During nearly a decade of grinding civil war in Yemen, nonstate armed groups and hybrid actors have proliferated on all sides of the conflict. Members of some armed groups have committed violations against civilians, including arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, torture, land grabbing, extortion, and gender-based violence.
With the war in Yemen so fragmented, curbing these abuses can seem like an impossible task—there’s no central command, and armed groups can be unpredictable. Their command structures are highly variable, and they often don’t respond to traditional peacebuilding efforts, which focus on the state.
But research shows that international donors and others have been able to influence militia behavior for the better. In particular, donors and international military backers can reduce the scope and scale of human rights violations by armed groups that depend on international and bilateral foreign support.
This report, based on dozens of interviews in Yemen, argues that even in the country’s splintered security landscape, there are a variety of formal and informal accountability mechanisms—such as civil society advocacy, tribal mediations, and social media—that have worked, and can work yet more. Further, there are opportunities for international actors to directly strengthen the best of these mechanisms. This report focuses only on armed groups in areas where the author was able to safely conduct research—in other words, those groups affiliated with Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, which leads the country’s internationally recognized government. The report does not include research on the Houthis.
These opportunities are important as the Yemen conflict enters a new phase in which fighting has subsided and there is a possibility of an enduring ceasefire—and it will be more important than ever to encourage better governance and fewer abuses from the armed groups who now run Yemen in a piecemeal quilt.
All armed groups respond to incentives—even those groups that are independent from the state or under partial state control. In particular, these groups seek to preserve their reputations and legitimacy, both within Yemen and internationally, because those reputations help them control territory and access international support. This international support can be direct, such as military support from benefactor states. It can also be indirect, in the form of international aid that is destined for civilians, which aid groups may reroute if they know an armed group is committing abuses.
Civil society and human rights advocates in Yemen have recognized that armed groups’ need to preserve their reputations provides an opportunity to hold them accountable. For years, these advocates have documented abuses of civilians, raised awareness about civilians’ rights, and pressured armed groups to hold their own members accountable. Yemen’s influential tribes have also often helped pressure for more accountability, and international organizations have implemented programs to improve armed groups’ adherence to norms. These efforts weren’t meant to end the war, but they were supposed to at least ease the suffering of Yemen’s beleaguered population, and improve the conduct of the armed groups who control territory and resources.
But while the logic of these efforts to improve armed groups’ conduct is clear enough, it has often been hard to tell how much such initiatives have actually helped. To know whether these efforts have been successful, research needs to go beyond documenting a decline in abuses—which might be due to any number of factors—and investigate how various mechanisms of accountability work, and whether these mechanisms are responsive to outside pressure.
This report breaks new ground in the understanding of armed groups’ accountability, by analyzing the following: sources of security sector accountability in Yemen; mechanisms that armed groups have developed to address human rights violations committed by their members; and other informal and external accountability mechanisms that might reduce patterns of civilian harm. Further, the report investigates the risks associated with each mechanism, and proposes ways to mitigate such risks. The report concludes with recommendations for enhancing accountability, even as the broader conflict remains unresolved.
The research presented here is based on seventy-three interviews—with members of armed groups, civil society and human rights advocates (including lawyers and journalists), international organization staff, a senior military judge, government and local authority officials, politicians, and ordinary citizens.1 The interviews were conducted between December 2021 and February, 2023, and covered forces in Taiz, in the south, and on the west coast. (The work builds on an earlier mapping of armed groups in Yemen published by Century International in July 2021.)2 Interviewees participated on condition of anonymity. Due to a lack of access and potential risks, no interviews were conducted in areas under the control of the Houthis in the north of the country. This report, therefore, focuses on areas that are under the control of the Presidential Leadership Council.
This exhaustive research shows, in sum, that while not all accountability mechanisms are equally effective, efforts to improve rights practices among nonstate armed groups and hybrid actors do work. These groups want to please the international community, and are willing to make at least some changes in order to be certified as non-abusers. The best efforts to improve accountability will involve working directly with armed actors to help them understand, accept, and take steps to improve their observation of Yemeni and international laws pertaining to their functions; and supporting and building the capacity of civil society and human rights groups involved in holding armed groups accountable.
These efforts weren’t meant to end the war, but they were supposed to at least ease the suffering of Yemen’s beleaguered population.
More broadly, the report’s findings suggest that this type of engagement with armed groups will be essential for Yemen’s eventual peace. A year after the Houthis and the Yemeni government signed a ceasefire, it is clearer than ever that other armed groups will be a long-term feature of Yemeni governance. Strengthening accountability mechanisms within armed groups and improving the ability of communities to engage with armed actors will increase armed groups’ awareness and sensitivity about civilian protection, and reduce their predatory behaviors. Thus, such measures are crucial to supporting long-term peace in Yemen.
Armed Groups’ Abuses
Most of the dozens of nonstate armed groups and hybrid actors in Yemen operate outside the command and control of the Yemeni government—even those that are closely allied with the government. Even the Ministry of Interior’s security directorates (the ministry’s branches at the governorate level) and many military units function with little support and oversight from the fragmented and underfunded central government.3
Many members of government-allied armed groups were incorporated into military and security forces after the war started, and are thus technically under the command of the Yemeni government. In reality, however, they operate outside state structures—and even compete with the state in important ways. Members lack training and understanding of the Yemeni laws and international rules of engagement. Some of these armed groups have also benefited from a thriving war economy.
When these groups commit rights violations, their poor command and control structure makes it challenging to hold members accountable. Formal security institutions are poorly funded and, therefore, are not well-equipped to address these gaps. Political interference and weakness of the justice system deprive civilians of the key mechanisms to complain and find justice.
Left with no supervision, these armed groups have at times become predatory, and might evolve into a significant security risk.
The purpose of this report is not to document every type of rights violation, which has been reported on elsewhere.4 However, it is useful to review the categories of human rights violations and their frequency in Yemen.
- Forced disappearances and arbitrary detention. Forced disappearance and torture constitute some 46 percent of the violations in Yemen.5 Victims are often snatched from their homes, workplaces, or at checkpoints. They are often disappeared, denied due process, and are not allowed to communicate with their families.6
- Land grabs. Armed actors or individuals protected by them seize land and start building homes or infrastructure. They may also seize strategic land along roads. In some cases, armed groups seize land to sell, which further deepens the problem of land disputes.7 In Taiz, members of armed groups have seized the homes of displaced civilians, especially those close to frontlines.8
- Ill treatment and extortion at checkpoints. Civilians are subject to abuse at checkpoints that connect governorates or areas that are controlled by rival actors. “Sometimes they will ask for your ID, and if they don’t like the way you look, they will snatch you and throw you in prison, just like that,” said a human rights advocate in Taiz.9 Extorting civilians at checkpoints is rampant, as is extorting cargo trucks.10 Truck drivers can also be sent to prison arbitrarily. “Bir Ali prison [in Aden] is full of truck drivers who are accused of being Houthis,” said a human rights advocate in Aden.11
- Gender-based violence. Women are especially vulnerable to violence perpetrated by armed groups. Rape and sexual assault often go unpunished or are blamed on victims. In one incident in Aden last year, a member of an armed group drugged and raped a seventeen-year-old girl. Rather than pursuing her attacker, local police jailed the girl and accused her of prostitution. Her father abandoned her and demanded that the “bad girl be left in jail to be punished for her sins.”12 Bad actors draw on this dynamic of victim-blaming to commit other abuses, such as blackmailing women with illegally obtained private photos and videos—part of a network of extortion that reaches up the chain of command.13
- Abuses against force members. Members of the armed forces themselves are vulnerable to abuse by their superiors, including senior commanders. There are no mechanisms in place for members to submit complaints or to ensure protections. Cases of abuse include arbitrary salary cuts, physical assault, arbitrary detention, torture, and even execution. “If you ask why they cut your salary, they tell you it is the commander’s decision and that he is free to do as he wishes,” said a female officer who works for a security force in Aden.14 Senior commanders commit violations against subordinates with impunity. For example, in April 2021, the guards of Muhsin al-Wali, who was the commander of the Support and Backup Brigades, physically assaulted an airport guard who told the commander he could not enter the airport armed.15 And in June 2021, Yasser Elayyan, a member of the seventh Giants Brigades in Hais on the west coast, died of suffocation after his superiors at the Giants Brigades tortured him and put him in a metal container under the sun in temperatures reaching fifty degrees Celsius.16
Deficits in Training, Experience, and Funds
There are a variety of reasons that abuses have been rampant in Yemen, and it is important to understand these causes when attempting to mitigate the violations. One of the most important causes is the lack of experience and training among irregular forces—including among senior commanders.
