Report on Human Rights
Practices for 1996Yemen
The Republic of Yemen, comprising the former (northern) Yemen
Arab Republic and (southern) People's Democratic Republic of Yemen,
was proclaimed in 1990. Following a brief but bloody civil war
in mid-1994, the country was reunified under the rule of the Sanaa-based
government. Later in 1994, a new postwar governing coalition
was formed, composed of the General People's Congress (GPC) and
the Yemeni Grouping for Reform (Islaah). The Yemeni Socialist
Party (YSP), formerly the main party of the south and a previous
coalition partner, is now an opposition party.
Lieutenant General Ali Abdullah Salih is the President and leader
of the GPC. He was elected by the legislature in 1994 to a 5-year
term. However, the Constitution provides that henceforth the
President will be elected by popular vote from at least two candidates
selected by the legislature. The 301-seat House of Representatives
was elected in 1993--the first multiparty Parliament elected by
popular vote and universal suffrage. The next parliamentary elections
are scheduled for April 1997. The Parliament is not yet an effective
counterweight to executive authority; real political power rests
with a few leaders, particularly the President. The judiciary,
nominally independent, is severely hampered by corruption, executive
branch interference, and frequent failure of the authorities to
The primary state security apparatus is the Political Security
Organization (PSO) which reports directly to the President. It
is independent of the Ministry of Interior and its leaders are
all military officers. The Criminal Investigative Department
(CID) of the police conducts most criminal investigations and
makes most arrests. The Central Security Organization (CSO),
a part of the Ministry of Interior, maintains a paramilitary force.
Members of the security forces, particularly those in the PSO,
committed human rights abuses.
Yemen is a poor country with an emerging market-based economy
that is impeded by excessive government regulation and unchecked
corruption. Its annual per capita gross national product is estimated
at $340. Oil is the primary source of foreign exchange, but remittances
from Yemenis working abroad (primarily in Saudi Arabia) are also
important. Remittances were sharply reduced after Saudi Arabia
and other Gulf states expelled up to 850,000 Yemeni workers during
the Gulf War because of the Government's pro-Iraq position. The
Gulf States also suspended most assistance programs, and much
Western aid was reduced.
The human rights situation changed little in 1996. Problems include
violence by security forces, which in one incident lead to a killing;
arbitrary arrest and detention, especially of people still regarded
as separatists; significant limitations on citizens' rights to
change their government; infringements on the freedom of speech
and the press; judicial corruption and inefficiency; and widespread
discrimination based on sex, race, disability, and to a lesser
extent, religion. The Government rarely punished human rights
abusers. Government response to demonstrations in the southern
city of Mukallah in June resulted in several deaths, at least
one of which occurred while the victim was in custody. PSO officers
have broad discretion over perceived national security issues,
and, despite constitutional constraints, routinely detain citizens
for questioning, sometimes mistreat detainees, monitor their activities,
and search their homes. Prison conditions are poor. Female genital
mutilation is practiced to an undetermined extent by some families;
although publicly discouraged, it is not prohibited by the authorities.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Police killed several persons during demonstrations on June 11
in the city of Mukallah. In addition, one young man active in
the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP) died in custody following his
arrest for participating in the demonstrations. His body was
buried without being returned to his family. The Government has
not assessed any blame nor punished any member of the security
forces for this death.
There were no other reports of political or extrajudicial killings.
Security forces continue to arrest and detain citizens for varying
periods of time without charge or notification to concerned families.
Many detainees, especially in southern governorates, are associated
with the YSP and accused of being separatists. Most such disappearances
are temporary, and detainees are released within months. A southern
poet and singer whose recorded songs satirically criticized government
leaders was detained in April without charge or notification to
his family. He was released in August.
Hundreds of cases of disappearances dating since the 1970's, implicating
the former governments of both north and south Yemen, remain unresolved.
