Report on Human Rights
Practices for 1997Yemen
The Republic of Yemen, comprising the former (northern) Yemen
Arab Republic and (southern) People's Democratic Republic of Yemen,
was proclaimed in 1990. The first democratically elected parliament
was convened in 1993. Following a brief but bloody civil war
in mid-1994, the country was reunified under the rule of the Sana'a-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). Field Marshal Ali Abdullah
Saleh is the President and leader of the GPC. He was elected
by the legislature in 1994 to a 5-year term. A constitutional
amendment provides that henceforth the president is to be elected
by popular vote from at least two candidates selected by the legislature.
Parliamentary elections were held in April, with the Yemeni Socialist
Party (YSP), formerly the main party of the south and a previous
coalition partner, leading an opposition boycott. The GPC won
an absolute majority of the new parliament. International observers
judged the April parliamentary elections, which, like the 1993
voting, were held on the basis of universal adult suffrage, as
reasonably free and fair. However, 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 weak and severely hampered
by corruption, executive branch interference, and the frequent
failure of the authorities to carry out sentences.
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. 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.
The civilian authorities did not maintain effective control of
the security forces. Some members of the security forces, particularly
the PSO, committed numerous, serious human rights abuses.
Yemen is a very poor country. Its embryonic market-based economy,
despite a major economic reform program, remains impeded by excessive
government interference and endemic corruption. Its annual per
capita gross national product (GNP) is estimated at $325. Agriculture
accounts for approximately 18 percent of GNP and industry for
approximately 8 percent. Oil is the primary source of foreign
exchange. Other exports include fish, agricultural products,
cotton, and building materials. Remittances from citizens 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 lack of support for the U.N. coalition. The
Gulf states also suspended most assistance programs, and much
other western aid was reduced. Foreign aid is beginning to reemerge
as an importance source of income.
The Government's human rights record continued to be poor, although
late in the year the Government took initiatives to combat some
human rights problems. There are significant limitations on citizens'
right to change their government. There were unconfirmed reports
of extrajudicial killing by some members of the security forces.
Some members of the security forces tortured and otherwise abused
persons. Prison conditions are poor. Some members of the security
forces continued to arbitrarily arrest and detain citizens, especially
persons still regarded as "separatists." PSO officers
have broad discretion over perceived national security issues,
and, despite constitutional constraints, routinely detain citizens
for questioning, mistreat detainees, monitor citizens' activities,
and search their homes. The Government rarely held members of
the security forces accountable for human rights abuses. Indeed,
the security forces sometimes countermanded orders from the President
and the Interior Ministry. After a series of bombings incidents
which began in Aden in August, security forces rounded up more
than 120 suspects, most of whom were held in incommunicado detention
for several weeks without formally being charged. Eventually
most of the detainees were released, two groups of 27 and 31 persons,
respectively, were brought to trial in connection with the bombings,
amid charges of violations of the rights of the accused. Security
forces made additional arrest after a series of bombings in October.
Prolonged pretrial detention is a serious problem, and judicial
corruption, inefficiency, and executive interference undermine
due process. The Constitution limits freedom of speech and the
press, and the Government harassed, intimidated, and detained
journalists. Journalists practice self-censorship. The Government
imposes some restrictions on freedom of religion. Discrimination
based on sex, race, disability, social status, and to a lesser
extent, religion, exists. Violence against women is a problem.
Female genital mutilation is practiced by some families, especially
along the coastal areas on the Red Sea; although publicly discouraged,
the authorities do not prohibit it.
In reaction to a March report by Amnesty International (AI), the
Government announced that it would investigate some of the issues
raised, including cases of disappearance, arbitrary arrest, and
torture, in addition to the situation of women. However, it rejected
some of AI's allegations.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Some members of the security forces have committed extrajudicial
killings. In April Abdullah Ahmed Barkani, a soldier on night
duty, opened fire at a polling station and killed five soldiers
and three civilians.