When Yemen’s war escalated in 2015, security and military forces collapsed throughout the country. Most members of armed groups were civilians before they were enlisted into these forces. They did not receive the training necessary to understand their roles and responsibilities, let alone higher-level concepts like international humanitarian law.
Many of the current officers and rank-and-file forces used to be teachers, health workers, shop keepers, and car technicians, and some are even illiterate. “They don’t know how to perform their duties, they don’t know the law, they don’t know how to communicate and deal with civilians,” said a security official in Aden.17 In areas where security members have been subject to attacks and assassinations, they tend to be nervous and might shoot at an approaching car on suspicion that it belongs to an attacker.18
Civilian protection professionals and local civil society organizations said that training can make a difference in armed actors’ attitudes and behavior. Not only does training help them understand their duties and civilians’ rights, but it can also build trust between security actors and local communities, as well as among rival security actors. A senior member from the National Committee for Investigating Alleged Violations of Human Rights described a training session of police directors; the trainees were initially defensive about being trained, but by the second day were discussing the problem of violations.19 The Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC, where the author was Yemen country director from 2018 to 2019) had a similar experience when it brought security actors from Taiz to Aden to participate in a training session. Locals initially objected to the participation of Taiz “northerners,” but “after a few hours of training, they became like friends joking and teasing each other.”20
Most members of armed groups have not received the training necessary to understand their roles and responsibilities, let alone higher-level concepts like international humanitarian law.
All security officials and most civil society actors interviewed identified the lack of salaries as one of the main problems that contribute to abuses and other illegal activities by members of the forces. Salaries go unpaid for prolonged periods of time. For example, in February 2022, members of Aden’s security forces finally received the salary they were owed for April 2021 (and were still waiting on the next ten months of pay).21 “How do you expect them to do their job and not resort to illegal ways to make a living?” said Aden’s deputy security director.22 “You can’t train them on laws and ethics when they are starving,” said Shabwa’s security director.23
Security directorates suffer from severe shortage of operational funds. On average, each security directorate receives less than 13 million riyals per month (about $11,000) which is meant to cover operational costs for the police force, including twenty-seven police stations inside the city of Aden, where some 20,000 members work. Even at that, funding is often completely absent for extended periods of time. The police cannot afford vehicles, gas, and the basic tools to help them respond to crimes, let alone hold their members accountable.
No Control, No Justice
With the exception of Taiz and Marib, forces in the south and on the west coast operate entirely outside the Yemeni government’s command-and-control structure. There has been little progress in implementing the 2019 Riyadh Agreement (which was supposed to create more unity among the various groups fighting the Houthis). Despite the formation of the Presidential Leadership Council in April 2022, there remains a deep divide between the forces of the Yemeni government and those affiliated (often loosely) with the STC, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates.24 Many forces are nominally “STC forces” but have no meaningful command structure that links them to the STC. And although local forces in Taiz and Marib are allied with the Yemeni government, many of their members come from civilian backgrounds, and they operate with minimal supervision from the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense.
These essentially unaccountable armed groups interfere with Yemen’s already weak justice system at will. Security and civil society leaders described this rampant interference as a main obstacle to holding members of armed groups accountable for civilian harm. Justice institutions have been politicized, fragmented, and subverted by parties to the conflict since the war started in 2014. There are two parallel judiciary institutions, one under Houthi control in the north and another under the Yemeni government in the south. Judicial infrastructure has been largely destroyed by airstrikes and ground infighting. Judges, prosecutors and lawyers have faced violent attacks, physical assault, intimidation, and attempted assassinations.25 The supreme court remained dysfunctional for years.26
Courts suffer from a major lack of capacity in terms of equipment and training, and severe shortages of skilled administrative and support staff. The judiciary’s capacity has been further eroded during the war by nepotism and corruption. Police routinely overstep their powers to influence the prosecution of cases, especially in cases where the state or high-ranking military leaders or officials are the defendants.27
The lack of an effective justice system has made room for systematic violations within the armed forces, with many commanders taking justice into their own hands by creating their own illegal prisons and punishing their members as they wish.28 “Every battalion has its own prison and every commander acts like he is God,” said a local journalist on the west coast.29
“Every battalion has its own prison and every commander acts like he is God,” said a local journalist.
In this environment of impunity and official dysfunction, a variety of less-standard accountability mechanisms have become crucial to limiting armed groups’ abuses. As the following catalog of these mechanisms shows, some of them are quite effective and can be successfully leveraged to control nonstate and hybrid actors’ behavior.
Internal Accountability Mechanisms
Potential reputational risk and pressure by international and local human rights groups have pushed leaders of some armed groups to take action to address violations by their members. Some activated procedures based on the Yemeni law, while others have created their own temporary arrangements to limit violations in the absence of formal justice institutions.
Yemen’s Ministry of Interior is represented by a security directorate in each governorate. Each security directorate has a disciplinary council for officers and members of the police.30 The council is headed by the security director in the governorate. It has four other members: the assistant for police affairs, the head of the legal department, the head of officers’ affairs department, and head of members affairs department. Complaints are referred to the council by a decree from the security director based on a request from the superior of the member accused of violations or lack of discipline. Disciplinary councils can refer cases to criminal investigation in the civilian justice system when their members commit violations while off duty.31
In Shabwa, the disciplinary council meets monthly to make decisions on cases and then refers them to the security director or to the monitoring and inspection department for approval. Members who are involved in violations of a criminal nature lose their immunity and are referred to civilian courts.32
In 2022, the Taiz disciplinary council met thirty-two times and made decisions on thirty-four cases of violations by police members. Punishments included imprisonment, stripping of ranks, and transferring the accused to other positions where they had less authority.33 In Aden, the disciplinary council made decisions on fifteen cases in 2021. They included neglect, overstepping authority, fraud, and use of position for personal gain.34
The Legal Department at Yemen’s Ministry of Defense and its branches in the various military units help keep the armed forces in check. It is functional despite its mandate being difficult to enforce.
The department is in charge of discipline and holding members of the military accountable for violations. Each of the seven military regions and each military brigade has a legal affairs unit that answers to the national Legal Department.
There are similar bodies created by armed groups. The Joint Forces, which control the west coast of Yemen, established their own legal department in September 2019. Run by lawyers who belonged to the military before the war, the department mainly processes cases of violations involving lack of discipline committed by members of the Joint Forces. Legal department decrees can include suspension without pay, salary cuts, imprisonment, and orders to compensate civilians who were harmed.35
The Joint Forces’ legal department does not have a complaint mechanism, but cases of abuse by members are often reported to the local police or local authority, who then refers the cases to the Joint Forces leadership, who then refer them to the legal department.36 In February 2022, the commander of the Giants Brigades, Abu Zar’aah al-Mahrami, formed a committee led by the head of the legal department of the Giants Brigades to investigate complaints about illegal prisons run by the Brigades, the Brigades’ interference in civilian issues and the work of judicial and security institutions, and involvement of members in land grabbing.37
The Joint Forces’ legal department mainly deals with issues arising between members of the forces such as individuals accused of treason, spying for the Houthis, or committing violations against other members.
