Yemen government investigates Houthi torture cases

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

Yemeni prisoners who were held by the Houthis greet officials at the airport in the southern city of Aden on October 16th. [Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP]

Yemeni prisoners who were held by the Houthis greet officials at the airport in the southern city of Aden on October 16th. [Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP]

The torture of prisoners by the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) violates international conventions and brings immense suffering to the families of those who are killed in this way, Yemeni officials told Al-Mashareq.

Yemen's government has accused the Houthis of torturing to death more than 200 prisoners and abductees, including some who were kidnapped from their homes and workplaces.

The government delegation involved in negotiating the prisoner exchange with the Houthis presented the UN special envoy to Yemen with a list of 158 victims who they said had been killed under torture by the Houthis until December 2019.

"The Houthis killed more than 200 prisoners and abductees under torture in their prisons," Deputy Minister of Human Rights Nabil Abdul Hafeez said.

The UN Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights pertain to "anyone who orders, engages in, covers up or participates in torture", he told Al-Mashareq.

Under the Geneva Conventions, Abdul Hafeez said, torture and killing of prisoners are classified as "war crimes that are not subject to the statute of limitations".

"Therefore, the perpetrators can be prosecuted locally or in the International Criminal Court, which accepts even cases brought by individuals," he said.

The Houthis have engaged in the torture of prisoners in order to "spread fear and terror" in the community and among Yemeni forces, he said.

The government is working to ensure justice for the victims' families by "preparing legal case files that will be referred either to the national or international judiciary" in co-operation with UN-affiliated organisations, he said.

Government investigations

The government is investigating cases of death under torture by the Houthis, Deputy Minister of Human Rights Majed Fadhail told Al-Mashareq.

Cases of prisoners and the forcibly disappeared who died under torture in Houthi prisons will be verified through the UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen and the Security Council sanctions team, he said.

"This will allow the perpetrators to be held accountable and brought to justice to receive their just punishment," Fadhail added.

He called on the international community and the UN to seek, in negotiations with the Houthis, to "stop the killing of abductees and prisoners".

Close to 90% of prisoners killed under torture in Houthi prisons were civilians and abductees taken from their homes and workplaces, rights activist and lawyer Abdul Rahman Berman told Al-Mashareq.

The most recent victims were Yemeni army soldiers, he said.

Forcibly disappeared at 'highest risk'

Those who were forcibly disappeared "are at the highest risk of being tortured to death, because their fate is unknown and it is not known by which party, or in which prison they are detained", he said.

This means the perpetrators are "beyond the reach of the law", he said.

"The disastrous consequences are borne by the families of kidnapped and forcibly disappeared persons, especially when they die under torture," he said.

Berman highlighted the government's role in preparing legal case files for each case of murder under torture "as the first step toward bringing these criminals to justice".

These legal case files will be presented to the judiciary, he said.

Separately, the US on Tuesday said it stands with the Yemeni Jewish community in calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Levi Salem Musa Marhabi from a Sanaa prison.

"Marhabi has been wrongfully detained by the Houthi militia for four years, despite a court ordering his release in September 2019," the State Department said in a statement.

"Marhabi is one member of an ever-shrinking community of Yemeni Jews, who have been an important part of Yemen's diverse social fabric for thousands of years. We call on the Houthis to respect religious freedom, stop oppressing Yemen's Jewish population, and immediately release [him]," it said.

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