International human rights group Amnesty International is calling for an investigation on potential war crimes in Yemen committed by the UAE and its militias. The Associated Press originally reported on torture taking place in a secret network of prisons outside the control of the Yemeni government.
Yemen is in the midst of a civil war, where Shiite Houthi rebels backed by Iran are battling both the government and a Saudi-led coalition, of which the UAE is a part. There is disconnect and discontent between the UAE and government forces, as the former has built up militias that do not answer to the Yemeni government.
Amnesty released a report (“God only knows if he’s alive”) detailing the cases of fifty-one men detained by UAE-controlled militias, nineteen of whom are still missing. Most of these cases involve enforced disappearance, with families not knowing if their loved ones are dead or alive unless they were released. Many have been held for an extended period of time without charges. Former prisoners recounted beatings, electric shocks, waterboarding, hanging, and sexual violence. They suffered from broken bones, malnourishment, and disease.
This is a violation of the UN’s Convention Against Torture, which prohibits its use in the extraction of confessions—in this case, prisoners are tortured into confessing their allegiance to terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS. The use of torture also violates the Yemeni Constitution, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Yemen is a party to. Article 7 of the ICCPR states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Since these violations are taking place during armed conflict, Amnesty has expressed that they should be investigated as war crimes.
While the UAE has called this a political move and denies control of the prisons, Yemeni Interior Minister Ahmed Al-Maysari has publicly demanded that the UAE close or relinquish these secret detention centers. Amnesty is also calling on the UAE’s counterterrorism allies – a significant member of which is the United States—to “take a stand against allegations of torture, including by investigating the role of U.S. personnel in detention-related abuses in Yemen.” AP’s investigation had revealed that U.S. forces were involved in the interrogation of certain detainees in the name of counterterrorism, since Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS are active in the area.