The extent of Houthi human rights abuses has been richly documented by various media and human rights organizations, and by now, are well known to those with an interest in the situation in Yemen.
They have abducted at least 20,000 people, kept caged like animals, and conscripted thousands of children.
They have reportedly committed 18,000 violations in a period of 6 months in 2019.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Houthis have a record of torturing prisoner.
CNN has exposed a systematic abuse of aid.
And in 2019, Associated Press put out a report documenting Houthi practice of detaining women without charges and torturing them without ever bringing them to trial.
Yet even these credible allegations of heinous crimes failed to arouse international outrage for more than few days of quotes and reporting, before the international community shrugged off these stories and moved on.
Lack of political will, difficulty with enforcing, and downright political corruption among international institutions are just some of the contributing factors. Other additional issues have made taking action more complicated:
First, there is a tendency among UN panels, international NGOs, and even US domestic organizations and spokespeople to try to present “balanced” narratives blaming in equal part the Arab Coalition and the Houthis for humanitarian problem. That approach may be useful for avoiding appearances of bias, but it is not helpful in trying to arrive at accountability for specific and particular violations.
Second, Houthis claim to have a quasi-governing authority without actually presenting any political legitimacy. International and national institutions are at a loss as to what to do.
Finally, the Houthis are winning the information warfare battles. Human rights activists arguing Yemen issue tend to be pro-Iran; many of the Yemeni activists also prefer to utilize the “balanced” approach of criticizing all involved, while ultimately focusing on either securing additional humanitarian aid while avoiding the discussion of the obstacles to delivery in detail or in pushing US to stop assisting the Arab Coalition and to pressure “both sides” to keep to ceasefires and to arrive at a “political solution”.
Behind the representations of these activists, and the generic reports from the press, the voices of the victims of violence and abuse get lost and ignored. It is time to give individual women affected by Houthi policies their own platform to speak of their experiences directly. It is also time to start naming, shaming, and sanctioning those responsible by name.
Those who perpetrate these abuses are not abstract entities; they are individuals with a great deal of power, which they have usurped and now abuse to victimize the most vulnerable.
On Saturday, June 27, the Yemeni Coalition for Independent women brought together women testifying to horrific systematic misogynistic abuses and Western practitioners from various areas, including media experts, journalists and members of the US military, and human rights lawyers to hear the stories that need to be aired and to discuss ideas for moving forward to address the injustices and prevent further abuses.
Commanders of the US military and a number of members of the US Congress also had the opportunity to observe the meeting.
Here are the experiences and observations of the courageous Yemeni women in their own words.
Abductions in militia prisons: Yemeni women victims of kidnapping, arrests, and torture in Houthi prisons Yemeni Coalition for Independent Women Time: Saturday, June 27, 2020 at 8 pm Mecca time
Session Management: Dr. Wissam Basendouh is the president of the March 8 coalition for Yemeni women Speakers: 1- Professor Noura Al-Jarawi, a human rights activist and head of the Women for Peace Alliance in Yemen 2- Bardis Al-Sayaghi is a poet and relief activist. 3- Professor Adele Nazarian is a distinguished fellow in the field of media at the Golden Institute for International Strategy
Professor Noura Al-Jarawi, head of the Women for Peace Alliance in Yemen, who had previously been arrested by the Houthi militia militia, stressed the importance of the symposium addressing suffering and a very sensitive issue specific to the conservative Yemeni society. The issue of women detained in the Houthi prisons does not get much space in public discussions due to these sensitivities. In prison, the Yemeni women have been exposed to all kinds of violence and abuses since the beginning of the Houthi coup in 2014. This violence included mass killing, and victimization through sniping and mines, in addition to the humanitarian and economic situation. Since the beginning of 2017, women faced additional abuses.
Following the December 6, 2017 killing of the former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the first woman’s march condemned and denounced violations by the Houthis.
