Amnesty International report highlights Houthi mistreatment of abductees

Amnesty International has accused the Houthis of arbitrarily abducting hundreds of journalists, human rights defenders and religious minorities and holding them in solitary confinement and dirty prisons. (File/AFP)
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Updated 27 May 2021

Amnesty International report highlights Houthi mistreatment of abductees

  • UN must “name and shame” Houthis following abuses, rights activist tells Arab News
  • Abductees subjected to beatings and forced confessions under duress

AL-MUKALLA: Amnesty International has accused the Iran-backed Houthi militia of arbitrarily abducting hundreds of journalists, human rights defenders and religious minorities, holding them in solitary confinement and dirty prisons, torturing them and using them as leverage during peace talks.
In a 34-page report released on Thursday, the international rights group said that since early 2015, the Houthis have snatched hundreds of journalists, political opponents and members of the Baha’i religious minority and thrown them into small and unhygienic prisons where they were physically and psychologically tortured. 
The report went on to claim that the prisoners were denied medication and sufficient food and banned from contacting their families. 
The graphic report is based on interviews with 12 former abductees who were released last year following a successful prisoner swap between the Yemeni government and the Houthis. “Detainees lacked adequate access to food, medical care, clean water, sanitation and accommodation. Some were subjected to solitary confinement for 20 days solely for requesting more food from the authorities and going on hunger strike, ” the report said. 
A former abductee told the international organization that the Houthi-run Political Security Office kept him disappeared for five months despite promising to question him for a few hours when he was arrested. 
“When the Political Security Office knocked at my door asking me to go with them for a few hours for a couple of questions, I did not think of saying goodbye to my family. I didn’t know that I would only speak again with them after five months,” the anonymous detainee said, according to the report.
The report highlighted several informal and formal detention facilities controlled by the Houthis such as the Criminal Investigation and Political Security Office, the National Security Bureau and Hasaba police station, Al-Thawra pre-trial detention facility in the capital, Saref Prison in Beni Hashish in Sanaa province and Shamlan prison in Hodeidah.
The rebels harshly beat detainees inside prisons or during investigations to force them to admit to committing crimes such as working with Israel or the Arab coalition. 
A member of the Baha’i community in Yemen said that the Houthi interrogators and security forces beat him with steel rods, an AK-47 rifle and other objects. 
“During the interrogation, they would beat me non-stop until I could no longer scream. Sometimes they would wake me up from my sleep for interrogation. I fainted twice during the interrogation mainly because I was psychologically tired and without any food,” the Baha’i member said.
“We were tortured repeatedly only for asking them for water and food. They used to cut off the electricity at night and keep us in the dark as punishment, they would come in the cell and beat us with cables.”
The Houthis have exploited judicial authorities in areas under their control to punish their opponents through long trials where defendants were left to defend themselves, according to the report.
The interviewed abductees and lawyers described the trials at the Specialized Criminal Court and the Court of Appeals in Sanaa as merely “political theatrics,” claiming that judges snubbed their demands for legal representation. They added that judges neglected to investigate incidents of torture and their confessions being extracted under duress.
Shortly after releasing them following a deal, the Houthis immediately expelled the former detainees from their territories and sent the Baha’is into exile, rejecting appeals from some abductees to visit their families in northern Yemen, the report said. 
“The (Houthi) authorities allowed us to call our families when we reached the airport ... I begged them (the authorities) to allow me to see my father but they didn’t. He is 80 and I won’t be able to see him again. That was the hardest thing in my life, leaving my father behind,” a member of the Baha’i community was quoted as saying.
The rights group has warned the Houthis against using thousands of currently incarcerated political opponents as a bargaining chip in any negotiations with the Yemeni government. 
“With negotiations ongoing, Amnesty International urges the Houthi authorities not to use detainees for political leverage and to immediately release all individuals arbitrarily detained on account of their opinion, expression, political affiliation, and conscientiously held beliefs,” the organization said.
Yemeni human rights activists and officials said the Amnesty International report has confirmed well-known information about human rights abuses committed by the Houthis.
Fatehia Al-Mamarie, director of the provincial office of the Ministry of Human Rights in the western province of Hodeidah, demanded the international community and the UN name and shame the Houthis and pressure them to release detainees. 
“This is a positive step toward exposing the Houthi crimes and displaying its true image to the international community,” Al-Mamarie told Arab News on Thursday.

