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Senior UN rights official concludes visit to Yemen

Senior UN rights official concludes visit to Yemen, urges warring parties to prevent renewed fighting

GENEVA/NEW YORK/SANAA (30 November 2018) – Ten days before the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a senior UN official has been telling leaders on all sides of the Yemen conflict that “virtually every article in that noble document is being flagrantly and brutally disregarded.”

At the end of a visit to Aden and Sanaa, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour urged the warring parties to do “absolutely everything humanly possible” to prevent renewed fighting in the port city of Al Hudaydah. Renewed fighting would plunge millions more Yemenis into an even deeper crisis, and could contribute to what may turn out to be a massive famine.

He underlined the utter unacceptability of any party to a conflict deliberately creating massive humanitarian suffering as a tactic of war, and urged the immediate removal of restrictions on delivery of emergency food and medical supplies. He echoed a strong statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet earlier this month.*

Accountability for international crimes was an essential step forward, urged Gilmour, who also reiterated the need to restore law and order in the entire country. He said that the current breakdown of rule of law has had a terrible impact on people’s rights to life, security, freedom from arbitrary arrest and torture, freedom of expression (especially of journalists) and freedom of religion (especially among the Bahai community), as well as essential social and economic rights, including to food, education and health.

Assistant Secretary-General Gilmour was deeply moved by the testimonies of the Mothers of the Detainees whom he met in Aden, and who recounted harrowing and tragic tales of missing husbands, sons and brothers. He requested the Government in Aden and the de facto authorities in Sanaa to end unlawful detention and release the names of all persons in their custody. This would help family members have a better idea of whether their loved ones were still alive. He also urged improvements in the terrible conditions of detention throughout the country, and discussed with the ministers and authorities in both parts of the country regarding technical assistance and training that could be provided to them by OHCHR.

In all meetings, he underlined the international community’s demands to end the practice of recruiting children. While welcoming strong declarations against the practice, he urged practical steps on the ground to end it.

On conflict-related sexual violence, Gilmour said he was aware that it was an acutely sensitive topic and that he believed it was significantly under-reported in Yemen, owing to the stigma attached to it and the fear that the victims themselves would suffer retribution. He urged all sides to make it “crystal clear to absolutely everyone that any instances of rape and other forms of sexual violence would be rigorously investigated and all perpetrators held accountable and punished”.

Gilmour was shown large numbers of buildings wholly or partly destroyed by aerial bombardment, including some of major historical interest, indicating that this destruction appeared to involve major violations of cultural rights, as well as many others.

The UN Human Rights Council recently extended the mandate of the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen for another year, and Gilmour urged all sides to allow it unrestricted access to areas under their control and to cooperate fully with it.

The UN Human Rights Office will establish a sub-office in Aden in early 2019 to strengthen cooperation with the Official Government of Yemen and civil society, and to monitor and report allegations of human rights violations in Aden and the south of the country, including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, and ill-treatment and abuse in detention facilities.

Gilmour expressed OHCHR’s deepest admiration for Yemeni human rights defenders who “despite enormous threats to their security and lives, continue to show extraordinary courage and compassion in order to investigate violations and campaign for improved rights”.

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