extort money from their families and to exchange them for prisoners held by opposing forces.

Accusing the Shiite rebels of committing abuses including hostage-taking, torture and enforced disappearances of people they hold in detention, the rights group revealed the cases in its report. 

Urging the rebels to put an end to the abuses, the report pointed out, "Houthi officials have treated detainees brutally, often rising to the level of torture."

Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director, said in the report, "The Houthis have added profiteering to their long list of abuses and offenses against the people under their control in Yemen. Some Houthi officials are exploiting their power to turn a profit through detention, torture, and murder."

According to the report, former detainees had revealed that Houthi officers beat them and guards whipped prisoners and even threatened to rape them or their family members.

Further, the report quoted a woman whose husband was reportedly arrested by unidentified men in late 2015.

The women said that he was held at a Houthi-controlled Political Security Office in the rebel-held capital, Sanaa.

The office is believed to be a notorious intelligence agency.

The report quoted the woman as saying, "I spoke to many Houthis leaders ... but they do nothing."

She also revealed that she has paid Houthi officials about 1.5 million Yemeni riyals, or around $6,000, over the last three years, but her husband remains detained.

The report by HRW quoted another case and said that the detainee had disappeared in northern Hajjah province while looking for a job in 2016.

HRW claimed in the report that the man was released from Houthi detention a month later and only after his family paid 100,000 riyals, around $400.

In a more shocking claim, the HRW said that government forces from the United Arab Emirates, forces loyal to the U.A.E., and Yemeni government have also arbitrarily detained, tortured and forcibly disappeared scores of people in the Yemeni conflict.

In the report, John Fisher, HRW's Geneva director said, "The UN Human Rights Council should act to ensure that abuses against Yemeni civilians get continued international scrutiny and that steps are taken to hold violators accountable."

Before releasing the report, the HRW reportedly urged the UN Human Rights Council to renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen that investigates human rights violations in the country.

The report comes nearly a month after UN-backed "eminent experts" said that the governments of Yemen, the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia may have been responsible for war crimes. 

Further, the expert group had specifically pointed to possible war crimes by the Houthis.

The HRW report released on Tuesday has, however, stated that parties on both sides of Yemen's conflict are committing laws-of-war violations and human rights abuses with impunity.

Meanwhile, apart from the Houthis, parts of the country are also held by Al Qaeda and ISIS, which is another constant threat to civilians.

According to UN figures, at least 10,000 people have died and over 2 million have been displaced in the war in Yemen, which has left one of the world's poorest country more impoverished than ever.

The war in Yemen has been named as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

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