Some tribes, seeking to bring their concerns to the attention
of the Government, kidnap and hold hostages. Victims include
foreign businessmen and tourists, as well as Yemenis. Foreign
victims are rarely injured. The authorities have succeeded in
obtaining the fairly quick release of foreign hostages.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment
The Constitution, which asserts that Shari'a (Islamic law) "is
the source of all legislation," is ambiguous on its prohibition
of cruel or inhuman punishment. It states that the Government
may not impose illegal punishments--a formulation that could be
interpreted as permitting amputations according to Shari'a. There
were, however, no reports of amputations.
Although there is no evidence of the systematic use of torture
in detention facilities, arresting authorities are known to use
force during interrogations, especially of those arrested for
violent crimes. A young man arrested for participating in a political
demonstration died in custody (see Section 1.a.). Authorities
still use leg-irons and shackles, and flogging is occasionally
inflicted as punishment for minor crimes. A woman detained in
Mukallah in May complained to authorities that she was raped by
a police officer while being interrogated. Upon making her complaint,
she was arrested, and charged with prostitution. She was acquitted
at her August trial while the officer accused of assaulting her
was convicted of "abuse of authority" and sentenced
to prison. The arrest caused riots, which resulted in several
Prison conditions do not meet internationally recognized minimum
standards. Prisons are overcrowded, sanitary conditions poor,
and food and health care inadequate. Inmates must depend on relatives
for food and medicine. Prison authorities and guards often exact
money from prisoners and even refuse to release prisoners until
family members pay a bribe. Conditions are equally bad in women's
prisons, where children are likely to be incarcerated along with
their mothers. All prison guards are male.
The Government tightly controls access to detention facilities.
Nonetheless, it permits most impartial observers to visit prisoners
and detainees, including representatives of the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Nongovernmental organizations
(NGO's) have distributed food, medical supplies, and clothing
directly to prisoners.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
According to the law, detainees must be arraigned within 24 hours
of arrest or released. The judge or prosecuting attorney must
inform the accused of the basis for the arrest and decide whether
detention is required. In no case may a detainee be held longer
than 7 days without a court order. Despite these constitutional
and other legal provisions, arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention
without charge are common practices. Such practices often result,
in effect, in the disappearance of such persons (see Section 1.b.).
Detainees have the right to inform their families of their arrests
and may decline to answer questions without an attorney present.
There are also provisions for bail. In practice many authorities
respect these rights only if bribed.
The Government has failed to ensure that detainees and prisoners
are incarcerated only in authorized detention facilities. The
Ministry of Interior and the PSO reportedly operate extrajudicial
detention facilities. Unauthorized, private prisons also exist
in tribal areas, where the central Government exercises very little
authority. People detained in these prisons are often held for
strictly personal reasons and without trial or sentencing.
In cases where a criminal suspect is at large, security forces
sometimes detain a relative while the suspect is being sought.
The detention may continue while the concerned families negotiate
compensation for the alleged wrongdoing.
Thousands of people have been imprisoned for years without documentation
concerning charges against them, their trials, or sentences.
While a few such cases have been redressed through the efforts
of the Yemeni Human Rights Organization, the authorities have
done nothing to investigate or resolve the problem. The authorities
continue to detain politically active persons for limited periods
At the end of the 1994 civil war, the President pardoned nearly
all who fought against the central Government, including military
personnel and most leaders of the unrecognized, secessionist Democratic
Republic of Yemen (DRY).
The Government does not use forced exile. However, the Government
denied the amnesty to only the 16 most senior leaders of the DRY,
who fled abroad. Although they were technically not forced into
exile, they are subject to arrest if they return. After more
than a year of postponment, the Attorny General in November summoned
the 15 to be tried.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an autonomous judiciary and independent
judges, however, the judiciary is not fully independent. Judges
are appointed by the executive branch of government, and some
have been reassigned or removed from office following rulings
against the Government. Many litigants maintain that a judge's
social ties and susceptibility to bribery sometimes have greater
influence on the verdict than the law or facts of the case. Others
maintain that judges appointed since mid-1994 are poorly trained
and that those closely associated with the Government often render
decisions favorable to it. The judiciary is further hampered
by the frequent reluctance of the authorities to implement sentences.
