Yemen: Keep UN Rights Review Commitments

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Yemen agreed to important initiatives that could address the country’s longstanding impunity and prevent further abuses. Now the authorities need to deliver on these commitments to improve human rights protections for Yemenis.

Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director

(Geneva) – Yemen should uphold the commitments it made during its rights review before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. These include ratifying the Rome Statute to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), establishing a commission of inquiry into rights violations committed during the 2011 uprising, and adopting measures to promote the equality of women.

During its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on June 19, 2014, Yemen made commitments to address a range of human rights recommendations raised by other UN member countries. The UPR is a mechanism for countries to review one another’s human rights records.

“Yemen agreed to important initiatives that could address the country’s longstanding impunity and prevent further abuses,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “Now the authorities need to deliver on these commitments to improve human rights protections for Yemenis.”

Yemen agreed to ratify the ICC treaty. Yemen’s parliament approved the treaty in March 2007, but the president never took steps to complete the process. It also accepted recommendations to establish a commission of inquiry into violations committed during the 2011 uprising that reportedly killed about 2,000 people. While President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi issued a decree in September 2012 to set up such a commission, the process has stalled and no commission has been created. During its UPR, Yemen accepted a recommendation to expedite the appointment of the commission members as part of a process to bring those who committed human rights violations during the uprising to account.

Yemen also accepted a recommendation to accelerate passage of a transitional justice bill pending in parliament since January 2013 that would establish a truth and reconciliation commission mandated with reviewing violations going back several decades. Given the extent of violations in Yemen over many years, this is a much-needed step address victims’ grievances, Human Rights Watch said.

Yemen also accepted recommendations to accelerate the establishment of a national human rights institution. A draft law to set up such an institution has been pending in parliament for over a year.

Yemen also promised to improve the protection of rights for women and children, including by introducing a minimum age for marriage. Yemen is one of only a handful of countries with no minimum age for marriage. According to UN and Yemeni government data from 2006, 52 percent of Yemeni girls are married when they are under 18 – in many cases to much older men – and 14 percent before age 15. Human Rights Watch urged Yemen’s cabinet to immediately submit to parliament the draft Child Rights Bill, deposited with the Prime Minister’s Office in April, which would set 18 as the minimum age for marriage.

As part of the review, Yemen also committed to “put an end to any form of discrimination against women, both in practice and in legislation, particularly those remaining in the Code of Personal Status.” Numerous provisions in the Personal Status Law violate women’s rights, including in marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. To meet this commitment, the government should review existing laws that violate the rights of women and make all necessary amendments.

While Yemen did not reject any recommendations outright, it still has not provided its response to 25 recommendations, most of which called on Yemen to impose a moratorium on the death penalty. Last year, Yemen instituted reforms to end the use of the juvenile death penalty, such as creating an age verification committee. However, at least 13 people have been executed since the beginning of 2014, and perhaps many more that were not reported. Yemen should join the growing majority of countries that have abolished the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said.

“Though Yemen faces numerous security and humanitarian challenges, its commitments at the UN show that the government recognizes that its human rights reform efforts are a priority,” Houry said.

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