Amnesty International on Thursday accused members of the United Arab Emirates armed forces and allied Yemeni fighters of torturing and abusing detainees in a network of secret prisons across southern Yemen.
The human rights group said in the report that scores of men had been “forcibly disappeared” and subjected to systematic torture and ill treatment by UAE forces and their allies across Aden, Lahj, Abyan, Hadramout, and Shabwa governorates, where UAE forces are stationed as part of the Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting Houthi rebels.
At least 19 men remain missing, and some are feared to have died in custody, Amnesty said. One former detainee told Amnesty researchers that he had seen a fellow detainee being carried away in a body bad after being repeatedly tortured.
Detainees were subjected to beatings, electric shocks and sexual violence, the report said.
“I saw things I do not want to see again. In that place, you do not even see the sun,” the report quoted a former detainee as saying.
“They were making all sorts of accusations [against me]. They started beating me… Then one day, they released me at night, they said they had me confused with someone else … ‘It was a mistaken identity, sorry.’ It was as if they had done nothing after all the suffering I endured from electric shocks.”
Amnesty said the practices documented in the report amounted to war crimes and called for an investigation into the alleged abuses.
“Amnesty International is calling on the government of the UAE to bring the detention facilities it runs in Yemen under the oversight of the Yemeni Prosecutor General, and to account for the detainees in the custody of forces under its control.
“The UAE must also stop engaging in arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment; and conduct a prompt, effective and impartial investigation into the allegations of serious violations of international law.”
The UAE is a member of the Saudi-led coalition that has been fighting in support of exiled Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi since March 2015. At least 10,000 people have died in the country’s war since then, according to the United Nations.
It has repeatedly denied that it is involved in running unlawful detention facilities in southern Yemen.
Muslim Brotherhood Targeted
According to the report, those detained have included critics of the coalition and the practices of UAE-backed security forces, including community leaders, activists and journalists, and supporters and members of the al-Islah Party, the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood which the UAE considers a terrorist organisation.
Others detained include relatives of suspected Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQIP) and Islamic State (IS) members, and men who initially helped the coalition fight the Houthis but are now seen as a threat.
The report said that the UAE had created, trained, equipped and financed local security forces known as the Security Belt and Elite Forces, and built direct alliances with Yemeni security officials operating outside the Yemeni government’s command-and-control structure.
“These forces, alongside UAE troops, have been widely implicated in egregious detention-related violations, including enforced disappearance and torture,” the report said.
In November last year, Middle East Eye reported how Security Belt forces had arrested 11 Islah leaders and stormed two of the party’s main bases in Aden.
Aqeel al-Yafei, a Security Belt field commander, told MEE at the time that most of the securty and military forces in the south were working under the leadership of the UAE and confirmed that the Emiratis had created a network of prisons around Aden.
“The UAE are supervisors helping to save Aden and other southern provinces, so it supervises the military camps and prisons. The UAE has done nothing wrong,” Yafei said.
The UAE mission in Geneva said last month that Yemeni authorities “are in complete control of local and federal governance, judicial and prison systems”.
However, the interior minister in the southern-based government, Ahmed al-Maysari, appeared to contradict that statement earlier this week by calling on the UAE to shut down or hand over prisons it runs.
On Tuesday, Maysari said he had reached an agreement with the UAE and that now all prisons in the government-held areas are under the control of the Yemeni general prosecutor.
“The UAE, operating in shadowy conditions in southern Yemen, appears to have created a parallel security structure outside the law, where egregious violations continue to go unchecked,” said Tirana Hassan, crisis response director at Amnesty International.
“Ultimately these violations, which are taking place in the context of Yemen’s armed conflict, should be investigated as war crimes,” Hassan said.
The Amnesty report also called on the United States to do more to ensure it does not receive information obtained by its UAE allies through torture, and to promote compliance with human rights laws.
Similar allegations of detainee abuse were reported by The Associated Press news agency last month and by Human Rights Watch in a report in January.