For the first time, women were arrested during that march, with 77 women taken into custody on that day.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights intervened in Sana’a to release all the detainees, but these arrests marked the beginning of the mass detention of women and the perpetration of abuses by the Houthi militia. The women have gone out on more than one march expressing their rejection of the Houthi coup since then, including the various abuses, repression, and the silencing of criticism by the Houthis.
Al-Jarawi added that on January 30, 2018, the first death sentence was issued to the citizen Asma Mater Al-Omeisi, who is 26 years old, on charges of communicating with the Arab coalition without any legal justification, trial, or even assigning a lawyer to defend her .This was the beginning of targeting women on spurious security charges. The goal of the public announcement of the names of the girls was an intimidation campaign by the Houthi militia to deter young women and others from participating in public events criticizing the Houthis lest they meet the same fate as the detained.
One example of sexual crime charges to oppress women was a show trial involving public shaming of 64 women who were sentenced to between three and five years in prison on unethical charges accused of being involved in what the Houthis call prostitution rings.
Professor Al-Jarawi and her colleagues found that this falsified accusation has been perpetuated by the Houthis, who used defamation to shut down the voices of women daring to speak up in a conservative society. Their reputations would be ruined, they would faces ostracism from their communities, and could be rejected even by their own families.
Concerning the Houthi abuses in prisons, Professor Al-Jarawi indicated that women are subjected to murder, maiming, and torture by electric shock, various forms of physical and psychological torture, and rape. An additional purpose of rape and other sexual crimes is used by the Houthis to pressure women to agree to the fabricated charges attributed to them She added that the detainees are subjected to mandatory “cultural courses” to try to inculcate the ideas of Houthi/Khomeinist regime in the minds of the detainees.
In 2020, there were 812 cases of arrest and detention, 83 cases of enforced disappearance, 5 cases of suicide, 53 cases of rape, 253 humanitarian and humanitarian workers, 57 from the education sector, 7 girls from the Baha’i community, 6 of whom were released, and one of them remained in Houthi prisons.
She added that there is no specific target age group in the militia prisons, where approximately 13 girls under the age of ten were monitored. and also 3 male children . Women of any age can end up in prison, with the oldest being 62 years old. They get detained under various pretext. The most recent detainee, Khaleda Al-Asbahi, was arrested as she was leaving a money exchange store that received a transfer from her son in one of the Middle Eastern countries.
The Houthis also practice taqiyya (a Shia practice of religious deception at times of danger) in promulgating the term “purification”, as they call the rape of female detainees. In reality, this is a form of sexual slavery and it does not differ from what ISIS and Al Qaeda do with what they call the marriage or “love” jihad, misleading or forcing young women into sexual arrangements, or even abducting them with the purpose of rape. The Committee of Experts in the UN Security Council and the Committee of Experts at the United Nations has accused figures from the Houthi militia of committing these immoral crimes against women in Yemen.
Immoral charges such as prostitution are the most prominent charges that the militia directs at women because they are fully aware that we are a conservative society and that families will not be able to disclose to human rights organizations or file any complaints to other parties .Professor Al-Jarawi pointed out that Sultan Zaben, director of security at one women’s prison, told a press conference in Sana’a 2019 that 49 prostitution cells were arrested, calling this round-up “A prostitution network of women”. If there are 10 girls in each network, the number will may be as high as 500 girls who are arrested on malicious and wrongful charges aimed at blackmailing families and at abuse of Yemeni women. What is interesting about these alleged prostitution cells is that there is not a single man affiliated or arrested in connection with any of them, which confirms that everything the Houthis have been claiming about their “fight against prostitution” has been a fabrication.
The Houthis legalized various racist practices among Yemenis and used women as pressure cards to target particular communities. There were many military, security, and tribal leaders who were blackmailed by the constant threat by the Houthis to kidnap and torture their women, imprison them, and fabricate charges against them if they stood up to the Houthis and confronted them.