Houthi court sentences Yemeni women’s rights activist to death

Updated 13 sec ago

Houthi court sentences Yemeni women’s rights activist to death

  • Sanaa court sentenced Fatema Saleh Mohammed Al-Arwali, an activist and head of the Yemeni branch of the Arab League’s Arab Women Leadership Council, to death for gathering military intelligence
  • Yemeni officials, as well as local and international rights organizations and activists, severely denounced the death sentence and urged the militia to release Al-Arwali

AL-MUKALLA: A court in Houthi-held Sanaa on Tuesday condemned a women’s rights rights activist to death for spying, sparking an uproar in Yemen and abroad against the Iran-backed militia.

Abdul Majeed Sabra, a Yemeni lawyer, told Arab News that the Specialized Criminal Court of First Instance in Sanaa sentenced Fatema Saleh Mohammed Al-Arwali, an activist and head of the Yemeni branch of the Arab League’s Arab Women Leadership Council, to death for gathering military intelligence and sending key Houthi locations to the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen to be bombed.

The militia had kidnapped Al-Arwali while she was traveling to the southern city of Aden from Houthi-controlled Taiz. She was abducted and family requests to know her whereabouts were ignored.

The Houthis put Al-Arwali on trial early this year, but barred her from receiving legal representation.

Yemeni officials, as well as local and international rights organizations and activists, severely denounced the death sentence and urged the militia to release Al-Arwali and end its harassment of activists.

Dozens of Yemeni activists, lawyers and academics signed an online petition demanding that the Houthis release the activist, adding that her lawyer was barred from the courtroom during the first trial session and Al-Arwali was condemned to a lightless underground detention facility for almost a year.

“We urge that the death sentence imposed on her be overturned. We urge human rights and civil society groups to unite in opposition to this unfair sentencing that undermines justice,” the Yemeni activists said in the petition.

Amnesty International and the Geneva-based SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties also released separate statements criticizing the death sentence and urging the Houthis to free Al-Arwali.

“Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases, without exception, and calls on the Houthis to immediately quash Al-Arwali’s death sentence and ensure she promptly receives a fair trial in line with international standards or is immediately released,” the organization said on X.

Israel, Hamas must ‘de-escalate, allow humanitarians to operate,’ ICRC DG Robert Mardini tells Arab News

Updated 36 min 57 sec ago

Israel, Hamas must ‘de-escalate, allow humanitarians to operate,’ ICRC DG Robert Mardini tells Arab News

  • Senior official of International Committee of the Red Cross doubles down on calls to warring sides to respect Geneva Conventions
  • Expresses gratitude for strong Saudi support in Gaza and Sudan, wants humanitarian partnership to climb new heights

RIYADH: Despite the daily efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross to “step up, to scale up, to send more people on the ground in Gaza,” humanitarians “can only do so much,” according to Robert Mardini, the ICRC’s director general.

He made the comment in the course of an interview on Tuesday with Arab News in Riyadh, where he held a meeting with officials from the Saudi aid agency KSrelief.

“We cannot cope with this magnitude of needs and we want the parties in the conflict, the Israeli side and the Hamas side, to de-escalate and to create the conditions for humanitarians to be able to operate at the level that is required,” Mardini said.

He added that the current level and intensity of fighting in Gaza makes humanitarians’ ability to operate at the levels required “impossible.”

He said: “No meaningful humanitarian response is possible under the current circumstances. This is why we have to, in parallel to doing everything we can to step up the humanitarian response, double down on repeating and reiterating our calls to the parties in the conflict to respect their obligations under the rules of war, the Geneva Conventions.”

Mardini made it clear that as humanitarians, the ICRC will continue to push the limits of the possible to “make a difference for the people in Gaza.”

But while efforts will continue, Mardini said the ICRC can only do so much, “and the responsibility lies within the parties in the conflict.”

He added: “They have the obligations under the Geneva Conventions to protect civilians, to do everything they can to protect civilians, and to de-escalate the conflict; to ensure that there are regular humanitarian pauses to allow humanitarian supplies to get into the Gaza Strip; and to allow humanitarian workers to be able to deliver much-needed humanitarian support to the people in Gaza, and also to give respite to the civilian population, who are living in disastrous conditions, in constant fear of violent death.”

Mardini has no doubt about the immediate requirements: A de-escalation of the conflict, regular humanitarian pauses, and better conditions for civilians.

He said all people in Gaza today were traumatized by what is happening.

