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Submission to the Universal Periodic Review of Yemen

اقرأ المحتوى باللغة العربية

Submitted by: Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies

4th Cycle
46th Session
April-May 2024
UN Human Rights Council


  1. This submission outlines the Sana’a Center’s current concerns regarding the human rights and humanitarian situation and Yemen and the possibility of their future amelioration. Since the previous UPR of Yemen in 2019, there have been ongoing efforts to mediate the conflict, including the process facilitated by the Office of the UN Special Envoy and bilateral negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi group (Ansar Allah). The need for such efforts to embrace the tenets of transitional justice and take a victim-centered approach is detailed and discussed below. Yemen’s unique political context and background make these considerations indispensable to a durable peace.
  2. The political turmoil of September 2014 and the outbreak of war in March 2015 derailed aspirations for the realization of the outcomes of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC), crushing hopes for a peaceful transition toward democracy, equality, and greater respect for human rights. Nine years of brutal conflict have devastated the state’s economy, shattered its education and healthcare systems, and caused tremendous damage to the social fabric. The war has “set back development by more than two decades and caused more deaths from indirect causes such as hunger and disease than deaths from conflict-related violence.”[1] Yemen is the scene of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises – as of 2023, approximately 21.6 million people, some two-thirds of the population, require humanitarian assistance and protection services.[2]
  3. Since the 1960s, Yemen has not enjoyed a single decade without violent conflict in either its constituent parts or as a united country. The failure to address the grievances of victims of past conflicts has been the primary driver of political reprisals and cyclical violence. But the current conflict is the worst in Yemen’s modern history. Beyond the humanitarian catastrophe, it has witnessed unprecedented degradation in the provision of human rights. Credible reports have documented human rights violations by the conflicting parties that are unprecedented in both type and scale, including: “unlawful or arbitrary killings; enforced disappearances; torture or other cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners and detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in a conflict, including widespread civilian harm and unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by all parties to the conflict, particularly the Houthis; serious restrictions on freedom of expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; severe restrictions of religious freedom; [and] restrictions on freedom of movement.”[3] The human rights situation has changed how Yemenis perceive the notion of harm during conflict, beyond loss of life and physical destruction.[4] At the same time, widespread violations have brought Yemeni civil society organizations (CSOs) together to reaffirm that there can be no lasting peace without a victim-centered approach to transitional justice.
  4. Even prior to the outbreak of armed conflict in March 2015, justice was seen as the cornerstone of durable peace in Yemen. During the transitional period that followed the 2011 uprising and departure of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the importance of transitional justice was recognized, and it was intensively discussed at the NDC (March 2013- Jan 2014). This was the first time a broad swathe of Yemeni society had discussed transitional justice, which was considered a positive development. Many of the 126 outcomes adopted by the National Reconciliation and Transitional Justice Working Group at the NDC dealt with the rights of the victims,[5] and recommended measures to “ensure no impunity for abuses of human rights or disownment of accountability, in line with the specific mechanisms identified by the transitional justice law.”[6] Attendees demanded the state make truth and transparency a cornerstone of transitional justice efforts and ensure “respect for the victims and their interests, and their right to participate in transitional justice programs.”[7]

Legal Obligations of the Government and International Community

  1. The horrors of war were the driving force behind the creation of international human rights and humanitarian treaties, which establish minimal moral standards and legal responsibilities in times of armed conflict. There is both national and international responsibility for addressing the violations that have occurred during the conflict in Yemen. At the national level, the government is a signatory to agreements, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Geneva Conventions. The international community also holds a moral and legal responsibility, as the Security Council placed Yemen under Title VII of the United Nations Charter, and has the authority to refer cases of suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court. The UN has further obligations to Yemen’s civilian population under its ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine.
  2. Perpetrators must be held accountable for their crimes, in recognition of the harm caused to victims and to deter future violations and break the cycle of violence. Accountability is a legal obligation of states, and the government of Yemen should take the necessary steps to ensure its compliance and conformity with international law. The government must adopt a law on transitional justice and national reconciliation in accordance with the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference and, on a broader level, strengthen its domestic normative framework in order to support the adoption of future transitional justice measures. The UN has long urged the government to enact such legislation.[8]
  3. The current war extends beyond local actors’ contestation over the control and rule of Yemen, and directly involves regional powers, some of which are amongst the richest countries in the world. Given the scope of the conflict and the resources mobilized to contest it, the response of the international community and United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to demands for justice has been insufficient. This has been evident in the international praise and support for the dangerously exclusive peace talks between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, with little discussion of the documented transgressions of the belligerents at the table or their victims.[9] And this comes on the heels of other failures: Under pressure from regional actors involved in the conflict, the UN Human Rights Council failed to renew the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen in 2021. The Office of the Special Envoy continues to appear reluctant to press for the inclusion of transitional justice in its ongoing efforts to mediate the conflict.