Professor Al-Jarawi further related that the most prominent prison of Al Houthi is the central prison in Sana’a, as well as the political security, criminal investigation, and the central prison in Dhamar, in addition to the secret prisons in Dar al-Salaam, approximately fifty altogether, and in BEit Boss. All of these known and clandestine facilities have a have a large number of women still remaining in Al Houthi custody without any legal justification. She noted that the situation has reached the level of the militia members storming into private homes in violation of basic privacy concerns,, intimidating families, and carrying out raids to arrest women in broad daylight. This is done to subjugate the entire community; for instance, these thugs killed women in the Ab al-Dahdouhi’s family’s estate, after they killed the men. They killed Nasira al-Dahdouhi and her sister, and also killed Jihad Al-Asbahi in Al-Bayda. He was murdered by Hammoud Shitan in his village, and when the tribe tried to stand up to the group of Houthis engaged in the attack on his family, the Houthis used the same extraordinary measure of threatening the tribes by way of the women.
For the first time in Yemen, the Houthis introduced women’s military security intelligence services, called Zainabiyat, to repress and intimidate women and spy on them, and they are made up of racial sectarian and dynastic ideologues connected with specific clans. Most of their leaders are from the Hashemite families. Hashemite families are those supposedly descendant from the family of the prophet Mohammed, and under Khomeinist and Houthi control, enjoy special privileges such as the “khums” (One-Fifth) tax on all public and private property, and even charitable donations (zakat).
Recently, another Houthi-inducted female group which uses religiously inspired terminology as a way to gain legitimacy, the Fatimiyat, has been introduced to conduct educational studies to cultivate the ideas of Al-Houthi, forcing the detainees to listen to these beliefs and ideas. This practice is not that different from mandatory “political education” indoctrination classes forced by the party officials on students, prisoners, and workers across the Soviet Union back in the day. The result, of course, is the mass brainwashing of women.
What happens in Sana’a is nothing short of crimes against humanity.
For the first time in Yemen, a party dares to commit such violations against women in Yemen. Professor Al-Jarawi expressed the hope that the participants, through this symposium, would call on the international community to stand with the women of Yemen, to stop the violence and abuses to which the women are exposed in Houthi-controlled territories, and just as importantly to take action against the persecution of human rights defenders. She also called for action to stop the defamation and threats against women human rights defenders and demanded the inclusion of the Houthi group as a terrorist group that does not differ against ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and prosecute it for its war crimes committed in Yemen.
Draj Hammoud al-Mutawakkil, Sultan Zaben and Hammoud Shtan should be sanctioned and added to terrorist lists for documented war crimes against women in Yemen.
- Dr. Wissam Basandouh, the president of the March 8 delegation for Yemeni women, reiterated and expanded on several points, starting with the first death sentence in the history of Yemen against a woman, and underscoring the arrests of women on trumped-up charges, without even being accorded the minimum of due process, and thrown in prison for political reasons. She called for the launching of mass campaigns to demand the abolition of this just ruling, and for the release of all the women.
- Basandouh address to what Professor Noura Al-Jarawi described as the Houthi exploitation of an important social aspect, namely that the Yemeni society is a conservative society and women were not humiliated or subjected to torture except during the period of Houthi control. The Houthis are blackmailing the society politically and economically by calling for a large ransom to release the women detainees while they uphold the charges as a form of extortion. As a result, the women are targeted, and the Houthis stigmatize them with these false accusations that can accompany them for life. She touched on the charges of prostitution against women free from the presence of the male component, as confirming the falsehood of the Houthi allegations and maliciousness of their intent.