Palestinians wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip arrive at a hospital in Rafah. (AP)

When asked about what needs to take place to alleviate the suffering of people in Gaza, he said that humanitarian goods were critical.

“Even before the conflict started on Oct. 7, on average 400 to 500 or 600 trucks a day were getting into the Gaza Strip at the time where it was more or less normal life,” Mardini said.

Now, after nearly two months of fighting, “people (are) being torn apart with thousands killed, tens of thousands severely injured,” and the needs of the region are much greater.

He added: “So, definitely, 200 trucks, which was the maximum reach during the seven-day truce, is only a small fragment, and it’s a drop in an ocean of needs. Trucks alone will not save the people of Gaza.

“What the people of Gaza need now is going back to a normal life, is more respite, is the de-escalation of the conflict. And it’s a political solution that is needed to avoid additional loss of life, and desperation and despair.”

Mardini stressed that although the ICRC is currently trying to receive reasonable security guarantees, “it’s very tough because today, really nowhere is safe in Gaza.”

He said: “Our own teams were in the line of fire. The teams of the Palestine Red Crescent Society were also caught in the line of fire. Many other humanitarians from UNWRA, MSF, also lost their lives in the line of duty.”

Mardini underlined the gravity of the humanitarian situation, adding that the ICRC has a full surgical team working in the European Hospital of Gaza with Palestinian doctors and nurses.

He said: “The testimonies they are giving us are terrifying and horrifying, you know. The sheer number of mass casualties is totally unprecedented.”

Robert Mardini, director-general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, being interviewed by Arab News Assistant Editor-in Chief Noor Nugali. (AN Photo/Abdulrhman Bin Alshuhub)

According to the Hamas-run government media office in Gaza, fighting has claimed more than 16,000 lives since the start of the war. While a humanitarian pause was reached on Nov. 24, it ended on Dec. 1, with Israeli forces resuming combat operations.

Mardini said: “The resumption of the fighting in the Gaza Strip is taking its toll on the civilian population, which has been through impossible hardship over the past almost two months.”

Mardini described the testimonies he has heard from ICRC colleagues on the ground in the Gaza Strip operating in a hospital and supporting the Palestine Red Crescent Society volunteers as “horrendous.”

He added: “People are living in difficult circumstances. The families have been separated. Thousands are getting into hospitals.”

He said that hospitals were so overcrowded with the sick, injured, and those seeking shelter that treatment had become difficult. He added that such overcrowding, complicated by shortages of water and medicine, may lead to the spread of disease.

“Doctors are facing impossible choices of who to save, who will make it, who won’t be able to make it, because of the very limited medical supplies, the lack of fuel,” he said.

He added that civilians were in areas, “the so-called safe zones,” adding that “(they) are not really safe, because there are no safe places in the Gaza Strip today.”

Commenting on his meeting with Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, KSrelief’s supervisor general, during which they discussed the situation in Gaza, he said: “The King Salman Center is a very solid partner of ICRC.

“We have discussed ways and means to step up the humanitarian response. I expressed also our gratitude at ICRC for the very strong support of the King Salman Center, which has recently contributed through funding for our humanitarian endeavors in the Gaza Strip, as it did several months ago to our work in Sudan.”

When asked about the application of the law of armed conflict, which was put in place to set the conduct of military operations and provide protection for the victims of conflict, Mardini asserted that “the law of armed conflict actually works.”

He said: “We have a demonstration of this every day. Every day, an ICRC surgeon is able to save a life.

Commenting on his meeting with Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, KSrelief’s supervisor general, Mardini, right, said: “I expressed also our gratitude at ICRC for the very strong support of the King Salman Center, which has recently contributed through funding for our humanitarian endeavors in the Gaza Strip.” (Supplied)

“Every day, a Palestine Red Crescent volunteer is able to evacuate the severely injured from our hospital to the other. Every day. And we have seen this over the past seven days. The ICRC managed to facilitate the release of hostages in Gaza and Palestinian detainees in Israel to their families in Ramallah.

“These are the laws of war in action. These are the laws of war working.”

Elaborating on the point, he said that when the law of armed conflict works, it “prevents harm from happening in the first place … The laws of war are the ultimate safety net to uphold dignity in war. They should be supported; they should be respected by parties in the conflict.”

Discussing the role of the ICRC in aiding hostage situations, he described the agency as a “neutral intermediary.”

He said: “The ICRC has a dialogue with all sides of the conflict. And when the hostages were taken, we did three things. We first called for their immediate release, because civilian hostages should not be taken in armed conflict.”