Cases related to civilians are referred to the formal justice system whenever possible. The Ministry of Defense Legal Department’s local branch (known as a legal unit) within the Taiz Military Axis—the official army body responsible for protecting Taiz —reviews complaints that are referred to the unit by the commander of the Axis. The unit then refers cases to the police, intelligence, military prosecution, or general prosecution. It can also form a committee to investigate or write a memo to seek clarification from the military unit to which the member involved in the violation belongs.38
Legal Department regulations are not always followed. There are examples of powerful commanders handling cases in an ad hoc way, when they should actually be dealt with through the Legal Department.39
The military judiciary is essential to processing and resolving violations by members of Yemen’s military. But it needs support and strengthening to be more effective.
In Yemeni law, the military judiciary is the entity responsible for the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed by members of the military. It consists mainly of seven military courts, one in each military command, an appeals court, and the military department in the supreme court.40
The military justice system collapsed in 2015. In areas under the control of the Yemeni government and other anti-Houthi forces, military courts and prosecutors were reestablished between 2018 and 2020. The military judiciary has managed to maintain a reasonable level of independence despite the polarizing political environment affecting the armed forces. It operates as it is supposed to, except in areas of the south where tension between the Yemeni government and the STC are high. But military courts sometimes handle cases referred by various security forces, including STC-affiliated forces. These cases include grave crimes. A senior STC security official said that the STC has attempted to revive the military judiciary in the south.41 However, most cases are handled by the forces themselves and outside the military justice system, with a complete lack of transparency, according to a military judge in Aden. “We do not know how they deal with these cases,” he said.42
As with the civilian justice system, military justice also faces major challenges. It has now functioned without an operational budget for six years. Salaries for judges are not paid regularly. A decree was issued to form an appeals court, but it is not yet operational and does not have offices. As a result, verdicts from primary courts get stuck if an appeal is requested and some of the accused are detained for five or six years without due process, sometimes for very minor cases.43
Most cases are handled by the forces themselves and outside the military justice system, with a complete lack of transparency.
The lack of security has deterred military judges from carrying out their duties. In the fall of 2022, the military judge for the Fourth Military Command started resolving cases in the city of Taiz, Mocha, and al-Khokha on the west coast. After two months, the army suspended the protection service it had offered the judge, prompting him to leave for Aden.44 A source in the Taiz Axis said that the suspension was due to limited resources.45
The Civilian Justice System
Despite being damaged because of political tension and the destruction of its infrastructure in the war, Yemen’s justice system remains one channel for achieving accountability.
Several armed actors said they refer their members who commit violations of a criminal nature to the criminal investigation and prosecution. The Security Belt Force commander in Abyan said that, in February 2022, members of his forces had crowded at the gate of the base in anticipation of salary payments when an argument broke out and one of the members shot another one dead and injured three others. The member was arrested and sent to civilian criminal court, where he was prosecuted.46
All armed and civil society actors interviewed, however, mentioned the serious limitations in the justice system. To address that gap, some forces made temporary arrangements to make it easier to process cases of abuse. On the west coast, the Joint Forces attempted to revive the justice system by paying salaries in the justice sector.47 The Delta Abyan Security Belt command, in close coordination with the Abyan Security Directorate, opened a civilian police station in every one of its facilities to facilitate investigating and processing cases of abuse through the justice system.48
The National Commission to Investigate Alleged Violations to Human Rights
In the absence of an effective justice system, the National Commission to Investigate Alleged Violations to Human Rights has become an important mechanism to document abuses and protect civilians from rogue armed actors.
The commission is a national mechanism responsible for monitoring and investigating allegations of human rights abuses committed by parties to the conflict.49 It was established by decree by the central government, but the commission has managed to remain independent, demonstrated a high degree of professionalism, and maintained high standards in its reporting and approach, according to experts.50 The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen issued a report in January 2022 that recommended that UN Security Council member states support the commission to safeguard its achievements, including the creation of an offshore digital backup, and to call on all parties to collaborate with it.51
The National Commission to Investigate Alleged Violations to Human Rights has nine members, four of whom are women. After conducting investigations, the commission also sends inquiries to armed actors, including the Houthis, about cases of abuse their members are found to be involved in. The commission has local monitors in every governorate, including the north, who document incidents of human rights violations mainly by interviewing victims. It engages armed actors, including the Ministry of Interior, the Yemeni military, and hybrid security actors operating in the south and on the west coast. The commission sends memos of inquiry to the command of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, and has meetings with the Joint Incident Assessment Team, a body set up by the Saudi-led coalition in 2016 to investigate violations during military operations.52 It also works closely with civil society groups and professional associations on activities, including training on investigating and documenting human rights abuses.53
The commission coordinates closely with other international and local organizations that focus on accountability.54 It also cooperates with international accountability mechanisms such as the Office of the Higher Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Panel of Experts, providing both with information on cases of abuse.
Members of the commission conduct regular meetings with senior officials from Yemen’s Ministries of Interior and Defense, the judiciary, local authorities, and police officers. Additionally, the team pays regular field visits to prisons and detention facilities to check and report on the situation of prisoners and that their rights to due process are respected.55 Through direct engagement with armed actors, the commission was able to address violations, including forced disappearances. In February 2022, the commission paid a visit to Beir Ali Prison, a secret prison in Aden where hundreds of detainees were held and subject to torture and inhumane treatment, after an incident in which a prisoner attempted to take his own life.56 Investigation by the commission team revealed that the suicidal man and eight other prisoners have been denied due process for the past four years. The previous judge in charge of reviewing their cases refused to hand over the case to his replacement or process it unless he got paid. Working through several connections, the commission managed to get the cases transferred to the new judge.57
Informal Accountability Mechanisms
It is clear that, while they still have relevance, formal accountability mechanisms have had only middling success in stemming armed actor abuses. In the context of a bitter and multidimensional civil war, this is not so surprising. What provides some reason for optimism is that informal accountability mechanisms have enjoyed some success—and appear to have even more potential, if they are nurtured.
Civil society actors—including lawyers, local mediators, and human rights advocates—have lobbied and engaged armed actors to hold their members accountable for violations against civilians. This can be seen most notably in Taiz, where civil society actors are vocal on social media and armed actors, especially the Taiz police, have been receptive to addressing patterns of abuse and to helping vulnerable civilians. Efforts by civil society and human rights advocates have also helped create greater awareness about civilians’ rights, both among armed groups and among civilians.
All interviewees from Taiz said that there had been a marked reduction in human rights abuses in the city since 2019, in large part due to the relentless advocacy by civil society.58 A senior security official in Taiz mentioned that civil society groups and activists help them identify and address their members’ misbehavior. He told the author that the police force considers the role of civil society crucial and regards it as a form of community oversight.59
Constant pressure from activists and human rights advocates in Taiz led the governor to form a joint security committee consisting of the police and military to target criminals and members of armed forces involved in abuses. In August 2020, the committee launched a campaign and was able to imprison Ghazwan al-Mikhlafi, one of the most notorious criminals in the city. Mikhlafi is a twenty-three-year-old criminal who committed grave violations—including extortion, land grabbing, and executions—with impunity because of the protection he enjoyed from senior army commanders in the city.60
In Aden, an emerging vibrant civil society has been increasingly successful in working with armed actors to address abuses. Some of these groups are pro-secession and enjoy good relations with the STC, which helped them gain access to and the trust of armed groups. Through engaging armed actors, civil society groups managed to release hundreds of civilians who were disappeared or arbitrarily detained. The women-led Mothers of Abductees Association successfully negotiated the freeing of almost 1,000 civilian abductees through advocating with influential figures and armed actors.61 Some activists were able to resolve more complicated cases, such as securing the release of political prisoners or northerner civilians who were detained in Aden and baselessly accused of being Houthis.62
In Aden, Taiz, Abyan, and Shabwa, civil society groups document human rights abuses, engage communities, and organize workshops for security and justice actors on human rights and Yemeni laws. Human rights advocates who managed to convince armed actors to deal with cases of abuse said that they use a constructive approach in which they file the cases through formal channels, such as sending memos to commanders or filing lawsuits, while utilizing their connections with influential figures such as senior commanders or STC leaders to ensure their understanding and support. To that end, human rights advocates act as mediators shuttling between different actors to get results in a manner that achieves justice for victims and does no harm.