She said that the idea of a cleansing that is similar to the marriage jihad practiced by ISIS and the formation of the Houthi sectarian militia called Zinabiyya, which the Houthi used to torture and abuse women, was not a mainstream or even a widespread practice in Yemeni society before the arrival of the Houthis and their coup. Dr. Wissam returned to the secret prisons, and Zaynabiyyat as facilitators for Sultan Zaben, responsible for these arrests of women. They were all mentioned in the recent report of the Sanctions Committee as a cell concerned with the torture of women. Also, the idea of Zaynabiyyat and Fatimiyad is reproduced from the Hezbullah model and the mullah’s model in Iran. (Iran also has their male counterparts, Zaynabiyyun and Fatimiyyun, which are the Afghani and Pakistani foreign legions of the IRGC.)
Dr. Basindowah was followed by the presentation of the next speaker, Bardis Al-Sayaghi, a poet and activist in the field of humanitarian relief. She is one of the female survivors of the prisons of the Houthi militia. She recounted her story and her suffering in Al Houthi prisons. She has been persecuted after the December events because she works in the relief field. Bardis says that she was arrested on August 2, 2019, when five brigades including Political Security, National Security, Criminal Investigation, Preventive Security, Anti-Terrorism, and a number of Zinabitas, broke into her home at four in the morning. Bardis is a mother of three children and expressed concern about her reputation after they entered her bedroom, but was told that this procedure was required due to security concerns.
However, the group did not show her a judicial order and did not observe any regulations required to protect the privacy of a woman.
They forced her to open her phone after they isolated her in his cell. Various authorities interrogated her every four hours. Two National Security Investigators and members of the Zinabiyyan were involved in the interrogations. Bardis was forced to stand for hours while those interrogations took places and she said that the Houthis prepared three criminal files with various confessions they wanted her to sign. She was told to choose whether to sign a confession to treason, or other crimes. They entered into an argument, and Bardis refused to sign anything. As a result, she was subjected to various abuses, including beatings and electrocutions three times a day to the point that she lost sensitivity in her limbs, and could not even move her hands. They also made her stand on one leg while holding on to a chair with one of her hands for hours until she lost her balance or would have one of the Zinabiyyat hit her head on the table until she damaged the cornea in her right. Bardis would also be suspended by her her hands by being tied up with a rope for five hours over night. She was tortured consistently for two months and a week.
As for food, they provided them with bread, liters of water and a little rice, not to exceed two tablespoons throughout the day. Throughout this time, she was being coerced to get her to sign false confessions. The Houthis would strip her of hijab and uncover her hair to embarrass her, as a kind of humiliation to force her to sign the false confession they prepared for her.
She continued for two months and a week in solitary confinement, after which she went on a hunger strike. The Houthis then took her back to the general population, where she shared the cell with 14 other prisoners. She was then shocked by all kinds of torture against the detainees, and she discovered 120 prisoners, including two children, Toshka Bader Bawazir 3 years, and Mira Omar Al-Suraihi, 6 years, imprisoned with their mothers and the oldest prisoner, named Hana Shamsan, was 62 years old. When Bardis spoke to some of the young girls, she learned that two prisoners were raped by Taha Al-Mutawakkil. Taha Al-Mutawakkil is the Houthi health “minister”. These two prisoners were sisters, one was 14 years old and the other was 21. They were taken by the guards to a judge named Abu Sarim. It was only later discovered that Taha Al-Mutawakkil was the rapist after Bardis recognized him on the news after leaving the prison.
The “judge” would have the girls brought in, then select the girls he liked that would be preserved only for him. However, the security forces in the detention center shared the girls.They were arrested because their family members were with the former regime and were not present in Sanaa, and she added that the Houthis do not inform the families of the detainees, except after seven months of their enforced disappearance .. The Houthi militia forced the detainees to acknowledge the “vice” crimes of which they were accused. Then they would bring in their families, and in front of the detainees, they would inform them that these girls confessed to the charges, and the family would then disowned the girls due to these unethical allegations. Some attempted suicide as a result of being shamed.
Bardis concluded her speech by appealing to all human rights activists to stand up for and advocate for those who are still behind the bars of the Houthi militia.
- Adele Nazarian is a distinguished fellow in the field of media at the Gold Institute for International Strategy.