There were unconfirmed reports that two soldiers were killed by
their military superiors, apparently as a result of excessive
use of corporal punishment. Awadh Mubarak, a soldier based in
Hadramaut Governorate, reportedly died in May from injuries sustained
during a beating by his military superiors. During the same week,
another soldier died at al-Thawra military camp. He reportedly
had been beaten with metal skewers.
There were reports that two persons who were arrested after the
July bombings in Aden died as a result of torture inflicted by
the security forces. The Government stated that only one man
died, and that he committed suicide.
The 1996 case of a YSP activist who died in police custody remains
unresolved. The youth had been arrested following his participation
in a peaceful demonstration in Mukallah. No member of the security
forces has been charged in connection with his death.
Several persons died during the election registration process
and on election day during violent incidents at polling places.
Most of these deaths were attributed to underlying tribal disputes
connected to the elections.
Members of the security forces continue to arrest and detain citizens
for varying periods of time without charge or notification to
the families concerned. Many detainees, especially in southern
governorates, are associated with the YSP or other opposition
parties and accused of being "separatists." Most such
disappearances are temporary, and detainees are released within
months. Such was the case of persons arrested in connection with
the July 28 bombings (see Section 1.d.)
Amnesty International presented a "sample" list of 28
persons who reportedly "disappeared" while in government
custody in the years 1994 to 1996. The Government promised to
look into these cases. AI also alleged that there were hundreds
of unresolved disappearances dating from the pre-union period,
and particularly from the year 1986. In late 1997, the Foreign
Ministry created a special office for human rights. The office
has set up a computer data base for tracking persons alleged to
have "disappeared" in the past, particularly in the
former People's Democratic Republic of Yemen during the 1986 southern
civil war. This office was created specifically to respond to
Amnesty International's continuing assertion that the Government
refuses to account for "disappeared" persons.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
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. However, there were reports that
members of the security forces tortured and otherwise abused persons.
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. The Government in late 1997 banned the use of
heavy leg-irons and shackles.
According to a local human rights organization, many instances
of torture have taken place at Amran prison. The organization
reported that it had received first-hand evidence of the torture
of one prisoner in Amran. Another credible source confirmed the
torture of a non-Yemeni citizen in a Sanaa detention facility.
Amnesty International reported numerous cases of torture from
previous years for which no security officials have been held
accountable. The Government acknowledged to Amnesty International
that torture takes place, but said that the use of torture is
not government policy. A high-level prosecutor reported to a
Yemeni newspaper in late 1996 that six cases of torture by security
officials had been referred to the courts that year. The prosecutor
cited illiteracy and lack of training among police and security
officials as one of the reasons for the persistence of undue force
in the prisons.
There were reports that security forces tortured two men arrested
after the July bombings in Aden, causing their deaths. The Government
stated that only one man died, and that he committed suicide (see
The Constitution states that the Government may not impose "illegal"
punishments--a formulation that could be interpreted as permitting
amputations according to Shari'a. There were no reports of amputations
since 1991. The Shari'a-based law permits physical punishments
such as flogging for minor crimes (e.g., the penalty for the consumption
of alcohol is 80 lashes). It also provides for the ritual display
in public of the bodies of executed criminals. In August, a judge
in Seiyun sentenced two tribesmen to death by firing squad
and ordered their bodies to be displayed in public. The judgment
was in reaction to the pair's brutal slaying of a family of three
persons. The sentence was upheld by President Saleh and carried
out on August 4 with thousands of onlookers watching. The culprits
were first shot by a military firing squad, which hung the bodies
on the city wall for a 24-hour period. The purpose of this practice
is to demonstrate to the families of victims that justice has
been done and to avoid blood feuds between tribes.