There are 2 types of courts: Islamic law or Shari'a courts, which
try criminal cases and adjudicate civil disputes (such as divorce
and inheritance cases), and commercial courts. There are no jury
trials under Shari'a. Criminal cases are adjudicated by a judge
who plays an active role in questioning witnesses and the accused.
Defense attorneys are allowed to counsel their clients, address
the court, and examine witnesses. Defendants, including those
in commercial courts, have the right to appeal their sentences.
Trials are public. However, both Shari'a and Commercial courts
may conduct closed sessions "for reasons of public security
or morals." foreign litigants in commercial disputes have
complained of biased rulings.
Female judges who worked in the south prior to the civil war have
been reappointed to positions. There are no female judges in
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home,
Despite constitutional provisions against government interference
with privacy, security forces routinely search homes and private
offices, monitor telephones, read personal mail, and otherwise
intrude into personal matters for alleged security reasons. Such
activities are conducted without legally issued warrants or judicial
supervision. Security forces regularly monitor telephone conversations
and have interfered with the telephone service of government critics
and opponents. Security forces sometimes detain relatives of
suspects (see Section 1.d.).
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution restricts the freedom of speech and press by
allowing it only "within the limits of the law." Although
many citizens are uninhibited in their private discussions of
domestic and foreign policies, some are cautious, believing that
they may be harassed for publicly expressed criticism of the Government.
The relative freedom of the press experienced prior to the 1994
civil war has not been fully reestablished. Although there were
fewer official restrictions on newspapers in 1996 than in 1995,
a level of government pressure on independent and political party
journals continues that was not present before the civil war.
The Ministry of Information influences the media by its ownership
of the television and radio companies, printing presses, and by
subsidies to certain newspapers. The Government selects the items
to be covered in news broadcasts and does not permit broadcast
reporting critical of the Government. Even televised debates
in the Parliament are edited to delete the most biting commentary
on the Government.
Although newspapers are allowed to criticize the Government, journalists
sometimes censor themselves, especially when writing on such sensitive
issues as government policies toward the southern governorates,
relations with Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments, or
official corruption. The penalties for exceeding these self-imposed
limits can be arrest for slander or libel, dismissal from employment,
or extralegal harassment. In 1995 the Ministry of Information
sought a court order to close the opposition newspaper Al-Shura.
The case was decided in favor of the paper, which resumed publication
The Government permitted the independent newspaper Al-Ayam, whose
publication had been limited to Sanaa at the end of 1995 to resume
publication in Aden. The paper was also allowed to import a printing
press this year, the first privately-owned newspaper in Yemen
to own its own press. Despite these positive developments, the
paper came under pressure to comply with the standards of expression
adhered to by government papers.
The independent English-language weekly, the Yemen Times, has
frequently criticized the Government. The management has been
periodically subjected to anonymous threats of violence, and government
authorities have interfered with the paper's operations.
The newspaper Al-Tajammu was denied access to government presses
for a period of 4 weeks after publishing a story criticizing government
policies toward Hadramaut Governorate, where there had been increased
There were reports throughout the year of journalists--particularly
in the south--being subjected to minor physical harassment and
short periods of arbitrary incarceration. One such journalist,
writing for the YSP paper Al-Thawry, was beaten by soldiers in
the Parliament building in July.
Customs officials confiscate foreign publications regarded as
pornographic or objectionable because of religious or political
content. In June the Ministry of Information began routinely
delaying the distribution of international Arabic-language dailies,
such as Al-Hayat and Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, in an apparent effort
to decrease their sales in Yemen. On a few occasions, the Ministry
has banned the entry of international Arabic publications. In
almost all cases, this was because they carried news about, or
statements by, leaders of the 1994 secession attempt.
Academic freedom is restricted by the presence of security officials
on university campuses and at most intellectual forums. Government
informers monitor the activities of professors and students.
The authorities review prospective university administrators and
professors for their political acceptability before they are hired.
