A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a Yemeni blogger to 10 months in prison, a fine of 10,000 riyals ($2,600) and deportation for a social media post supporting equal rights for people in same-sex relationships, Human Rights Watch announced July 28. Mohamad al-Bokari was arrested in Riyadh on April 8, after posting a video on social media, which authorities said contained "sexual references" and "violated public order and morals." This was apparently a reference to the line: "Everyone has rights and should be able to practice them freely, including gay people." Sources told HRW that al-Bokari was subjected to a forced anal exam, an internationally discredited practice used to seek "proof" of homosexual conduct. HRW says the practice has no scientific basis, violates medical ethics, and constitutes cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment that may rise to the level of torture. Al-Bokari was charged with "violating public morality" and "imitating women."
In an exhaustive report released June 30, the independent monitor Mwatana for Human Rights documents a chilling aspect of Yemen's more than five-year war that has gone overlooked, precisely because of its secretive nature: "enforced disappearances," torture, and deaths at illegal detention centers across the country. The report documents abuses by all parties to Yemen's war, some of which it says may constitute war crimes. The Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, forces backed by the United Arab Emirates, and the Ansar Allah (Houthi) rebel group are all accused of running detention centers—some on military bases or intelligence compounds, some in cellars below private homes or requisitioned public buildings.
One percent of the world's population has been forced to flee their homes due to war, conflict and persecution to seek safety either somewhere within their country or in another country, according to the latest Global Trends report released June 18 by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. As more people became displaced than at any time since UNHCR began issuing its annual study, fewer were able to return home—or even build sustainable lives in another country. "We are witnessing a changed reality in that forced displacement nowadays is not only vastly more widespread but is simply no longer a short-term and temporary phenomenon," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
With testing capacity low and the health system ravaged by five years of war, nobody really knows how many people are infected or dying of COVID-19 in Yemen, but the outlook does not seem good. Hundreds of people in Aden have reportedly died with symptoms that appear consistent with the coronavirus, while in the Houthi-controlled north there are unconfirmed but persistent rumors of a cover-up to mask a rising case count. To make matters worse, the UN—concerned it can't protect its staff from the virus inside their compound—has pulled half of its remaining international workforce out of Sana'a, putting them on flights to Addis Ababa. Some people have remained behind in the Yemeni capital, and others are holed up in Aden (recently deluged by flash floods and a political power struggle), but most foreigners who work for UN agencies will now have to do their jobs remotely. The bulk of the UN's aid workers in Yemen are Yemenis, of course, and they are still in the country, doing their best to fight off a global pandemic that even the world's richest countries are struggling to manage.
Yemen's southern separatist group declared self-rule in the parts of the country it controls on April 26, leading to fears of a new and even more dangerous conflict after five years of war. The Southern Transitional Council said in its announcement that it plans to govern several southern provinces, including the de facto capital city of Aden, which the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi also claims as its seat.
Yemeni government officials reported the country’s first case of COVID-19 on April 10, shortly after the Saudi Arabia-led coalition announced that it would be observing a two-week unilateral ceasefire, in part to help confront the pandemic. The move was welcomed by the UN, and the office of Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths said he was working with the warring parties on a "comprehensive initiative" to end the five-year war. But a Houthi rebel spokesperson said coalition air-strikes had continued after the truce's onset, and dismissed the initiative as a "political and media manoeuvre." The rebels were reportedly not consulted before the coalition's April 8 ceasefire declaration, but on the same evening a senior Houthi figure posted on Twitter the details of his group's plan to end the war. All of this comes on the heels of a recent increase in violence, including Saudi air-strikes on the Houthi-controlled capital city of Sana'a, and the shelling of a prison in the province of Taiz that reportedly killed at least five women and one child.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for warring parties across the world to lay down arms in support of the battle against COVID-19. "The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war," he said in a March 23 statement. "That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives... Silence the guns, stop the artillery, end the air-strikes. It is crucial to help create corridors for life-saving aid, to open precious windows for diplomacy, to bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19." (UN News, PBS News Hour)
The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., began hearing oral arguments Jan. 29 in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Donald Trump, a case challenging the administration's travel bans. The plaintiffs, led by IRAP, argue that, despite the Supreme Court ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, their challenge is not barred. They contend that the high court simply addressed the preliminary injunction, and not the merits of the overall travel ban. The case challenges the proclamation Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, Executive Order 13780. The plaintiffs are asserting that the proclamation is unconstitutional, while the Trump administration argues that Trump v. Hawaii settled the constitutionality of the proclamation.