Prison conditions are poor and do not meet internationally recognized
minimum standards. Prisons are overcrowded, sanitary conditions
are poor, and food and health care are inadequate. Inmates must
depend on relatives for food and medicine. Many inmates lack
mattresses or bedding. Prison authorities often exact money from
prisoners and refuse to release prisoners until family members
pay a bribe. Tribal leaders misuse the prison system by placing
"problem" tribesmen in jail, either to punish them for
non-criminal indiscretions or to protect them from angry mobs.
Conditions are equally poor in women's prisons, where children
are likely to be incarcerated along with their mothers. Female
prisoners are regularly held in jail past the expiration of their
sentences, and are not released until a male relative arranges
their release. Female prisoners are sometimes subjected to sexual
harassment, rape, and violent interrogation by male police and
prison officials. At the urging of AI, the Attorney General agreed
to investigate the conditions of women in prison.
The Government tightly controls access to detention facilities.
It allows local and international human rights monitors access
to persons accused of crimes. However, it allows no access to
political prisoners. For example, it did not permit access to
any of the detainees arrested in the wake of the July 28 bombings
In December the Human Rights Committee of the Consultative Council
(an advisory board to the President) conducted a tour of the major
prisons and reported that many prisoners were in jail without
"proper legal basis." The visits prompted the immediate
release of 112 persons, including several women and children.
The Committee fired (with the backing of President Saleh) six
prison officials found to be corrupt and incompetent. The Consultative
Council is calling for a restructuring of responsibilities among
the three bureaucracies responsible for the prisons--the Ministry
of Interior, the offices of the district attorneys, and the court
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The law provides for due process, however, security forces arbitrarily
arrest and detain persons. Enforcement is irregular and in some
cases nonexistent, particularly in cases involving security offenses.
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.
Following a series of explosions that took place in Aden in July,
October, and November, security forces rounded up several groups
of suspects and the Government announced that it had unearthed
a terrorist "ring" with links to foreign powers. The
Government said that the terrorists were planning a large conspiracy
to destabilize the Government, to include the killing of Yemeni
and foreign officials. The final total of those arrested is estimated
at more than 200 persons. Eventually most of those arrested were
released without ever being charged with any crime. However,
two separate groups of 31 and 27 individuals, respectively, were
formally charged and brought to trial in late November. The cases
were still under way at year's end.
The law provides detainees with the right to inform their families
of their arrests and to decline to answer questions without an
attorney present. There are provisions for bail. In practice,
many authorities respect these rights only if bribed. The majority
of persons detained in connection with the Aden bombings were
not permitted contact with their families or lawyers and were
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. Arbitration, rather
than the court system, is commonly used to settle cases.
The Government has failed to ensure that detainees and prisoners
are incarcerated only in authorized detention facilities. The
Ministry of Interior and the PSO operate extrajudicial detention
facilities. A large percentage of the total prison population
consists of pretrial detainees. Thousands of people have been
imprisoned for years without documentation concerning charges
against them, their trials, or their sentences. It is believed
that at least some of these persons are political detainees.
Most of the persons arrested after the Aden bombings apparently
had nothing to do with the crime and were detained merely because
of their affiliation with the political opposition.
While a few cases of those being held without charge have been
redressed through the efforts of local human rights groups (and
a few illegally detained prisoners have been released), the authorities
have done nothing to investigate or resolve these cases. However,
the Government acknowledged to AI that security officials must
be held more accountable to the judicial system.
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.
Some tribes seek to bring their political and economic concerns
to the attention of the Government by kidnaping and holding hostages.
Victims include foreign businessmen, diplomats, and tourists,
as well as Yemenis. According to a 1997 study by the newspaper
al-Wadah, for example, there were 105 kidnaping cases in 1995
alone. Foreign victims are rarely injured, and the authorities
generally have been successful in obtaining the quick release
of foreign hostages. However, it is widely believed that kidnapings
continue because the judiciary fails to implement sentences against
accused kidnapers. Indeed, in most cases the kidnapings are settled
out of court, and no suspects go to trial.