In addition to Government activities, individuals identified
with various Islamic political groups are also believed to gather
information on the activities of professors and students.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Although there are no constitutional restrictions on the right
to peacefully assemble, government informers monitor meetings
Demonstrations in May and September in Mukallah protesting government
actions deteriorated into violence which resulted in several shooting
deaths of both demonstrators and security officers. At least
one such demonstrator died in custody (see Section 1.a.).
The Constitution does provide for the right of association. Associations
must obtain an operating license from the Ministry of Labor and
Social Affairs, usually a routine matter.
c. Freedom of Religion
Islam is the state religion, and there are restrictions on the
practice of other religions. Virtually all citizens are Muslims,
either of the Zaydi branch of Shi'a Islam or the Shafe'ei branch
of Sunni Islam. There are also some Ismailis in the north. Private
Islamic organizations may maintain ties to pan-Islamic organizations
and operate schools, but the Government monitors their activities.
Most Christians are foreign residents, except for a few families
of Indian origin in Aden. There are several churches and Hindu
temples holding regular services in Aden, but no non-Muslim public
places of worship in the former north Yemen. Church services
are, however, regularly held without harassment in private homes
or facilities such as schools.
Nearly all of Yemen's once sizable Jewish population have emigrated.
There are some restrictions on those Jews who remain (see Section
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel,
Emigration, and Repatriation
The Government does not obstruct domestic travel, although the
army and security forces maintain checkpoints on major roads.
Likewise, the Government does not obstruct foreign travel or
the right to emigrate and return. Women must obtain permission
from a male relative before applying for a passport or departing
the country, although enforcement of this restriction is irregular.
The Constitution prohibits the extradition of a citizen to any
The Government cooperates with the office of United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations
in assisting refugees. The Government has provided de facto first
asylum to approximately 30,000 in 1996. There are no reports
of forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution.
The UNHCR is negotiating with the Government to improve the living
conditions of the more than 50,000 Somali refugees in Yemen.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Although the Government is accountable to the Parliament, there
are significant limitations on the ability of the people to change
their government. Although international observers judged the
1993 parliamentary elections as generally free and fair, to date
the Parliament is not an effective counterweight to executive
authority; it does little more than debate issues. Decisionmaking
and real political power still rest in the hands of relatively
few leaders, particularly the President.
The President has the authority to introduce legislation and promulgate
laws by decree when Parliament is not in session. Decrees must
be approved by Parliament 30 days after reconvening. In theory,
if a decree is not approved, it does not become law; in practice,
a decree remains in effect even if not approved. The President
appoints the Prime Minister, who forms the Government. The Cabinet
comprises 24 ministers; the majority of ministers come from the
GPC and the remainder from Islaah.
In some governorates, tribal leaders retain considerable discretion
in the interpretation and enforcement of the law. Central government
authority in these areas is often weak.
There is a functioning multiparty system. All parties must be
registered in accordance with the Political Parties Law of 1991,
which stipulates that each party must have at least 75 founders
and at least 2,500 members. In preparation for the 1997 parliamentary
elections, 10 political parties have been registered under the
law with 6 more applications pending at year's end.
The Constitution prohibits the establishment of parties that are
contrary to Islam, oppose the goals of the Yemeni revolution,
or violate Yemen's international commitments. The Government
provides financial support to all parties represented in Parliament.
The parties are permitted to publish their own newspapers.
Although women may vote and hold office, these rights are limited
by cultural customs. Only 2 women have been elected to the 301-member
Parliament, and few hold senior leadership positions in the Government
or political parties.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International
and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human
The Yemeni Human Rights Organization (YHRO) is the best known
local nongovernmental human rights group. It is headquartered
in Sanaa with branches in seven other cities. While the Government
does not overtly restrict its activities, its senior staff are
subject to petty harassment from the authorities and its work
has subsequently decreased during the year. Another group, the
Yemeni Organization for the Defense of Liberties and Human Rights,
is based in Aden but has also been less active than in the past.