However, while advocates succeed in resolving specific cases of arbitrary detention or forced disappearance, their efforts often do not lead to holding accountable members of armed actors who are responsible for the abuses.63
Civil society and human rights advocates also lack the capacity and skills to organize and to conduct proper documentation of human rights violations. “They have a lot of information, but they don’t know how to properly document [abuses] so that they can be of use in the future,” said a member of the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen. “Every NGO has its own methodology, but there will always be missing information in testimonies, videos, photos, medical reports, and so on to prove the abuse happened. Fifteen years from now, when the situation allows, they won’t have the evidence needed for transitional justice.”64
Advocating for armed groups to change behavior also comes at a great risk. Human rights advocates and critics of abuses themselves have been subject to intimidation, threats, and targeted killing. Some are forced into exile, while other organizations are forcibly shut down.65 While many still manage to carry on with documenting and exposing cases of abuse with the help of local volunteers, their work is challenged by a lack of funding and resources.66
The Tribal System
The Yemeni tribal system has effective and sophisticated accountability standards and legal processes. It is the main mechanism for justice in tribal and, increasingly, in non-tribal areas since 2011, as the country started to experience growing political instability.67 Both armed actors and human rights advocates utilize the tribal system to deal with cases of abuse. The director of security in Shabwa indicated that nearly a third of cases of abuse by force members are resolved through tribal mediation.68
First, the tribal system is based on apology and acknowledgment of the wrongdoing by the perpetrator or their tribe, which reassures victims. Second, it seeks to achieve justice while still focusing on reconciliation. Such an approach helps maintain order while preserving social harmony when state and formal accountability mechanisms are questionable or ineffective, as is the case in Yemen.
Security commanders in Abyan and Shabwa said that they frequently follow tribal rules to handle abuses. They go in person or send senior representatives to the victims or their families, admit the wrongdoing by their members, apologize, and offer amends, which usually come in the form of financial compensation or “blood money.”69
The tribal system offers the most effective form of accountability when forces lack command and control, and where formal mechanisms have major limitations.
The tribal system offers the most effective form of accountability when forces lack command and control and where formal mechanisms have major limitations. In February 2022, some members of the Security Belt Force in Lawder district in Abyan arrested a man who stole a car and ran over its owner, instantly killing him. The perpetrator came from a tribe in Nisab district in Shabwa. Members of the Security Belt unit that operate in the district then handed him over to the family of the victim—who then publicly executed him.70
At that point, there was a risk of a much broader conflict erupting. “So, we had to ask tribal mediators to intervene,” Shabwa’s security director told the author. “We have young men who were angry and wanted to go to Abyan to avenge the murder of their kin [by the car thief]. But if we allowed them to do that, it would open the doors wide to revenge killings between tribes in the two governorates.”
Tribal mediation particularly helps control damage when abuses are committed by armed groups that do not fall under the command and control of formal security actors. The former security director in Shabwa sought tribal mediators’ help after members of the Giants Brigades—who are not under his command—killed a qat dealer in Shabwa in early 2022.71
A shortcoming of the tribal system as an informal mechanism of accountability is that tribes are only concerned with the protection of their members, even if these members live in urban areas like Aden and Taiz. The tribes of Shabwa, Yafaa, Lahj, Abyan, Dhalee, and Taiz successfully pressure armed groups to release and compensate tribesmen who are abused by members of these forces. In urban settings, victims who come from non-tribal backgrounds do not enjoy the same protection.72 In the words of a prominent human rights advocate in Aden, “Abuses are normally carried out against Adenis because they do not have a tribe or a government to protect them.”73
Social media has emerged as a new powerful tool that Yemeni activists use to expose human rights abuses by members of armed groups. For example, Mokhtar Abdulmuez, a Yemeni social media activist living in Turkey, decided to fight cybercrimes and electronic blackmailing of women. With the help and support of a network for volunteers inside and outside Yemen, he managed to track abusers, some of whom are armed groups members, and helped dozens of victims put an end to the abuse.
Most recently, Manasat Sedq (Platform of Truth), an independent Yemeni online fact-checking platform, tracked and exposed a fake Twitter account that has been smearing women who work for nongovernmental organizations, which turned out to be a journalist working for the Yemeni military.74 These efforts help inform or put pressure on armed actors to address abuses and they sometimes yield results. For example, a senior human rights advocate from Taiz said that the army immediately pays attention to cases that have been brought up on social media because it is concerned it might ruin its reputation and lead to international sanctions against it.75 Senior officers in the National Resistance Forces and Taiz police said they sometimes learn about cases of abuse by their members from social media, which they then try to process through their internal accountability channels.76
While they see social media advocacy effective, several human rights advocates cautioned that it can also be counterproductive. In Yemen as anywhere, social media advocacy is often antagonistic, which forces armed groups to be on the defensive, sometimes hurting the chances of achieving justice for victims. Further, naming and shaming on social media can be exploited by political actors who can use it to discredit their opponents.
Sometimes, refraining from using social media is more important to delivering results. Those who have managed to convince armed actors to address violations of human rights committed by their members said that they were successful because they took a cooperative approach combined with confidentiality.77 A lawyer who succeeded in releasing a member of Islah (the Yemeni political party associated with the Muslim Brotherhood), who was arbitrarily detained by an STC-allied armed group in Aden, said his efforts bore fruit because he made sure the Islah party refrained from circulating anything about the case over social media. The same lawyer said he had to withdraw from taking on a case on behalf of a family whose son was killed at a checkpoint in the south in September 2021, after his case became highly politicized on social media and was mainly used to attack STC by its political opponents. Politicization can put human rights advocates at risk and ruin the hard-earned trust they have built with armed actors.78
Moreover, social media advocacy can undermine opportunities to help victims and, if not used carefully, put them at risk. For example, if there is a sexual abuse case, amateur activists take it to social media without getting consent from the victim, which can cause emotional distress and social isolation because of the social stigma associated with sexual abuse, and can even put the victim and their family at risk of retaliation.79
In July 2021, Aden’s governor issued a decree forming community committees at the district and neighborhood levels.80 The committees are located inside police stations, and their mandate is to support security and promote social cohesion and peace; they have specific subcommittees dedicated to addressing violations and the protection of human rights. They work voluntarily and are meant to function as a bridge between communities on the one hand and local authorities and security on the other.
The committees have helped engage armed actors to deal with human rights violations by members, resolve tensions, report on crime, and organize neighborhood watches.81 However, some members are reluctant to follow up with some armed actors about cases of abuse because of the potential risk involved. “We go with families of victims to armed actors but sometimes they tell you the offender is under a different commander. We are scared for our safety sometimes,” said a community committee member.82
Some security and civilian actors see the idea of forming community committees in the south as a good one, in principle.83 However, there are concerns that the committees do not have a clear mandate or selection criteria for members, which makes them vulnerable to politicization and cooptation by powerful actors. Members of community committees and some civil society actors said, in interviews, that there was a need to depoliticize the committees and to provide technical support for them through training on their responsibilities and civilian rights, and to strengthen community engagement with and oversight over the committees.84
International Efforts to Promote Accountability
The research for this report also showed that the international community has a valuable role to play in promoting accountability, even though its physical presence in Yemen remains limited. There are several notable mechanisms that the international community has used effectively—and which could be leveraged even more.