The Government does not use forced exile. At the end of the 1994
civil war, the President pardoned nearly all persons who had fought
against the central Government, including military personnel and
most leaders of the unrecognized, secessionist Democratic Republic
of Yemen (DRY). The Government denied this amnesty only to the
16 most senior leaders of the DRY, who fled abroad, and one of
whom is now presumed dead. Although they were technically not
forced into exile, they are subject to arrest if they return.
The so-called "trial of the 16," which began in late
1996, is in progress. The accused are being tried in absentia
on various charges, including forming a secessionist government,
conspiracy, and forming a separate military. Defense lawyers
claim that the prosecution's case is illegal because it depends
on the application of pre-union laws that had been superseded
by post-unification laws prior to the commission of the alleged
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The judiciary is not fully independent, even though the Constitution
provides for an "autonomous" judiciary and "independent
judges." Judges are appointed by the executive branch, and
some have been reassigned or removed from office following rulings
against the Government. Many litigants maintain, and the Government
acknowledges, that a judge's social ties and susceptibility to
bribery sometimes have greater influence on the verdict than the
law or the facts of the case. Some judges appointed since mid-1994
are poorly trained, and some of 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 five types of courts: criminal, civil (i.e., divorce
and inheritance), administrative, commercial, and military.
All courts are governed by Shari'a law. 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.
By law, defense attorneys are allowed to counsel their clients,
to address the court and to examine witnesses. Defendants, including
those in commercial courts, have the right to appeal their sentences.
Trials are public. However, all courts may conduct closed sessions
"for reasons of public security or morals." Foreign
litigants in commercial disputes have complained of biased rulings.
However, some foreign companies have reported winning cases against
Yemeni defendants and seeing the decisions enforced.
The law permits, in addition to regular courts, a system of tribal
adjudication. The results of such mediation carry the same weight
as court judgments. This provision of law explains in part why
so many persons who spend time in jail are never actually charged
with any crime.
Prior to unification, approximately half of the judges working
in southern Yemen were women. In the last few years, however,
many female judges have been reassigned to administrative or clerical
duties. There are no female judges in the north.
A total of 58 suspects were charged with conspiracy, espionage,
and related crimes after a series of bombings in Aden in the latter
half of the year. Their trials, which were under way at year's
end, do not appear to meet minimum international standards for
due process. There are reports that confessions were coerced,
and that defendants were denied the opportunity to consult with
The Government claims that it holds no political prisoners, and
releases no data on such cases. However, this claim is disputed
by many local and international human rights groups, who report
that various political prisoners were convicted after unfair trials.
f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family,
Home, or Correspondence
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.).
In April security personnel broke into the Aden headquarters of
the League of the Sons of Yemen (RAI), an opposition party affiliated
with the exiled, foreign-financed Mawj opposition. According
to the RAI, the security forces rummaged through files and desks,
confiscated office supplies and equipment, and sealed the offices.
Also in April, the secretary general of the Yemeni Socialist
Party (YSP) was stopped while being driven through Aden. His
bodyguards were disarmed, interrogated, and physically abused.
The law prevents arrests between the hours of sundown and dawn.
However, most of those detained in connection with the Aden bombings
were taken from their homes in the middle of the night, without
Some of those detained in connection with the Aden bombings reportedly
were pressured to renounce their affiliations with opposition
parties. They were threatened with continuing confinement in
prison if they did not give up political activity or join the
President's party, the GPC.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution restricts the freedom of speech and press "within
the limits of the law." Although most citizens are uninhibited
in their private discussions of domestic and foreign policies,
some are cautious in public, fearing harassment for criticism
of the Government. The Press Law criminalizes "the humiliation
of the State, the Cabinet, or parliamentary institutions,"
and the publication of "false information" that "threatens
public order or the public interest." The Government influences
the media and limits press freedom.
The relative freedom of the press permitted between unification
(1990) and the civil war (1994) has not been reestablished fully.