There is a Human Rights Committee in Parliament, which has investigated
some reports of human rights abuses. It suffers from lack of
official and financial support and has no authority to do anything
other than issue reports.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch observe Yemen closely.
There is an International Committee of the Red Cross representative
resident in Yemen. The Government has given these groups relatively
broad access to government officials, records, refugee camps,
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Disability, Language, or Social Status
Prior to 1994, the Constitution stated that "no discrimination
shall be practiced due to sex, color, racial origin, language,
occupation, social status, or religious beliefs." However,
as amended in 1994, the Constitution now states that "all
citizens are equal in general rights and duties". There
is widespread discrimination based on sex, race, disability, and
to a lesser extent, religion.
Although spousal abuse occurs, it is undocumented and difficult
to quantify. In Yemen's traditional society, an abused woman
would be expected to take her complaints to a male relative (rather
than the authorities) who would intercede on her behalf or provide
her short-term sanctuary if required.
Women face significant restrictions imposed by law, social custom,
and religion. Men are permitted to take as many as four wives,
though few do so for economic reasons. The practice of dowry
payments is widespread, despite efforts to limit the size of such
payments. Husbands may divorce wives without justifying their
action in court. Following a divorce, the family home and children
(who are older than a certain age) are often awarded to the husband.
Women also have the right to divorce, in accordance with the
precepts of Shari'a. Women seeking to travel abroad must obtain
permission to receive a passport and to travel from their husbands
or fathers and are expected to be accompanied by male relatives.
Islamic law permits a Muslim man to marry a Christian or Jewish
woman, but no Muslim woman may marry outside of Islam. Married
women do not have the right to confer citizenship on their foreign-born
spouses; they may, however, confer citizenship on children born
in Yemen of foreign-born fathers.
An estimated 80 percent of women are illiterate, compared with
approximately 35 percent of men. In general, women in the south
are better educated and have had somewhat greater employment opportunities.
Since the 1994 civil war, however, the number of working women
in the south appears to have declined, in part due to the stagnant
economy, but also because of increasing cultural pressure from
the north. Nevertheless, female judges, magistrates, and prosecutors
in southern governorates have been reappointed.
The Government has established a women's association to promote
female education and civic responsibilities, and a nongovernmental
organization has also been established for the same purpose.
While the Government has asserted its commitment to protecting
children's rights, it lacks the resources necessary to ensure
adequate health care, education, and welfare services for children.
Child marriage is common, especially in rural areas. Although
the law requires that a girl be 15 years of age to marry, it is
not enforced. Marriages of 13-year-old girls are not unusual.
The Government has cooperated with foreign embassies in cases
involving dual national girls brought back from overseas for forced
Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is widely condemned by
international health experts as damaging to both physical and
psychological health, is practiced by some Yemenis, particularly
those of African origin living mainly in the coastal areas. It
is not known to exist among the majority Zaydi and Shafi'i populations.
There is no available information on its extent. While some
government health workers actively and publically discourage the
practice, the Government has not passed legislation outlawing
People with Disabilities
There are distinct social prejudices against persons with mental
and physical disabilities. The disabled often face discrimination
in education and employment. The Government has not enacted legislation
or otherwise mandated accessibility for the disabled nor provided
special clinics or schools for them. Mentally ill patients, particularly
those who commit crimes, are imprisoned and even shackled when
there is no one to care for them. There is a charity project
to construct separate detention facilities for mentally disabled
Apart from a small but undetermined number of Christians and Hindus
in Aden, and a few Baha'is in the north, Jews are the only indigenous
religious minority. Their numbers have diminished dramatically
due to voluntary emigration. Jews are traditionally restricted
to living in one section of a city or village and are often confined
to a limited choice of employment, usually farming or handicrafts.
Jews may, and do, own real property.
Christian clergy who minister to the foreign community are employed
in teaching, social services, and health care. A hospital in
Jibla operated by the Baptist Church has, in the past, experienced
occasional threats and harassment from local Islamic extremists
who feared that the hospital may be used to spread Christianity.