The Need for a Victim-Centered Approach

  1. The UN-led peace process in Yemen needs to incorporate clearer and more definitive terms for the inclusion of victims in the peace process in order to effectively represent local concerns and grievances. The current language on transitional justice and accountability has been insufficient in this respect, and does not reflect or facilitate a commitment to the inclusionary framework of the broader UN approach to transitional justice.[10]
  2. Civil society organizations have coordinated and advocated to prioritize transitional justice at negotiations and discussions about Yemen’s future. A number of coalitions of Yemeni CSOs supporting transitional justice have recently been established, including the Yemen Justice Network, to coordinate local advocacy efforts and raise awareness of the importance of implementing such frameworks. Victims’ unions have also become more active and visible – Amat As-salam Al Haj, head of the Abductees Mothers’ Association, presented a brief to the Security Council last August. The efforts of CSOs also include the Yemen Justice and Reconciliation Declaration,[11] which reaffirms these considerations and warns local parties and the international community of the dangers of ignoring such grievances in pursuit of a settlement. The declaration stresses the importance of transitional justice in the formation of a durable peace, and the significance of a victim-centered approach, a crucial element in an inclusive transitional justice process.
  3. Momentum for transitional justice and the inclusion of victim’s voices in peace talks has also garnered the support of international NGOs, which have urged “all stakeholders at all levels – domestically, regionally and internationally – to recognize and endorse the joint demands set forth in the Declaration, and to meaningfully reflect these demands in the peace process.”[12] The support of the international community for the declaration speaks to the realization of stakeholders at all levels that transitional justice is a prerequisite to ending Yemen’s recurring conflicts.
  4. A lasting peace in Yemen cannot be achieved without transitional justice addressing the rights of victims. The last half century of violence is testament to its necessity as part of a durable settlement. The UN must also adhere to its own ethical and legal principles. The adoption of a victim-centered approach in Yemen is crucial for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation. As a set of practices, it equips stakeholders to conduct thorough and objective investigations into reported human rights abuses and seek comprehensive accountability. The victim-centered approach emerged from international human rights and humanitarian law and customary practice.


Placing victims at the center of the design and implementation of transitional justice processes is one of the guiding principles of the UN approach.[13] In line with this principle, and indispensability of transitional justice to a successful negotiated settlement, we make the following recommendations to the government of Yemen and its coalition partners operating inside the country:

  1. Ensure that victims are involved in the peace process, recognize their rights to achieve justice, and acknowledge the importance of their testimonies.
  2. Design a peace process that is not only sensitive to the political context of Yemen, but to the suffering and trauma of victims, by incorporating their voices and concerns.
  3. Support documentation efforts for the purposes of memorialization, reparations, and holding perpetrators accountable.
  4. Plan and initiate consultations with victims and affected communities to identify and give voice to their needs and establish their priorities for transitional justice initiatives, including measures to help repair the harm caused by human rights violations and other types of violence and abuse.
  5. Consultation with victims and survivors must be sensitive to their potential re-traumatization. Engagement must also consider their short-term needs for economic security and financial assistance and appropriate medical services.
  6. Establish a trust fund for the benefit of victims of human rights violations and other abuses committed during the conflict in Yemen.
  7. Reparative measures for victims and survivors must not be confused or conflated with humanitarian assistance. Reparations imply the acknowledgment of violations and abuses, including through judicial proceedings. Humanitarian assistance refers to resources to alleviate the suffering and strengthen the resilience of vulnerable and crisis-affected individuals, and is not contingent upon the recognition of harm caused by violations of human rights and humanitarian law.
  8. Support civic life and civil society organizations, including victims’ unions and other organizations that work with victims.
  9. Release political prisoners and protect all released prisoners from exploitation by parties to the conflict, such as pressuring them to record testimonies for political purposes.
  10. The government of Yemen must demonstrate and concretize its commitment to human rights and the rule of law. This entails essentially signing and ratifying all outstanding human rights instruments that formally commit Yemen to the protection and respect of human rights, including the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, as recommended by Seychelles in the 3rd UPR Cycle (Source of position: A/HRC/41/9/Add.1 – Para. 1). Further it must ensure the independence of the National Commission of Inquiry, as recommended by the Netherlands in the 3rd UPR Cycle (Source of position: A/HRC/41/9/Add.1 – Para. 2).
  1. “ Assessing the Impact of War in Yemen on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” UNDP, September 2019,
  2. “Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan,” UNOCHA, January 2023,
  3. “Yemen 2022 Human Rights Report,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor – US State Dept., 2022,
  4. Marta Abrantes Mendes, “A Passage to Justice: Transitional Justice and Long-Term Accountability in Yemen,” Open Society Foundation, February 2021,
  5. Ibrahim Jalal, “Yemen’s Incomplete National Dialogue: Insights on the Design and Negotiation Dynamics,” Yemen Policy Center, June 2022,
  6. “National Dialogue Conference Outcomes Document,” The Republic of Yemen, 2014,
  7. Ibid.
  8. “UNSC Resolution 2014,” UN Security Council, February 26, 2014,
  9. “New Violence Jeopardizes Yemen Peace Deal,” The Soufan Center, October 2, 2023,
  10. “Guidance Note of the Secretary-General – United Nations Approach to Transitional Justice,” The United Nations, March 2010,{65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9}/TJ_Guidance_Note_March_2010FINAL.pdf
  11. “The Yemen Declaration for Justice and Reconciliation,”July 2022,
  12. “International and regional organizations support the Yemen Declaration for Justice and Reconciliation,” UNOCHA, July 2023,
  13. “Guidance Note of the Secretary-General – United Nations Approach to Transitional Justice,” The United Nations, March 2010,{65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9}/TJ_Guidance_Note_March_2010FINAL.pdf