Warring Parties in Yemen Silent Amid Reports of Migrant Abuse

Human Rights

Recent communications from several United Nations experts to the Saudi government and Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthi forces, the de facto authority in much of Yemen, laid out a series of grave allegations of rights abuse against migrants and asylum seekers, including killings, torture, arbitrary detention, and sexual abuse. Unfortunately, both sides to Yemen’s years-long conflict ignored the reports.

In the October communications, which recently became public, the UN experts detail reports of Saudi security forces allegedly killing approximately 430 migrants and injuring 650 others in cross-border shelling and shooting between January and April 30, 2022. Captured migrants were allegedly tortured by Saudi security forces, with girls as young as 13 having reportedly been raped. The experts warn that women and girls are also at risk of sexual violence by smugglers who, collaborating with the Yemen Immigration, Passport and Nationality Authority (IPNA), under the control of Ansar Allah, are extorting migrants. Migrants in an IPNA reception camp in the town of Monabbih are also allegedly subjected to forced labor, sexual exploitation, forced to traffic drugs, and other forms of abuse. Migrants who fail to pay smuggling fees or submit to exploitation are reportedly detained or forcibly returned to south Yemen.

Most migrants passing through Yemen come from Ethiopia and include refugees and asylum seekers. Migrants transiting through Yemen are among the civilians most affected by the conflict. In 2021, Human Rights Watch documented scores of African migrants killed in a fire at a Houthi-controlled detention center. In 2020, Houthi and Saudi forces killed and injured dozens of African migrants in the Saudi-Yemen border area. According to the International Organization for Migration, over 43,000 migrants are stranded throughout Yemen.

Following heavy arm-twisting from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the UN Human Rights Council in 2021 shuttered the only international and independent body investigating abuses by all parties to the conflict in Yemen, despite repeated warnings about the impact this closure would have on human rights.

These latest allegations underscore the need for the UN, either via the General Assembly or the Human Rights Council, to establish a monitoring and investigative mechanism to gather evidence of possible war crimes by all sides.

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