All human rights advocates interviewed indicated that reporting by international organizations and international media reports helps put pressure on armed actors to change behavior. In 2018, reports by the Associated Press and Human Rights Watch on secret prisons led to closure of some of the prisons and the release of some prisoners who were forcibly disappeared by Emirates-backed forces in the south.85 The reports of the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen are said to be the most effective, because it is the UN Security Council’s mechanism for providing information relevant to the potential designation of individuals and entities who have violated Security Council resolutions on Yemen. Leaders of armed groups are concerned about potential damage to their reputation and sanctions if their names are flagged as human rights abusers.86 The commander of the Taiz Axis arrested and punished individuals who were flagged for him by the Panel of Experts.87
In October 2021, the failure to renew the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, a body established by the UN Human Rights Council (OHCHR) in September 2017 to monitor and report on the situation on human rights in Yemen, showed a lack of commitment by the international community to accountability.88
Direct Engagement with Armed Actors
The two main organizations that are working directly with armed actors to promote their internal accountability mechanisms and strengthen communities’ ability to hold armed actors accountable are CIVIC and Geneva Call.
CIVIC started working in Yemen in early 2018. The organization has projects with army and security actors in Aden, Taiz, Marib, Al-Jawf, Shabwa, Hadhramaut, and on the west coast. CIVIC seeks to improve knowledge and the institutionalization of protection of civilians among military and security forces. It does so through the training of trainers to develop the training capacity of forces, including nonstate and hybrid actor armed groups, the police, and the regular military.
From the bottom up, CIVIC also supports community engagement through civilian–military dialogue and building the capacity of community leaders and civil society organizations to hold armed forces accountable for civilian harm. To that end, CIVIC has created “community protection groups” in the governorates in which it currently operates. It provides extensive training for them on the protection of civilians, advocacy, and gender and protection issues. The groups are formed of civil society leaders, human rights advocates, and community leaders. Through civilian–military dialogue sessions, the community protection groups have been able to lobby senior commanders to address abuses, particularly enforced disappearances, abductions, and extortion at checkpoints. For example, in August 2022, the Taiz Axis commander removed five checkpoints where the groups reported patterns of civilian abuse. The groups have had similar success in Aden.89
CIVIC has successfully intervened in other ways. In the case, described above, in which a seventeen-year-old girl was drugged and raped, CIVIC successfully coordinated with local armed group leaders to have the girl released from police custody.90
Geneva Call started operating in Yemen in 2019. It currently works with the STC, the Taiz Axis, and the Joint Forces on the west coast. Geneva Call created a network to support international humanitarian law in Yemen, with more than a dozen local nongovernmental organizations in Lahj, Taiz, Aden, Shabwa, and Abyan. The network also includes lawyers, journalists, activists, influencers, and community leaders. Geneva Call also builds the capacity of these groups to document and report violations of international humanitarian law, and builds communities’ capacity to address abuses. In 2019, Geneva Call managed to get the STC to sign a written commitment to adhere to international humanitarian law principles.91
Several senior security actors in Taiz and Aden, including the head of the STC’s Supreme Security Committee, said that the CIVIC and Geneva Call approach is helpful because it involves not only training but mentoring, and helps them build trust with communities. They indicated a need for CIVIC and Geneva Call to continue their work to help them improve their internal accountability mechanisms.92 They have also indicated to both organizations their willingness to further engage in the implementation of policies to protect civilians and to support international humanitarian law.93
There are several reasons for caution in embracing the accountability mechanisms described above. It is clear that they have their limits, and the efforts don’t work the same in every situation.
Armed leaders interviewed for this report indicated that it is often challenging to hold members of their forces accountable due to the weakness of the justice system. In some cases, commanders punish members who have committed abuses with verbal and written warnings, suspension, salary cuts, relocation, and imprisonment, depending on the gravity of the abuse. But enforcing accountability mechanisms can sometimes backfire and lead to clashes due to the lack of command and control and discipline among members. As a result, commanders said they try to avoid death sentences because they can be problematic. Commanders sometimes resort to tribal mediation, which involves offering an apology and reparations for the victims or their families.94
In Aden and Taiz, however, compensation for victims can be selective, and is only effective if the victim works through influential individuals who have connections to commanders. “They only compensate whom they want,” said a man in Aden whose car was burned in clashes between forces in Aden last year. “If you don’t know people, you have no chance.95
In Shabwa, the former security director told the author that he used tribal mediation only in cases when the violation, especially in the case of homicide, happens by mistake. But when the assault is intentional, he lets the courts handle the cases.96 There is evidence that the courts are being put to similar use elsewhere: in late 2021, in Dhalee, the STC processed the cases of two of its force members who murdered civilians through the military court, which sentenced both to death.97
Efforts by civil society and human rights advocates sometimes lead to an end to the abuse, but often do not involve taking action against the perpetrators. In Taiz, some army commanders offer protection to members of the army who are involved in grave human rights violations.98 Some military commanders hesitate to hold members accountable because they need them as fighters.99 “They say we need fighters, and accountability can wait until after the war ends,” said a lawyer in Taiz.100 The same mentality applies to security forces in Aden.101
Some Positive Changes
There is limited evidence—much of it anecdotal—that armed groups’ attitudes toward and awareness of civilian abuses has begun to change. Security and military commanders in both Aden and Taiz have recognized that they have a problem with command and control and abuses against civilians. They have expressed a demand for technical and financial support to help them address these problems. Additionally, there has been a noticeable improvement in the communication between armed actors and civil society, which has allowed rights advocates to access prisons and pressure armed actors to address cases of abuse.
Other changes are more indirect. In Aden, the STC restructured so that a single committee commands all its allied forces, and a joint operations room inside the Aden Security Directorate. With these measures, the STC has been able to control the movement of tactical vehicles inside the city, and has helped reduce incidents of tactical vehicles hitting civilians or civilian cars, which used to be a common problem in the city.102
Lack of salaries and oversight has encouraged members of armed groups to abuse civilians and profit from their suffering.
The STC has also started taking action to assert its command. For example, in February 2022, the controversial armed group commander Samed Sanah initiated clashes with units under Aden Airport Security, causing the suspension of flights at the Aden airport and closing of one of the main roads in the city. The STC immediately deployed members from the Thunderbolt Brigades, a different armed force, who confiscated heavy arms from Sanah. A civil society leader with connections to the STC convinced Sanah to hand himself over peacefully.103 The security director of Aden issued a decree in which he stripped Sanah of his rank, dissolved the battalion, and reenlisted its members into different units.104
The STC has also created a high-level Human Rights Department. Staffed by lawyers and human rights experts, the department has a team that documents and investigates cases of abuse and follows up with armed actors to address these abuses. The committee’s head told the author that it managed to locate and successfully negotiate the release of civilians who were forcibly disappeared by armed forces in the city or convince armed actors to process their cases through courts.105 The STC has also developed a code of conduct for security forces with guidelines on respecting hierarchy and respecting civilians’ rights. In December 2022, CIVIC helped the STC organize a consultative meeting with civil society and rule of law representatives to localize and incorporate civilian protection into the code of conduct.106 However, these changes have yet to demonstrate effectiveness, especially in light of the increase in human rights violations in STC-controlled areas during 2022.107
In Taiz, security and civil society leaders say that the security situation has improved, with a noticeable reduction in assassinations, random shootings, and land grabbing. There is also relatively better command and control compared to the early years of the war. The governor has formed a joint security committee composed of the police and the Taiz Axis to combat armed group crimes and grave violations such as land grabbing.108 Channels of communication between armed actors, civil society groups, activists, and communities are open in Taiz compared to other places in the country, and armed actors are easy to access.109 The city has a vibrant civil society and human rights groups. A recent report by the Yemen Policy Center found that, despite many challenges, the Taiz police continue to provide security, and have the trust of many residents.110
There is also a growing interest in promoting the role of women in security, which some hope could curb certain abuses and help give women access to justice. In Aden, Taiz, and Shabwa, security actors have taken steps to empower women police, and there are now significant numbers working in women’s prisons, at checkpoints—especially conducting searches of other women—and in some senior positions for family protection affairs units, which are responsible for handling women’s and juvenile cases inside security directorates.111
This report’s research shows that there are several ways that successes in accountability could be further leveraged.