An atmosphere of government pressure on independent and political
party journals continues that was not present before the civil
war. The international human rights group, the Committee to Protect
Journalists, criticized the Government on at least two occasions
for restrictions, harassment, and arbitrary detention directed
The Ministry of Information influences the media by its ownership
of the country's sole television and radio outlets, by its control
of most printing presses, and by subsidies to certain newspapers.
Only one newspaper, the twice-weekly Aden independent Al-Ayyam,
owns its own press. The Government selects the items to be covered
in news broadcasts, and does not permit broadcast reporting critical
of the Government. Televised debates in the Parliament are edited
to delete such criticism.
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 governates,
relations with Saudi Arabia and other foreign governments, or
official corruption. The penalties for exceeding these self-imposed
limits can be arrest for libel, dismissal from employment, or
In a case from 1995, two journalists for Al-Shoura newspaper were
found guilty in May of slander and character assassination against
an important sheikh, one of the leaders of the Islaah party.
The presiding judge ordered that the newspaper be shut down; that
the journalists be flogged with 80 lashes and stopped from work
for 1 year; and that they pay a compensation of approximately
$800 (100,000 yr). The Ministry of Justice has suspended this
judgment while reviewing its conformity with law and judicial
procedure. Al-Shoura continued to operate at year's end. Al-Shoura
had suffered government harassment in the past; security officials
closed the paper from mid-1995 through mid-1996, when a judge
ruled that the closure was illegal.
In early 1997, a trial began against Muhammad Al-Saqaf, a journalist
and former university professor who had written articles critical
of the Government in the weekly government-controlled paper Al-Wahda
in 1996. Specifically, Al-Saqaf had questioned the Government's
handling of preparations for the 1997 election. The Committee
to Protect Journalists interceded with the Government on his behalf.
The case is continuing.
The weekly opposition newspaper Al-Tajammu' continued to be subjected
to minor harassment from government authorities. In 1996 the
paper's publishers temporarily had been denied access to government
presses because of criticism of the Government.
There were reports throughout the year of journalists (particularly
in the south) being subjected to minor but frequent physical harassment,
abuse, and short periods of arbitrary incarceration. At least
six of the persons arrested in connection with the Aden bombings
were journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists and other
international and local human rights organizations protested to
the Government on their behalf. The journalists eventually were
released without charge.
Customs officials confiscate foreign publications regarded as
pornographic or objectionable because of religious or political
content. The Ministry of Information routinely delayed 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. In almost all cases, this was because they carried
news about or statements by leaders of the 1994 secession attempt.
To publish a book in Yemen, the author must obtain a permit from
the Ministry of Culture. In the end most books are approved,
but the process is time-consuming for the author. The author
must submit copies of the book to the Ministry. Officials at
the National Library must read and endorse the text. It is then
submitted to a special committee for final approval. If a book
is not deemed appropriate for publication, the Ministry simply
does not issue a decision. Publishers do not usually deal with
an author who has not yet obtained the permit.
Academic freedom is somewhat restricted by the extreme politicization
of university campuses. Many administrators, professors, and
students align themselves with either the ruling GPC party or
the opposition Islaah party. Each group closely monitors the
activities of the other. Islaah members have intimidated students
and professors from discussing topics of which they disapprove.
Top administrative positions are usually awarded to political
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
There are no constitutional restrictions on the right to assemble
peacefully, although the Government requires a permit for these
purposes. Government informers monitor meetings and assemblies.
Angry citizens launched several sit-ins, hunger strikes, and other
peaceful demonstrations in reaction to the Government's security
crackdown following the Aden bombings. In at least one instance
demonstrators were refused a permit to assemble. On September
10, several thousand persons demonstrated in Mukallah against
the continued holding of detainees. The demonstrators had applied
for but been denied a permit. The Government allowed the demonstration
to take place without interference.