He went on to add that the ICRC checked the health status of hostages and ensured they were able to communicate with their families.

He said: “I have to hope that the two parties will continue to negotiate for further releases of hostages and Palestinian detainees. And we are certainly ready to renew these types of operations, of course, provided the conditions are acceptable for the safety of hostages and detainees, and our own staff.”

He added: “We need to keep hope alive. I think it’s important civilians, on both sides of this front line, still have hope. And they deserve better conditions than they have today.”

US finds both sides in Sudan conflict have committed atrocities in Darfur

Updated 34 min 26 sec ago

US finds both sides in Sudan conflict have committed atrocities in Darfur

  • Fighting that began in Khartoum earlier this year has descended into ethnic violence in recent weeks

WASHINGTON D.C.: The Biden administration said Wednesday it has determined that both sides in the ongoing conflict in Sudan have committed atrocities in the African nation's western region of Darfur and elsewhere, saying the fighting “has caused grievous human suffering.”
The State Department said the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces are responsible for either war crimes or crimes against humanity, or both, in Darfur, where fighting that began in the capital earlier this year has descended into ethnic violence in recent weeks.
“Based on the State Department’s careful analysis of the law and available facts, I have determined that members of the SAF and the RSF have committed war crimes in Sudan,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “I have also determined that members of the RSF and allied militias have committed crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.”
The finding does not include sanctions being imposed on leaders or members of either side but creates the authority for the US to impose them.
“This determination provides force and renewed urgency to African and international efforts to end the violence, address the humanitarian and human rights crisis, and work towards meaningful justice for victims and the affected communities that ends decades of impunity,” Blinken said. “Today’s determination does not preclude the possibility of future determinations as additional information about the parties’ actions becomes available.”
The Biden administration has already imposed sanctions on RSF and Sudanese army officials for their actions in other parts of the country, including Khartoum, the capital.
On Monday, the administration imposed sanctions on three Sudanese men accused of undermining “peace, security and stability.” Those sanctions freeze all property and assets held by Taha Osman Ahmed al-Hussein, Salah Abdallah Mohamed Salah and Mohamed Etta al-Moula Abbas in US jurisdictions.
All three held senior government positions under former autocratic President Omar al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan for 30 years. They were forced out of public office after al-Bashir was toppled in a popular uprising in 2019.
The sanctions were the latest the US has imposed on Sudanese leaders and companies in recent months.
In September, the US imposed sanctions on Abdel-Rahim Hamdan Dagalo — brother of the RSF leader — for alleged acts of violence and human rights abuses committed by the paramilitary.
In June, the US placed sanctions on four key companies either linked to or owned by the army and the RSF. In addition, it put visa restrictions on officials from both Sudanese sides, as well as other leaders affiliated with al-Bashir, but didn’t specify who was affected.
Sudan plunged into chaos in April when long-simmering tensions between the military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the Rapid Support Force paramilitary commanded by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo escalated into open warfare.
The conflict had killed up to 9,000 people by October, according to the United Nations. However, activists and doctors groups say the real figure is far higher.
In Darfur, which was the site of a genocidal campaign in the early 2000s, the conflict has morphed into ethnic violence, with the RSF and allied Arab militias attacking ethnic African groups, according to rights groups and the UN.

Lebanon complains to Security Council about Israel’s targeting of Lebanese army

Updated 06 December 2023

Lebanon complains to Security Council about Israel’s targeting of Lebanese army

  • French foreign ministry calls on ‘all parties to exercise maximum restraint to prevent the outbreak of regional conflict’
  • FM Abdallah Bou Habib said that he ‘instructed the Lebanese mission to the UN to submit a complaint against Israel in response to the targeting of the Lebanese army’

BEIRUT: Israeli bombing of a residential building in the Lebanese border town of Mays Al-Jabal has killed one person and injured two others.

Following a night of violence, the public square in Mays Al-Jabal resembled a war zone. The town and its surroundings were relentlessly bombarded for hours, extending well into the night. The vicinity of Mays Al-Jabal Hospital experienced intense artillery shelling. The Israeli army used artillery and internationally prohibited phosphorus shells.

From Tuesday evening to Wednesday morning, Hezbollah launched 14 military operations against Israeli military sites. The actions were in response to an Israeli airstrike that resulted in the death of a Lebanese army soldier and the injury of three others at an army center in the Al-Adisa border area.