Since an August 1995 incident of mob violence at the hospital,
which was eventually controlled by the authorities, the hospital
has not been threatened. Mother Theresa has active charity operations
in three cities.
Yemenis with a non-Yemeni parent, called "Muwalladin,"
may face discrimination in employment and in other areas. Persons
seeking employment at Sanaa University or admission to the military
academy must by law demonstrate that they have 2 Yemeni parents.
Nonetheless, many senior government officials, including Members
of Parliament and ministers, have only one Yemeni parent. In
some cases, naturalization of the non-Yemeni parent is sufficient
to overcome the "two-Yemeni parent" requirement.
A small group believed to be descendants of ancient Ethiopian
occupiers of Yemen, who were later enslaved, are considered the
lowest social class. Known as the "akhdam" (servants),
they live in squalor and endure persistent social discrimination.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution provides that citizens have the right to form
unions. A March 1995 law governs labor relations. It provides
workers with the right to strike and equal labor rights for women,
and it renews the freedom of workers to associate. The Labor
Law does not stipulate a minimum membership for unions, nor does
it limit them to a specific enterprise or firm. Thus, Yemenis
may now associate by profession or trade.
The Yemeni Confederation of Labor Unions (YCLU) remains the sole
national umbrella organization. The YCLU claims 350,000 members
in 15 unions and denies any association with the Government, although
it works closely with the Government to resolve labor disputes
through negotiation. Observers suggest that the Government likely
would not tolerate the establishment of an alternative labor federation
unless it believed it to be in its best interests.
By law, civil servants and public sector workers, and some categories
of farm workers, may not join unions. Only the General Assembly
of the Yemeni Confederation of Labor Unions may dissolve unions.
Three strikes occured during the year; negotiated solutions resolved
two of them. However, a strike by Hodeidah port workers against
the private companies for which they work was declared illegal
by the Government. The leaders were arrested and jailed, breaking
the work action. The dispute eventually was resolved through
negotiation and those imprisoned were released.
The International Labor Organization cited Yemen this year for
not providing since 1994 required reports on the freedom of association,
the application of ratified conventions, and the application of
The Yemeni Confederation of Labor Unions is affiliated with the
Confederation of Arab Trade Unions and the International Confederation
of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The new Labor Law provides workers with the right to organize
and bargain collectively. All collective bargaining agreements
must be deposited with and reviewed by the Ministry of Labor.
Unions may negotiate wage settlements for their members and can
resort to strikes or other actions to achieve their demands.
The law protects employees from antiunion discrimination. Employers
do not have the right to dismiss an employee for union activities.
Employees may appeal cases of antiunion discrimination to the
Ministry of Labor. Employees may also take a case to the labor
courts, which are often favorably disposed toward workers, especially
if the employer is a foreign company.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor. There
were no reports of its practice.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Because most Yemeni families feed themselves through subsistance
agriculture, child labor is common. Even in urban areas, children
may be observed working in stores, workshops, selling goods on
the streets, and begging. The established minimum age for employment
is 15 years of age in the private sector and 18 years of age in
the public sector. By special permit, children the age of 12
to 15 may work. The Government rarely enforces these provisions,
especially in rural and remote areas.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Labor Law sets monthly and daily minimum wages, which are
incredibly low (as little as $.80 per day (YR 100) and even these
are not enforced. The minimum wage does not provide a worker
and family with a decent standard of living. Inflation substantially
eroded wages during the past few years, but it subsided in 1996.
The law specifies a 40-hour workweek with a maximum 8-hour workday,
but many workshops and stores operate 10- to 12-hour shifts without
penalty. The workweek for government employees is 35 hours, 6
hours per day, Saturday through Wednesday, and 5 hours on Thursday.
Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work
situations and can challenge dismissals in court. The law establishes
workplace health and safety standards which the Ministry of Labor
has the responsibility to enforce; however, the Ministry's budget
does not provide sufficient resources to fulfill its obligations
under the law. Some foreign-owned companies implement higher
health, safety, and environmental standards than required in Yemen.
Source: U.S. State Department Report on Human Rights Practices