One is to continue to pressure parties to the conflict to resolve issues that impact the economic and humanitarian situation. Lack of salaries and oversight has encouraged members of armed groups to abuse civilians and profit from their suffering. Ensuring salary payments, stabilizing the Yemeni riyal, and the smooth delivery of key services will help mitigate the problem.
Another is to incorporate accountability and the protection of civilians into the UN-led peace negotiations. Such engagement can be done through Track Two dialogue. Engagement of armed actors by the Office of the Special Envoy for the Secretary General to Yemen will motivate those actors to change behavior, if only to avoid sanctions.
Additionally, donors must prioritize support for international organizations that work to strengthen accountability mechanisms among armed actors. Organizations such as CIVIC and Geneva Call have helped create a demand among armed actors to address human rights violations by their members. Continued support for their programs is essential to build on that momentum and achieve sustainable results.
Another important measure will be to support Yemeni civil society and human rights advocates. Donors must increase funding for programs that offer capacity-building, training, and assistance for those who are currently active in documenting human rights and protecting civilians from abuses by armed actors.
There is also a need for a larger role for international mechanisms and media in exposing human rights abusers. The UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Yemen, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International should consider reporting on armed actors, including individual commanders who are involved in human rights abuses. It is also equally important to renew the mandate of the OHCHR Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen. This can serve as a deterrent and an incentive to change behavior to avoid sanctions.
And finally, Yemen needs increased funding to strengthen the capacity of the justice system. Donors should consider programs that provide training, direct material support, and rehabilitation of justice system institutions and professionals. This should include police stations, prisons, courts, and prosecution facilities.
Even with lasting peace some time off in Yemen, there are ways to improve governance and the lives of civilians throughout the country. Investing in the correct mechanisms to hold armed groups to account is a critical step in the right direction.
This report is part of “Networks of Change: Reviving Governance and Citizenship in the Middle East,” a Century International project supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Open Society Foundations.
Header image: Fighters aligned with Yemen’s Saudi-led coalition-backed government, rest at a frontline south of the city on September 21, 2018 in Hodeidah, Yemen. Source: Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images
- A more precise breakdown of the interviews is as follows: There were sixteen interviews of security and armed actors, mainly commanders and senior officers, including three women officers. Twenty-eight of the interviews, which include five women, were with civil society and human rights advocates, lawyers and journalists who are actively engaged in holding armed actors accountable. The author also interviewed twelve senior staff from international organizations working on the security sector in Yemen. The rest of the interviews include Yemeni government and local authority officials, political figures, and ordinary citizens. One interview was conducted with a senior military judge. I wish to acknowledge several individuals who helped me during the field research with contacts, facilitating interviews, and offering valuable insights: Dina El-Mamoun, Saqr Manqoosh, Huda Al-Sarari, Anis Qassim, and Muna Luqman. I also want to thank Eamon Kircher-Allen for editing the report.
- For more, see Nadwa Al-Dawsari, “Fantasies of State Power Cannot Solve Yemen War,” The Century Foundation, July 13, 2021, https://tcf.org/content/report/fantasies-state-power-cannot-solve-yemens-war/.
- Al-Dawsari, “Fantasies of State Power Cannot Solve Yemen’s War.” For other examples, see “Letter Dated 21 February 2023 from the Panel of Experts on Yemen Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Security Council, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N22/770/93/PDF/N2277093.pdf?OpenElement; “Yemen: Events of 2021,” Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/yemen; and Human Rights Council, “Situation of Human Rights in Yemen, Including Violations and Abuses since September 2014. Report of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen,” September 13, 2021, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/GEE-Yemen/A-HRC-45-CRP.7-en.pdf.
- This figure comes from the National Commission to Investigate Alleged Violations to Human Rights. During 2021, the Commission documented 1,219 cases of forced disappearance and arbitrary detention. The Houthis were responsible for 1,031 cases, while forces allied with the Yemeni government and the STC were responsible for 188 cases. Deputy head and spokesperson of the National Commission to Investigate Alleged Violations to Human Rights, interview with the author, Aden, February 13, 2022.
- Human rights activists and professionals interviewed indicated that these violations happened in Aden, Lahj, and Taiz, and increased dramatically in Abyan and Shabwa during 2022. Two southern human rights advocates, interviews with the author, December 12, 2022 and March 18, 2022
- Land grabbing is particularly prominent in Aden, on the west coast, and, to a lesser extent, in Abyan and Taiz. In the south, armed actors or individuals protected by them seize land along the road that connects Aden with Taiz and Aden with Abyan. Oftentimes, they also sell the land to other people, which further deepens the problem of land disputes in the country. (National Commission to Investigate Alleged Violations to Human Rights spokesperson, interview; Local tribal leader, interview with the author, January 5, 2022.) A recent report has also revealed that military commanders are among 115 powerful figures involved in seizing public land and property on the west coast. See “Government Report Reveals 115 Powerful Figures and Leaders Accused of Grabbing Public Land on the West Coast of Taiz” (in Arabic), Almasdar Online, January 20, 2022, https://almasdaronline.com/articles/244998.
- Some people have returned to their homes only for armed group members to refuse to evacuate those homes. Prominent political activist, interview with the author, December 13, 2022; Human rights activist from Taiz, interview with the author, February 13, 2022; human rights activist from Taiz, interview with the author, January 14, 2022.
- Civilians can be snatched from checkpoints before they are arbitrarily detained or disappeared. Although there has been a marked reduction in incidents of forced disappearance in both Aden and Taiz during the past few years, abusing civilians at checkpoints is not uncommon. Human rights activist from Taiz, interview.
- One interviewee mentioned an incident to the author in which a civilian wanted to transfer his bed from a government-controlled part of Taiz to Houthi-controlled Ibb. What he ended up paying at checkpoints was a lot more than the value of the bed itself. Travelers are sometimes arbitrarily asked to pay money in exchange for allowing their belongings through checkpoints. Interview with a Yemeni humanitarian and civil society activist (Mona), January 4, 2022. Commanders generate wealth and, consequently, power as a result of the revenues they generate from checkpoints. (Southern human rights advocate, interview with the author, March 18, 2022; southern human rights activist and lawyer, interview with the author, December 21, 2021.)
- Human rights advocate, interview with the author, February 13, 2022. For more on extortion of truck drivers—and the strikes by drivers that have sometimes followed—see “In Protest to Authorities Neglect of Truck Drivers Demands, Total Strike by Businessmen in Yafaa Districts” (in Arabic), Aden Alghad, February 7, 2022, https://adengad.net/posts/596912; “Extortion causes suspension of transporting goods between the south and north” (in Arabic), Al-Ayyam, February 6, 2022, https://www.alayyam.info/news/8WDKGF96-A4Z66B-04AE; “Goods Are Prone to Spoil . . . a Strike by Truck Drivers in Lahj” (in Arabic), Almushahid, February 9, 2022, https://almushahid.net/92173/.
- A local civil society activist in Aden who was involved in the case, interview with the author, February 22, 2022.
- Perpetrators sometimes gain access to photos by stealing phones or from repair shops that women use to fix their phones. Sometimes, perpetrators approach women as lovers and women send them their photos because they grow to trust them. Human rights activist, interview with the author, December 12, 2022; civilian protection advocate, interview with the author, January 10, 2022.
- Female officer, interview with the author, Aden, December 21, 2021.
- “In Photos: Guards of a Senior Commander in the Security Belt Physically Assault an Officer in Aden Airport Security Who Asked Them to Conform to Laws and Rules” (in Arabic), Aden Alghad, April 16, 2021, https://adengad.net/public/posts/540488.
- Journalist from the west coast, interview with the author, January 18, 2022; “A civilian passed under torture in coalition prisons on the west coast” (in Arabic), Aden News, June 15, 2022, http://www.adennewsagencey.com/94591/; and “Protests Continue in al-Khokha Demanding the Arrest of Armed Men Who Carried Assassinations,” Al-Ayyam, June 16, 2021, https://www.alayyam.info/news/8N1SX61F-Z0ZN30-518C.