There are no constitutional restrictions on the freedom of association,
and the Government generally respects this right in practice.
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. Although followers of other religions
are free to worship according to their beliefs, there are some
restrictions on their other activities. Most notably, they are
prohibited from proselytizing.
Virtually all citizens are Muslims, either of the Zaydi branch
of Shi'a Islam or the Shafa'i 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 in Aden, but no non-Muslim public places of worship in
the former north Yemen. Church services are regularly held without
harassment in private homes or facilities such as schools. However,
occasionally the security authorities censor the mail of Christian
clergy who minister to the foreign community, ostensibly to prevent
Nearly all Yemen's once sizable Jewish population has emigrated.
There are no legal restrictions on those Jews who remain, although
their are traditional restrictions on places of residence and
choice of employment (see Section 5).
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country,
Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
In general, the Government does not obstruct domestic travel,
although the army and security forces maintain checkpoints on
major roads. Likewise, the Government does not routinely obstruct
foreign travel or the right to emigrate and return. Journalists
must have a permit to travel abroad. Women must obtain permission
from a male relative before applying for a passport or departing
the country. However, enforcement of the restrictions on journalists
and women are irregular. The Constitution prohibits the extradition
of a citizen to any country.
Immigrants and refugees traveling within the country are often
required by security officials at government checkpoints to show
that they possess resident status or refugee identification cards.
The Government in 1997 offered first asylum to some 51,500 Somali
refugees who were forced to flee the fighting in that country.
It also cooperated with the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees (UNHCR) in assisting refugees from Eritrea (2,500
persons), Ethiopia (1,200 persons) and various other countries
(750 persons). It permitted the UNHCR to monitor the situation
of 20,000 Iraqis in Yemen, many of whom could become of concern
to UNHCR because of the situation in Iraq.
The UNHCR provides food and medical assistance to up to 7,000
Ethiopians in a temporary refugee camp at Al Jahin. The Government
has approved a new UNHCR facility to be built at a site in Lahaj
Governorate in the near future.
The Government has granted refugee status to some persons and
resettled them. Approximately 30,000 Somali refugees have now
been integrated into Yemeni society and are no longer receiving
food from the UNHCR. However, they are still eligible for medical
treatment at UNHCR facilities.
In past years, human rights organizations had alleged that the
Government forced certain refugees to return to countries in which
they feared prosecution. However, this has not been a problem
in recent years.
The UNHCR facilitated the voluntary repatriation of Eritrean and
Ethiopian refugees, and also facilitated the voluntary return
of some Somali refugees to areas of Somalia that are considered
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of
Citizens to Change Their Government
Although the Government is by law accountable to the Parliament,
there are significant limitations on the ability of the people
to change their government. International observers judged the
April parliamentary elections as "reasonably free and fair"
despite some problems associated with the voting. 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 a few leaders, particularly
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, all of whom are now from the GPC.
Following the 1997 elections, the President announced the formation
of a Consultative Council, a board of notables chaired by the
former Prime Minister, to advise him on certain policy matters.
Some observers have compared this council to an "upper chamber"
like the United States Senate. The Council reviews and advises
the President on all laws that are submitted to the Chamber of
Deputies. However, the Council has no constitutional powers.
It is not elected; it is appointed by the President.
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.
The multiparty system is functional but arguably weaker than in
1993, when the first parliamentary elections were held. 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. Twelve parties participated
in the April elections, compared with to 16 in 1993. The YSP
and several smaller parties boycotted the election, leading to
lower voter turnout in the south than in 1993.
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 and religious customs. Only 2 women were elected
to the Parliament in April (the same number as in 1993), and few
hold senior leadership positions in the government or political
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International
and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human
The Yemeni Human Rights Organization (YHRO) is the best organized
local nongovernmental organization (NGO) devoted to human rights.
Its head office is in Sanaa with branches in seven other cities.