She thanked Bardis for her courage and said that the media does not cover what happens in prisons, the United Nations and international organizations are not interested in such issues even when they claim to be defending human rights. But the fate of women in Yemen, Iran, and elsewhere in the region should be part of these concerns, because they are left helpless. She noted that the women’s military security apparatus is very similar to what is practiced in Iran, and that he women in the suburbs of Tehran deal with the same type of mistreatment.
She added that women are still fighting against repression, as Iran is the main supporter of the Houthis in Yemen and is single-handedly responsible for the current conditions and for the civil war in Yemen, which is now considered to be one of the poorest countries in the Middle East and North Africa region as a result of the regional power struggles, and Iran’s aspiration to impose itself as the gatekeeper to the Middle East.
She noted that Iran had worked to turn Yemen into a laboratory for its experiments … and pointed to the difference in Khomeini’s rule since in the past forty years, and how the situation was before the Islamic Revolution when the laws were put in place to protect women in 1967 and 1973. These laws were abolished by the Khomeinist regime and the women became even more repressed than before these protections were put in place to begin with. Adelle added that groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbullah, the Houthis, Jamati-e-Islamiya, and the Islamic Republic of Iran had the effect of tarnishing the image of all Muslims, and encouraged Muslims to raise their voices and to make clear to the rest of the world that these groups do not represent Islam. She said that women’s rights are human rights and that all violators and abusers must be prosecuted.
- Mister Ben Minick is a journalist, Middle East specialist and military strategist.
- He expressed how valuable the information the women have related during the session, and followed up on what Adelle said by explaining that the situation in Yemen is an evolved version of the Iranian model that is now being brought up to its completion. He added that the participants, including him, need to obtain the list of those who had been murdered by the Houthis and that he was in a position to provide help if the activists could give him the idea of the location of these prisons and secret lock-ups.
These amazing speakers should be thanked for uncovering the truth despite the threat to their lives. They were able to share incredible insights from the inside and to highlight what is going despite being abused or having to live in constant risk of attention. They won a major victories against the HOuthis, whose goal was to silence critics and to impose totalitarian ideological control over the society, and eventually break it down completely by exploiting vulnerabilities. However, they failed to destroy their humanity and were unable to silence them. Their psychological experiment was a failure and they were the ones who proved weak.
There are several action steps to follow on the presentation:
One is to follow on the idea of getting Houthis designated in the United States and other countries a a terrorist organization, which will require extensive evidence gathering and consultations with the administration and COngress.
The other idea is to have specific HOuthi officials and their vassals sanctioned and blacklisted individually.
They can be sanctioned for general human rights abuses and various other related violations.
Additionally, the Global Magnitsky Accountability Act, which has been adopted in the United States as well as many other countries, provides measures against corrupt officials and those who persecute human rights defenders. There is no shortage of evidence of the Houthi corruption, starting with the “khums” tax and humanitarian aid diversion.
However, the intimidation campaigns against women activists is also a separate charge worthy of consideration.
The Global Magnitsky Act can apply to any country, although it is not generally applied to Iran, due to the heavy human rights scrutiny and other existing laws, and to avoid duplications.
HOwever, in Yemen’s case, there has been almost no action taken against known individual abusers.
To hold the human rights abusers accountable under the Global Magnitsky Act, there are two channels in the United States, which is to submit the list of names to non-governmental human rights organizations, which will submit them to the State Department and the Treasury, or through members of the Senate. The blacklisting process is heavily scrutinized an d may take months, if not years, for each individuals, but once someone is designated, it is not easy to get off.
The human rights lawyers participating in the symposium could provide assistance with meeting the heavy burden of the evidence for each of the accused officials affiliated with these charges.
At the end of the symposium, a cartoon was presented by Professor Zafaran Zaid, the first female cartoonist in Yemen, showcasing the HOuthis arrests and abuse of Yemeni women in prison.