A UN human rights panel report released Aug. 28 suggests that parties to the armed conflict in Yemen have been perpetuating crimes under international law. The Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen was appointed (PDF) by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the country, as well as to examine all alleged violations and crimes of international law to occur since the war began in September 2014. The report concluded that air-strikes carried out by the government of Yemen and its coalition, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have caused a majority of the civilian casualties. Other violations included persistent sexual violence and enlistment of young children into the armed forces of both sides in the war.
Saudi rights advocates are warning of the possible imminent beheading of detained activist Israa al-Ghomgham, who has been provisionally sentenced to death by a Riyadh court. At an Aug. 6 hearing before the Specialized Criminal Court in the capital, the Public Prosecutor recommended the death penalty for six defendants, including Ghomgham and her husband, Moussa al-Hashem, who have been held for nearly three years on charges related to anti-government protests in the Shi'ite-majority eastern region of Qatif. The charges include "participating in protests," "incitement to protest," "chanting slogans hostile to the regime," "attempting to inflame public opinion," "filming protests and publishing on social media," and "providing moral support to rioters." The prosecutor called for their execution based on the Islamic law principle of ta'zir, in which the judge has discretion over the definition of what constitutes a crime. A judge is expected to either confirm or reverse the death penalty recommendation at Ghomgham's next hearing in October.
A year after a network of secret prisons was first exposed in southern Yemen, Amnesty International has issued a new report documenting continued rights violations in these facilities, including systemic forced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment that may amount to "war crimes." The report, God only knows if he's alive, details how scores of men have been arbitrarily arrested and detained by United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Yemeni forces operating outside the command of their own government. Many have been tortured, with some feared to have died in custody. Since joining the conflict in March 2015, the UAE has created, trained, equipped and financed various local security forces known as the Security Belt and Elite Forces, bypassing their leadership in the Yemeni government.
With the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen launching a major offensive on the rebel-held port of Hodeidah, aid groups are warning of a humanitarian disaster on a scale far outstripping that already seen. Yemen is already considered the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 10.4 million people at risk of famine. Hodeidah is the entry point for 70% of the aid upon which over 22 million Yemenis depend. "The attack on Hodeidah places millions more people at risk of starvation and could violate UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions 2140 and 2216, regarding obstruction of the delivery of humanitarian assistance.," said a statement from the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that a sustained battle or siege of Hodeidah could lead to the deaths of as many as 250,000 civilians.
Saudi Arabia won applause around the world last year when women were finally allowed to drive in the conservative kingdom. But now, just as this reform is about to take effect, some of the activists who campaigned for it have been arrested—and may face the death penalty. A Saudi government statement said that the seven activists had been detained for "contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric." The statement also accused them of working together in "an organized manner to violate religious and national values," without actually naming the detainees. Rights groups have named six of them as Eman al-Nafjan, Lujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Aisha al-Manea, Ibrahim Modeimigh and Mohammed al-Rabea. Saudi newspaper Okaz reported on May 20, shortly after the arrests, that they may face the death penalty. An online "smear campaign" has also been launched against them, wth social media posts portraying them are "traitors." Most prominent among the detained is Loujain al-Hathloul, well known for her work campaigning against the driving ban. She was arrested at her home on the evening of May 15. (Middle East Eye, May 21; Amnesty International, May 19)
A crisis over the Yemeni island of Socotra was resolved this week, as the United Arab Emirates agreed to withdraw and turn control over to Saudi forces, which will in turn restore full Yemeni rule there. The island, just off the very tip of the Horn of Africa, has been ruled by Yemeni governments for centuries between periodic episodes of control by various European powers, and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique flora and fauna, hailed as the "Galapagos of the Indian Ocean." Emirati forces seized it at the beginning of the month, and raised their flag over the airport and other strategic points—sparking angry protests from the island's inhabitants. Hashim Saad al-Saqatri, Socotra's governor, condemned the UAE move as an "occupation," saying it represented "a flagrant violation of Yemeni sovereignty." Even after the de-escalation, suspicions remain. Yemen's ambassador to UNESCO, Ahmad al-Sayyad, charged that "there is synergy between the roles of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. There is a hidden inclination to divide Yemen." (Middle East Eye, May 18; Al Jazeera, May 17)
US special forces have been deployed to Saudi Arabia to help locate and destroy ballistic missiles and launch sites used by Houthi rebels in Yemen, a news report has claimed. A team of Green Berets, the US army’s special forces, deployed to the kingdom’s southern border with Yemen in December, in the wake of missile attacks by Houthi rebels targeting the Saudi capital, Riyadh, the New York Times reported May 3. The special forces team is said to be working with US intelligence analysts based in the city of Najran, near the border, to help locate missile sites in Yemen. It is also training Saudi forces to better defend the border, the report claims, citing interviews with unnamed officials from the US as well as European and Arab nations. The US commandos, reported to number around 12, are using surveillance aircraft to track the movement of Houthi missiles and launch sites. There is no indication the special forces have crossed into Yemen, the report said. (Middle East Eye, May 4)
After all the talk we've heard in recent years about how depressed oil prices are now permanent, in the wake of Trump's announced withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal Bank of America is predicting that the price of Brent crude could go as high as the once-dreaded $100 per barrel in 2019. The report also cited collapsing production in Venezuela due to the crisis there. Brent prices have risen above $77 per barrel since Trump's announcement. Prices have jumped more than 8% over the past month and 15% since the beginning of the year. According to the analysis, investors fear that renewed sanctions on Iran could lead to supply disruptions. (CNNMoney, May 10) Although the report failed to mention it, the Israeli air-strikes on Iranian targets in Syria have doubtless contributed to the jitters.