It was founded by the Government, and some experts have viewed
some of its findings as not objective. The head of the organization
is president of the Sanaa Court of Appeals and is a strong government
supporter. In September the YHRO co-sponsored, along with the
Taiz-based Human Rights Information and Training center and the
Tunis-based Arab Institute for Human Rights, a training workshop
Another group, the Yemeni Organization for the Defense of Liberties
and Human Rights, is based in Aden. It was less active than in
the past because of a lack of funds.
Several new NGO's devoted to human rights education and democratization
began to organize. The Taiz-based Human Rights Information and
Training Center held training workshops for some of these NGO's
as well as for primary and secondary school teachers. It also
sponsored activities in coordination with the YHRO and the Arab
Institute for Human Rights in Tunis.
In late December, the Cabinet approved formation of the Supreme
National Committee for Human Rights, under the chairmanship of
the deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. The Committee
includes the Ministers of Legal and Parliament Affairs, Justice,
Social Affairs, and Interior; the Attorney General; Chairman of
the Political Security Office; and chief of the Office of Judicial
Inspection. The main purpose of the council is to ensure that
Yemen meets its obligations with respect to implementing the international
human rights conventions. However, the Committee also is expected
to look into specific instances of abuse.
In late 1997, the Consultative Council formed its own human rights
committee. This committee invited various embassies and representatives
of international organizations to present their concerns about
the human rights situation in Yemen.
A parliamentary human rights committee has investigated some reports
of human rights abuses. It suffers from lack of official and
financial support and has no authority to do anything but issue
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Committee to
Protect Journalists observe Yemen closely. The International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) maintains a resident representative
in Yemen. The Government has given these groups relatively broad
access to government officials, records, refugee camps, and prisons.
The Government acknowledged some human rights abuses alleged
in an Amnesty International report issued in March and promised
to investigate them. However, the Government rejected other allegations
in the Amnesty report.
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". Discrimination
based on race, sex, disability, and, to lesser extent, religion,
Although spousal abuse is reportedly common, it is generally undocumented.
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. Only recently has the press begun to investigate
or report on violations of women's rights.
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. By law the minimum age
of marriage is 15. However, the law is largely unenforced, and
some girls marry as early as age 12. The law stipulates that
the wife's "consent" is required; "consent"
is defined as "silence" for previously unwed women and
"pronouncement of consent" for divorced women. The
husband and the wife's guardian (usually her father) sign
the marriage contract; in the former south Yemen, the wife also
signed. The practice of dowry payments is widespread, despite
efforts to limit the size of such payments.
The law stipulates that the wife must "obey" the husband.
She must live with him at the place stipulated in the contract;
consummate the marriage; and not leave the home without his consent.
Husbands may divorce wives without justifying their action in
court. Women theoretically also have the legal right to divorce.
However, in practice women divorce only when their husbands have
failed to provide for them. Following a divorce, the family home
and any children older than a certain age are often awarded to
the husband. The divorced woman usually returns to her father's
home, or to the home of another male relative. Her former husband
must continue to support her for another 3 months, since she cannot
remarry until she proves that she is not pregnant.
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. However, this rule
is not universally applied.
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. The fertility rate is 7.5 children
per woman. Most women have no access to basic health care. Even
where clinics are available, many women do not use them because
their male relatives, or they themselves, refuse to allow a male
doctor to examine them.
In general, women in the south are better educated and have had
somewhat greater employment opportunities than their northern
counterparts. 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.
A Government-sponsored women's association promotes female education
and civic responsibilities, and a NGO also has been established
for the same purpose. Several women's groups are in the process
of forming and registering with the Government.
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.
The U.N. Development Program estimates that 30 percent of children
are malnourished. The infant mortality rate is 106 deaths per
The law provides for universal free education for 9 years, but
this provision is not enforced. Many children, especially girls,
do not attend primary school. Some rural areas have no schools
for their school-age population.