The French foreign ministry expressed its regret on Wednesday over the Israeli strike that claimed the life of a Lebanese soldier. It stressed “the need for all parties to exercise maximum restraint to prevent the outbreak of a regional conflict.”

Lebanese caretaker foreign minister, Abdallah Bou Habib, said that he “instructed the Lebanese mission to the United Nations to submit a new complaint to the Security Council against Israel in response to Israel’s targeting of the Lebanese army, which caused the martyrdom of a soldier and the injury of others.”

In the complaint, Bou Habib stated that “Israel is actively violating Lebanon’s sovereignty and attacking it on land, sea and air while refraining from implementing international resolutions, especially Resolution 425.”

UNIFIL forces warned of “the rapid increase in violence on the Lebanese-Israeli border, which could lead to serious consequences for people on both sides of the Blue Border Line.”

After Israel targeted a Lebanese army post, UNIFIL said in a statement: “This is the first time that a Lebanese soldier has been killed during this critical period. The Lebanese army did not engage in the conflict with Israel.”

Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee claimed that “a threat was detected from inside a Hezbollah reconnaissance complex and the firing of shells near the Nabi Aweida-Al-Adisa area on the Lebanese border.” He added that “members of the Lebanese army were not the targets of the Israeli raid.”

Adraee expressed “the Israeli army’s regret for the incident,” and claimed that the army was “investigating the circumstances.”

Hostilities between the Israeli army and Hezbollah continued at a low level but remained confined to a geographical border area. According to Israeli Channel 12, the missile fire that was launched from Lebanon hit “an Israeli army position in Mount Hermon.”

In the morning, the Israeli army attacked a house in the town of Aita Al-Shaab. Three shells were fired from a Merkava tank from the Pranit barracks. No casualties reported. The same house had been bombed previously.

The Israeli artillery targeted the outskirts of Yaroun and Maroun Al-Ras, as well as the towns of Khiam, Fardis, Rashaya Al-Fukhar, Helta Farm, the outskirts of Kfar Shuba, and Al-Salamia Farm on the outskirts of Al-Mari village in Hasbaya District. The areas surrounding the towns of Tayr Harfa and Shehine were also subjected to artillery shelling.

Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari said that “military drones bombed the headquarters of Hezbollah’s operations command and infrastructure.”

Hezbollah announced that it had targeted “an Israeli radar site and investigated direct hits.” ‏

Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rai is scheduled to visit Christian towns in the border region on Thursday.

During their monthly meeting on Wednesday, the Maronite bishops expressed their “deep sadness regarding the ongoing war in Gaza, with its terrible tragedies and horrific calamities.”

The bishops denounced “opening new fronts in southern Lebanon by any Palestinian faction because it is a violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty as an independent state.”

They affirmed their adherence to the principle that “the decision on war and peace must be in the hands of the Lebanese state alone because of its repercussions on the entire Lebanese people.”

Egypt condemns Israel’s decision to build new settlement in East Jerusalem

Updated 06 December 2023

Egypt condemns Israel’s decision to build new settlement in East Jerusalem

  • First settlement plan to be fully approved by the Israeli government since 2012
  • About 700,000 Israeli settlers are living in 164 settlements and 116 outposts in the occupied West Bank

CAIRO: Egypt has condemned Israel’s decision to build a new settlement in occupied East Jerusalem.

According to left-wing Israeli organization Ir Amim, which monitors the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in Jerusalem, it is the first settlement plan to be fully approved by the Israeli government since 2012.

In a statement, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry called the move “a new blatant violation of international decisions and the UN Security Council resolutions regarding the illegitimacy of Israeli settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

The ministry stressed Egypt’s categorical rejection of the Israeli settlement policies in the entire occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, and its repeated attempts to undermine the existing legal, historical, and demographic context in an effort to separate parts of the land from its Palestinian surroundings.

It demanded that Israel halt its illegal settlement activities.

The statement reiterated Egypt’s call to influential international parties, including the UN and its relevant bodies, to shoulder their responsibilities in protecting the rights of the Palestinian people and to halt unilateral Israeli settlement operations that undermine the foundations of peace.

The statement stressed the need for Israel to stop exploiting the world’s preoccupation with the war it is waging against the Palestinian people in Gaza to intensify its illegal practices in the West Bank, including settlement activities.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980 in a move never recognized by the international community.

About 700,000 Israeli settlers are living in 164 settlements and 116 outposts in the occupied West Bank, adjacent to East Jerusalem.