Yemen: Houthi Authorities Face Scrutiny Over Unfair Trial of Prominent Rights Advocate Fatma al-Arwali
Amnesty International has recently voiced concerns over the treatment of Fatma al-Arwali, a woman human rights defender in Yemen. Al-Arwali, who was arrested by Houthi security forces in August 2022, has reportedly been subjected to multiple human rights violations, including forced disappearance, incommunicado detention, and prolonged pre-trial detention. Amnesty International has urged the Huthi de facto authorities to either ensure a fair trial in accordance with international standards or immediate release for al-Arwali.
Al-Arwali, previously the head of the Yemen office of the Arab League’s women leadership union, was an active advocate for women’s rights. She has been charged with aiding “UAE aggression” and providing coordinates to disclose Houthi’s armed forces and “people’s committees” locations. This charge carries a potential death sentence, and her case has been transferred to the Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), notorious for its disregard for international fair trial standards.
Violation of Basic Rights
Amnesty International’s report indicates that al-Arwali has been denied basic due process rights. Her lawyer was not allowed to visit her in detention, and his presence was not recorded in the court record during the initial hearing. The court also rejected al-Arwali’s request to see her children and her claims of being held in severe conditions. Security members of the security and intelligence service tried to remove her lawyer from court after advising al-Arwali to request a copy of her case file.
Amnesty International has stressed the importance of legal counsel for all those arrested or detained and facing criminal charges. This right is crucial in protecting their rights, preparing their defense, and challenging their detention. It also protects against torture and other ill-treatments and mitigates the risks of forced “confessions”. Amnesty International has demanded immediate release and dropping of all charges for al-Arwali unless she receives a fair hearing before a competent, independent and impartial court, and concrete, credible, and admissible evidence proves that she has committed an internationally recognized offense.
The Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen
As the conflict in Yemen enters its seventh year, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that it has resulted in the death of nearly a quarter of a million people. Millions continue to face the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with over half the population facing acute levels of food insecurity. With the collapse of its currency, Yemenis are grappling with skyrocketing food and commodity prices, reducing household purchasing power. Millions are unable to afford their basic needs, and the situation has worsened with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The conflict intensified in 2021, with 49 districts in Yemen directly affected by active front lines, up from 35 at the start of 2020. Over 4 million people have been displaced due to the conflict. The UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts (GEE) on Yemen and other rights groups have documented serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by parties to the conflict, which likely amount to war crimes.
Women’s Rights Under Siege
The Houthi de facto authorities have enforced a rule known as the mahram requirement, which restricts women from traveling without a male guardian or evidence of their written approval across governorates under Houthi control. This rule, which isn’t part of Yemeni law, has been enforced through verbal directives since April. These restrictions have hindered Yemeni women from carrying out their work, particularly those required to travel. Female humanitarian workers have struggled to conduct fieldwork, directly impacting access to aid for Yemenis in need, particularly women and girls.
Amnesty International has called for the immediate lifting of the mahram requirement, labeling it a form of gender-based discrimination. The international community has been urged to pressure the Houthis to stop imposing mahram restrictions on women. The organization has stressed the urgency for Yemeni women to be able to move around the country freely, whether for work, to seek healthcare, or to give or receive humanitarian aid.
Subscribe to BNN Breaking
Sign up for our daily newsletter covering global breaking news around the world.