Child marriage is common, especially in rural areas. Although
the law requires that a girl be 15 years old to marry, it is not
enforced. Marriages of 12-year-old girls are not unusual.
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, including
those of African origin, living mainly in the Red Sea coastal
areas. It is rarely reported among the Shaf'ai religious sect,
and adherents of the Zaydi sect reputedly do not practice it at
all. According to a 1992 report issued by a European researcher,
the practice is "prevalent" in Tihama province in southwest
Yemen, "widely reported" for the Hadramaut area along
the southern coast, "spotty" elsewhere, and "totally
absent" from the inland highlands and desert areas. The
European report describes the procedure in Yemen as mainly confined
to excision, with infibulation being practiced only among east
African immigrants and refugees. While some government health
workers actively and publicly discourage the practice, the Government
has not passed legislation to outlaw it, nor have women's groups
adopted the problem as a major concern.
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. Many disabled persons are
reduced to begging in order to support themselves. Mentally ill
patients, particularly those who commit crimes, are imprisoned
and even shackled when there is no one to care for them. Since
1995, the ICRC, in cooperation with the Yemeni Red Crescent Society,
has constructed and staffed separate detention facilities for
mentally disabled prisoners. These new facilities are located
in Sanaa, Ibb, and Taiz, and collectively can care for a population
of 300 persons.
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 significantly
due to voluntary emigration. Although the law makes no distinction,
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 in the past
experienced occasional threats and harassment from local Islamic
extremists who feared that the hospital might be used to spread
Christianity. There were no reports of harassment against the
hospital in 1997.
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 two 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 of persons claiming to be the 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 1995 labor law governs labor relations. Workers
have the right to strike. The law provides 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,
citizens 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.
In 1997 there were two brief strikes by pilots and ground personnel
of Yemenia, the national airline.
The YCLU is affiliated with the Confederation of Arab Trade Unions
and the formerly Soviet-controlled World Federation of Trade Unions.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The 1996 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;
such agreements exist. 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. The law does not specifically
prohibit forced or bonded labor by children, but such practices
are not known to occur.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum
Age for Employment
Child labor is common, especially in rural areas. Many children
are compelled to work in subsistence farming by virtue of the
substandard economic situations of their families. Even in urban
areas, children may be observed working in stores and workshops,
selling goods on the streets, and begging. The law does not specifically
prohibit forced or bonded labor by children, but such practices
are not known to occur (see Section 6.c.).
The established minimum age for employment is 15 in the private
sector and 18 in the public sector. By special permit, children
between the ages of 12 and 15 may work. The Government rarely
enforces these provisions, especially in rural and remote areas.
The Government also does not enforce the laws regarding compulsory
education for children, and the likelihood that many school-age
children are working instead of attending school is high.
According to a 1994 survey undertaken by the Ministry of Labor,
the number of children (between the ages 10 and 14) engaged in
work was more than 79,000 boys and 35,000 girls. Experts believe
that the number has grown substantially since the survey was taken.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
There is no established minimum wage for any type of employment
in Yemen. The Labor Law states that "it shall not be permissible
that the minimal level of the wage of a worker should be less
than the minimal level of wages of government civil servants."
According to the Ministry of Labor, the average minimum wage of
civil servants for 1994-1995 was approximately $45 to $53 (6,000-7,000
rials) per month. Private sector workers, especially skilled
technicians, do far better. A combination of inflation, the loss
of government-provided subsidies, and an erosion in the exchange
value of the national currency has substantially eroded wages
during the past few years.
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
Ministry of Labor has the responsibility for regulating workplace
health and safety conditions. However, according to an August
newspaper interview given by a senior official in the Ministry
of Labor, the requisite legislation for regulating occupational
health is nonexistent. The official reported that many workers
regularly are exposed to toxic industrial products. Some foreign-owned
companies implement higher health, safety, and environmental standards
than the Government requires.
Source: U.S. State Department Report on Human Rights Practices