Yemen: demand Houthis release detained UN staff

Amnesty International called Juy 5 for Houthi authorities in Yemen to immediately release detained staff from the UN and civil society organizations. Amnesty's call comes one month after the workers' arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances following raids on homes and offices.

According to Amnesty, Houthi authorities have detained 13 UN staff and at least 14 staff from Yemeni and international aid organizations. Between May 31 and June 9, Houthi authorities conducted a series of nighttime raids on the detainees' homes and the offices of UN agencies and other local and international organizations in the cities of Sana'a, Hodiedah and Hajjah.

The Houthis are holding the detained staff incommunicado. They have denied the detained staff access to legal counsel, and refused to disclose their whereabouts to their families. According to a Human Rights Watch investigation, these conditions meet the criteria for enforced disappearances, which are a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

Houthi authorities have targeted humanitarian workers before, notably arresting and detaining four Yemeni UN staff members in 2021 and 2023, holding them incommunicado in arbitrary detention since. A Houthi media campaign has accused human rights and humanitarian groups of "conspiring against the country's interest," which has led staff to fear the risk of arrest and reprisal for their work.

The arrests and detentions come as the Houthis face increased economic difficulties and retaliatory air-strikes following their attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea amidst the Israel-Hamas war. The actions of Houthi authorities are seen as an attempt to distract from their governance failures, especially after a humanitarian aid pause by the World Food Programme (WFP) following concerns over aid manipulation.

Amnesty International has said that the Houthis continue to restrict the delivery and movement of humanitarian aid by imposing bureaucratic constraints, cancelling humanitarian initiatives, and enforcing the "male guardian requirement" on Yemeni women humanitarian workers traveling around the country.

"This chilling wave of arrests targeting the human rights and humanitarian community is yet another stark reminder of the lengths the Huthi authorities will go to in their crackdown on civil society," said Diala Haidar, Yemen researcher at Amnesty. "Huthi authorities must immediately release all UN and civil society workers who have been detained solely for their human rights and humanitarian work and end their ongoing crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression and association."

From Jurst, July 5. Used with permission.