- Aden deputy security director, interview with the author, Aden, February 8, 2022.. According to a local lawyer, in a training session his organization conducted for security leaders, the female trainer tried to provoke them by telling them that they were not respecting civilians’ rights at checkpoints. “We do not know what your rights are. They took us from the frontlines straight to the checkpoints,” one of the participants, who is a security officer, responded to her. (Lawyer and civil society activist, interview with the author, Aden, February 11, 2022.)
- STC Human Rights Committee, interview with the author, Aden, February 16, 2022.
- A senior member of the National Commission, interview with the author, Aden, February 13, 2022.
- CIVIC program officer, interview with the author, January 10, 2022. A senior female officer from the Ministry of Interior said that forces need at least six months of training on discipline and police and military laws to understand and appreciate hierarchy. Brigadier Alia Omar, director of family protection at the Ministry of Interior, interview with the author, Aden, February 16, 2022.
- Aden deputy security director, interview. Their salaries for the month of May 2021 were paid in March 2022. “Paying Salaries of Ministry of Interior Members for May 2021 Has Begun” (in Arabic), Aden Alghad, March 28, 3022, https://adengad.net/posts/607705.
- Aden deputy security director, interview.
- Shabwa security director, interview with the author, Shabwa, February 19, 2022.
- Senior Ministry of Interior staff member, interview with the author, Aden, February 19, 2022; local security expert, interview with the author, Aden, February 23, 2022.
- Mohammed Al-Shuwaiter, “The Impact of the War on Yemen’s Justice System,” PILPG and International Legal Assistance Consortium, November, 2021, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5900b58e1b631bffa367167e/t/61dee94b6073db3fb6061779/1641998668657/The-Impact-of-the-War-on-Yemens-Justice-System.pdf. The study covers the governorates of Aden, Hadhramout, Ibb, Marib, Sana’a, and Taiz,
- According to the security director in Shabwa, there are at least thirty cases in the governorate in which the appeals court approved the death penalty, but which have not been processed due to the absence of the supreme court. Shabwa security director, interview.
- AL-Shuwaiter, “The Impact of the War on Yemen’s Justice System.”
- Senior security actor, interview with the author, Aden, February 7, 2022; local journalist on the west coast, interview with the author, January 18, 2022; human rights activist in Taiz, interview with the author, January 14, 2022.
- Local journalist on the west coast, interview.
- These are established by the Police Authority Law no. 20 for the year 1991.
- See articles 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124 of the Executive Bylaw for the Police Authority Law no. 20 for the year 1991, available at http://agoyemen.net/lib_details.php?id=140. See also Police Authority Law no. 15 for the year 2000, https://yemen-nic.info/db/laws_ye/detail.php?ID=11711.
- Shabwa Security Director, interview.
- Senior security official in Taiz, interviews with the author, January 10, 2022 and December 23, 2022.
- Advisor to Aden security director, interview with the author, March 27, 2022.
- Senior military officer in the Joint Forces, interview with the author, January 20, 2022.
- “Strict Orders from the Giant Brigades on the west coast to Not Interfere in Land Problems” (Arabic), Hour News, January 9, 2021, https://hournews.net/104704/توجيهات-صارمة-من-ألوية-العمالقة-بالساحل-الغربي-بعدم-التدخل-بمشاكل-الأراضي.
- “The Giants Close Civilian Prisons inside Its Military Camps” (in Arabic), Al-Ayyam, February 6, 2022, https://www.alayyam.info/news/8WDHHT5S-96IIMH-640B.
- Senior military official in Taiz Axis, interview with the author, March 30, 2022.
- Local journalist, interview with the author, January 20, 2022; Yemeni humanitarian worker who works with forces on the west coast, interview with the author, December 23, 2022; civilian protection professional, interview with the author, January 14, 2022.
- See Yemeni Republican Decree no .7 for the Year 1996 Regarding the Military Penal Code, http://agoyemen.net/lib_details.php?id=3; see also Yemeni Republican Decree no. 21 for the Year 1998 Regarding Military Crimes and Punishments, http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/arabic/Yemeni_Laws/Yemeni_Laws15.pdf.
- Senior STC security official, interview with the author, February 7, 2022.
- Military judge, interview with the author, Aden, February 24, 2022.
- Military judge, interview with the author, Aden, February 26, 2022; Senior official in Taiz Axis, interview with the author, March 29,2022.
- Human rights advocate in Taiz, interview with the author, January 14, 2022.
- Senior official in Taiz Axis, interview, March 29, 2022.
- Security Belt commander, interview with the author, Abyan, February 10, 2022.
- Senior military officer in the Joint Forces, interview with the author, January 20, 2022.
- Security Belt commander in Abyan, interview.
- It was established by a Republican Resolution in 2012, building on the Gulf Cooperation Council Initiative and UN Security Council Resolutions 2051 and 2140.
- Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) country director, interview with the author, February 7, 2022; senior member of the Yemen Panel of Experts, interview with the author, January 17, 2022.
- “Letter Dated 25 January 2022 from the Panel of Experts on Yemen Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” Yemen Panel of Experts, January 26, 2021, https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/2067429/S_2022_50_E.pdf.
- “Joint Incidents Assessment Team (Jiat) on Yemen Responds to Claims on Coalition Forces’ Violations in Decisive Storm Operations,” Saudi Press Agency, May 8, 2016, https://www.spa.gov.sa/1524799.
- Interviews with two senior members of the National Commission for Investigating Alleged Violations of Human Rights, Aden, February 7 and 13, 2022; see also “Ninth Periodic Report for the period 1/8/2020 to 1/7/2021,” National Commission for Investigating Alleged Violations of Human Rights, https://www.nciye.org/reports/NineReport/NINE-en.pdf; National Commission for Investigating Alleged Violations of Human Rights Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/NCIAVHRYemen/.
- These include CIVIC, Geneva Call, and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). In the first half of 2021, it signed a memorandum of understanding with Geneva Call and another one with the ICTJ. National Commission for Investigating Alleged Violations of Human Rights, “Ninth Periodic Report.”
- Two senior members of the National Commission for Investigating Alleged Violations of Human Rights, interviews with the author, Aden, February 7 and 13, 2022. For more about the commission please visit its website https://www.nciye.org/en/; and its Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/NCIAVHRYemen/. Field visits by the National Committees are documented on its website, https://www.nciye.org/?cat=1. See also “National Commission Checks on the Situation of Detainees in Aden Police Stations” (in Arabic), Crater, February 20, 2022, https://www.cratar.net/archives/180211.
- Maggie Michael, “Detainees Held without Charges Decry Emiratis’ Sexual Abuses,” Associated Press, June 21, 2018, https://apnews.com/article/yemen-ap-top-news-international-news-united-arab-emirates-sexual-abuse-7994b4508e9c4a5eaf8a1cca9f20322f. See also “Beir Ahmed Prison: Yemen,” International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, 2016, https://mappingmena.org/map/yemen/beir-ahmed-prison.
- Members of the National Commission for Investigating Alleged Violations of Human Rights who visited the prison, interview with the author, Aden, February 13, 2022; “Increase in Suicide Attempts in Beir Ali Prison under the Control of STC,” Yemen Shabab, February 19, 2022, https://yemenshabab.net/news/73832.
- Prominent public figure in Taiz, interview with the author, December 13, 2021; human rights advocate in Taiz, interview with the author, Aden, February 13, 2022.
- Senior security official, interview with the author, Taiz, January 10, 2022.
- Prominent public figure, interview with the author, Taiz, December 13, 2021; Human rights advocate in Taiz, interview; “Ghazwan al-Mikhlafi in the Hospitality of Taiz Axis” (in Arabic) Alsharea News, August 12, 2020, https://alsharaeanews.com/2020/08/12/26185/.
- Chair of the Mothers of Abductees Association, interview with the author, June 22, 2022.
- Southern lawyer, interview with the author, Aden, February 11, 2022; civil society leader, interview with the author, Aden, February 14, 2022; civil society leader, interview with the author, Aden, February 15, 2022.
