According to a report issued by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office in Geneva, UAE soldiers have been torturing and abusing detainees in secret prisons across war-torn Yemen. Further investigations by the Associated Press (AP) in late June revealed scenes of ill-treatment and sexual abuse inflicted by Emirati security forces on some 2,000 Yemeni detainees being held without charge in 18 black-site prisons. Prisons with alleged links to the United States.
Graphic documentation from the Beir Ahmed prison in Aden, Southern Yemen, where most of the brutality reportedly takes place, was secretly shared with the AP. It depicts severe beatings, electrocution, and anal rape with the use of poles, among other things as methods to extract confessions.
Liz Throssell, a spokesperson from the UN Human Rights Office, has issued a statement confirming that efforts to intervene have been turned down. “We have engaged with U.A.E. government on this issue and requested access to U.A.E.-run prisons in the country but to date we have not been granted access,” she said.
These reports of human rights violations come in the wake of similar reports involving UAE troops abusing detainees in illegal jails around Yemen. U.S. officials have previously acknowledged receiving intel gathered through interrogation by their UAE allies. Pentagon spokesman Adriane Rankine-Galloway has pronounced the allegations “disturbing”, but he remains firm that the US has not witnessed any evidence of detainee abuse in Yemen.
UAE officials have refused to comment, with only the Emirates’ permanent mission in Geneva issuing a statement that “The UAE has never managed or run prisons or secret detention centers in Yemen.” However, Yemen’s interior minister told the press that he has no power over such prisons, and must seek UAE permission to enter cities like Aden.
These developments are part of a raging civil war in Yemen between local government forces loyal to current President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, and Iran-backed Houthi rebels who control the capital city of Sana’a. Three years after Saudi coalition forces (backed by the US, UK and France) entered the conflict with promises of restoring government stability, the UN has recorded over 16,000 civilian casualties.
Public opinion believes the Saudi coalition intervention has only escalated the conflict, and left civilians trapped in the crossfire without access to basic amenities. Thanks to a history of civilian casualties caused by US air and drone strikes targeting Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), anti-US sentiments are already widespread among the Yemeni people. News of unjustified arrests and inhumane torture only serve to incite more hatred towards the US and its allies, further galvanizing former detainees and torture victims into Al-Qaeda sympathizers.
Apart from being a member of the Saudi coalition, the UAE has a key role in enforcing the US’ counter-terror campaign in Yemen, detaining hundreds of Yemenis with suspected affiliations to Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State. Since the reports of abuse in secret prisons have come to light, the UAE and America’s CIA rendition program have received heavy criticism from the international media. This pressure has triggered a slow release of prisoners, with 46 detainees let out from Beir Ahmed prison in early July, according to the AP.
The civil war has opened up a black hole for human rights violations to be committed with impunity by pro-government and rebel forces alike. Lack of accountability may deter external agencies from sending aid, as the arbitrary nature of international humanitarian laws in Yemen cannot guarantee the safety of ground operations. Access must be granted to an international regulator to conduct thorough investigations on human rights violations. The UN has sent an envoy, British national Martin Griffiths, to broker a peaceful resolution between the opposing parties. At present, 22 million Yemenis need humanitarian assistance, half are children, and 8.4 million are on the verge of famine.
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