- Yemen Panel of Experts, interview with the author, January 17, 2022.
- On exile, see Alice Speri, “She Helped Expose Secret UAE-Run Prisons in Yemen-and Paid a Steep Price,” The Intercept, December 21, 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/12/31/uae-yemen-prisons-disappeared/; two southern human rights activists, interview with the author, December 12, 2022; local journalist on the west coast, interview with the author, January 18, 2022. On being shut down, human rights advocate, interview with the author, December 12, 2022.
- Human rights advocate, interview, December 12, 2022; human rights advocate, interview with the author, October 16,2022.
- Erica Gaston and Nadwa Al-Dawsari, “Waiting for Change: The Impact of Transition on Local Justice and Security in Yemen,” United States Institute of Peace, April 2013, https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/PW85-Waiting-for-Change.pdf.
- Shabwa security director, interview with the author, February 19, 2022.
- Commander of the Security Belt in Abyan, interview with the author, Abyan, February 10, 2022; security director in Shabwa, interview with the author, Ataq, February 19, 2022.
- “Unified Shabwa Sons Coalition Issues a Statement Regarding the Extrajudicial Execution of One of Shabwa’s Sons in Lawder,” Crater Sky, February 12, 2022, https://cratersky.net/posts/94088.
- Security director in Shabwa, interview.
- Civilian protection advocate, interview with the author, Aden, February 12, 2022; member of security force, interview with the author, Aden, February 13, 2022; civilian protection professional, interview with the author, January 10, 2022.
- Interview with a southern human rights advocate, December 22, 2022.
- Twitter status update from @SidqYem, December 12, 2022, https://twitter.com/sidqyem/status/1602364574984015872?s=48&t=688rACVXjScGKN6pK8203g.
- Human rights advocate, interview with the author, Taiz, December 13, 2022; Human rights advocate in Taiz, interview with the author, January 14, 2022.
- Senior officer from the National Resistance Forces, interview with the author, January 20, 2022; senior security official, interview with the author, Taiz, January 10, 2022.
- Human rights advocate, interview with the author, Taiz, January 14, 2022; senior political actor, Taiz, interview with the author, December 13, 2021; civil society leader, interview with the author, Aden, February 14, 2022; lawyer, interview with the author, Aden, February 11, 2022; two national human rights advocates, interview with the author, Aden, February 13, 2022.
- Southern lawyer, interview with the author, Aden, February 11, 2022.
- Human rights advocate, interview with the author, Taiz, February 14, 2022.
- “Yemen: Aden Governor Officially Announce the Deployment of Security Popular Committees throughout the City” (in Arabic), Yemen Future, July 13, 2021, https://yemenfuture.net/news/3085; “Ahmed Hamed Announces Forming Popular Committees in the Capital” (in Arabic), Hayrout, July 14, 2021, https://hayrout.com/68839/.
- Community committee member in al-Sheikh Othman district, interview with the author, Aden, February 15, 2022.
- Community committee member in al-Mansoorah district, interview with the author, Aden, February 23, 2022.
- Senior security official from the Ministry of Interior, interview with the author, Aden, March 22, 2022.
- Yemen Center for Human Rights Studies, Facebook post, December 1, 2021, https://www.facebook.com/YemenCenterForHumanRightsStudies/posts/4683392285032359.
- “Detainees Released Days after Report on UAE-Run Prisons,” Associated Press via Daily Sabah, June 27, 2018, https://www.dailysabah.com/mideast/2018/06/27/detainees-released-days-after-report-on-uae-run-prisons.
- Human rights advocates, interview with the author, December 2021 to March 2022.
- Human rights advocate, interview with the author, Taiz, January 14, 2022.
- “Yemen: Failure to Renew Group of Eminent Experts’ Mandate a Serious Blow to Accountability,” International Commission of Jurists, October 8, 2021, https://www.icj.org/yemen-failure-to-renew-group-of-eminent-experts-mandate-a-serious-blow-to-accountability/.
- CIVIC director and team, interview with the author, Aden, February, 2022; member of CIVIC CPGs, interview with the author, February 22, 2022; member of CIVIC-sponsored CPGs, interview with the author, Aden, February 14, 2022.
- CIVIC community engagement officer, interview with the author, February 22, 2022; member of CIVIC CPGs, interview with the author, Aden, February 22,2022.
- Geneva Call country director, Mohammed Hassan, interview with the author, March 16, 2022.
- Head of STC Security Committee, interview with the author, Aden, February 7, 2022; senior security official, interview with the author, Taiz, January 10, 2022; two members of STC joint operation room, interview with the author, February 8, 2022.
- CIVIC country director, Dina El-Mamoun, March 29, 2022; Geneva Call Country Director, March 16, 2022.
- Security actors in Taiz, Aden, Abyan, and Shabwa, interviews with the author, January–March, 2022.
- A driver, interview with the author, Aden, February 9, 2022.
- Shabwa security director, interview with the author, February 19, 2022.
- Head of STC security committee, interview with the author, Aden, February 7, 2022.
- Local mediator, interview with the author, February 4, 2022; a conflict expert, interview with the author, February 22, 2022; a prominent political activist, interview with the author, Taiz, December 2, 2022.
- Senior police officer, interview with the author, Taiz, January 10, 2022; a protection of civilians professional, interview with the author, January 10, 2022.
- Local lawyer, interview with the author, Taiz, February 4, 2022.
- Lawyer and human rights advocate, interview with the author, Aden, February 16, 2022.
- Ali al-Awlaqi, head of STC’s Supreme Security Committee, interview with the author, Aden, February 7, 2022. The author also visited the Joint Operations Room (JOR) and Interviewed Colonel Ahmed Abdullah Moqbil, deputy head of the JOR, and Sameer Rajeh, assistant for Permission Affairs at the JOR, Aden, February 24, 2022.
- Civil society leader who mediated, interview with the author, Aden, February 14, 2022. See also “Know the Place of the Governor of Al-Ommal Samed Sanah” (in Arabic) Manbar Aden, February 7, 2022, https://manbaraden.com/posts/1583; “Evacuating al-Ommal Island from Military Presence and Transferring Violators to the Judiciary” (in Arabic), Al-Ayyam, February 8, 2022, https://www.alayyam.info/news/8WGG8J59-YE8UA7-B89A; “Samed Sanah hands over al-Ommal Island to Awsan al-Anshali” (in Arabic), Al-Watan, February 9, 2022 https://www.al-wattan.net/news/183797.
- Aden Security Director Order, March 3, 2022; “Aden Security Director Strips the STC Militia Leader Samed Sanah of His Rank” (in Arabic), Huna Aden March 14, 2022, https://sahafahn.com/details/13270439?news=مدير-أمن-عدن-يصدر-يجرد-القيادي-في-مليشيا-الانتقالي-صامد-سناح.
- The head and deputy head of the STC Human Rights Committee and the head of rights and freedoms in the committee, interview with the author, February 16, 2022.
- The author obtained a draft copy of the code of conduct from STC.
- Human rights advocate and lawyer in Aden, interview with the author, December,2022; Southern Human right activist, interview with the author during February, 2022
- Prominent political activist, interview with the author, Taiz, December 23, 2022.
- Civilian protection professional, interview with the author, January 10, 2022; several human rights advocates and civil society leaders in Taiz, interview with the author, December 2021 to March 2022.
- Mohammed al-Iriani, “Policing in a Fragmented State: Resilience of Local State Institutions in Taiz,” Yemen Policy Center, March 2022, https://www.yemenpolicy.org/policing-in-a-fragmented-state-resilience-of-local-state-institutions-in-taiz/.
- Head of the Family Protection Department in the Taiz Police, interview with the author, March 29, 2022; “For the First Time since 1994, 6 Women Are Appointed into Leadership Position in Aden Police,” Alsharea, January 18, 2022, https://alsharaeanews.com/2022/01/18/83123/.