FCO Human Rights Report 2019
Freedom of religion or belief was widely denied in 2019. The Baha’i religious minority were the most visibly persecuted. There were cases of arbitrary detentions and the abuse of Baha’i detainees, including of Hamed bin Haydara, who was given a death sentence in 2018. We worked closely with our partners to raise these concerns directly with the Houthi authorities, and urged the release of detained individuals. We continued to follow the treatment of the Baha’is in Yemen closely, including through meeting their representatives in the UK.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2019
In the last 12 months, the freedom of religion or belief and wider human rights situation in Yemen appears to have declined due to the political entropy related to the lack of progress with security. The UN led peace process has not progressed substantially and there are continuing hostilities between the Yemeni government based in Aden and the Houthi movement who control Sana’a and much of the north of the country.
According to the FCO: “2018 saw attacks on freedom of religion or belief, attacks on freedom of speech, the violations of women’s human rights, the recruitment of child soldiers, and arbitrary detentions. Multiple parties across the country committed a wide range of human rights abuses and violations.”
The 2019 Open Doors World Watch List entry on Yemen describes the plight of the country’s Christians in the context of the humanitarian crisis. It says the crisis is “…making an already difficult nation, for Christians, even harder. The chaos of war has enabled radical groups to take control over some regions of Yemen, and they have increased persecution against Christians.”
There are believed to be only four officially recognised church buildings in the entire country, all located in Aden, and all have been damaged in the ongoing conflict. Neither the FCO nor USCIRF have reported any changes to the overall treatment of Christians. However, their community are believed to number several thousands, and are facing an extremely precarious existence. Previous reporting has highlighted the additional vulnerability of Christian converts during the ongoing humanitarian crisis, as much relief aid is distributed through mosques and organizations that prioritise those who identify as pious Muslims.
The FCO human rights report observes that “the right to freedom of religion or belief was widely denied in Yemen.” The report highlights the persecution and imprisonment of members of the Bahá’í community, and cites the case of Hamed bin Haydara, a Yemeni Bahá’i who remains under sentence of death since January 2018. Within the same reporting period, Andy Khawaja of USCIRF has adopted Mr bin Haydara as a prisoner of conscience. Other press releases from USCIRF in this period note that there other Bahá’ís imprisoned for their faith, and a further 22 individuals facing warrants for arrest on charges of “apostasy and espionage.”
The FCO report also notes that UK support was provided for resolutions on Yemen at the UN Human Rights Council. This multilateral scrutiny of human rights in general, and freedom of religion or belief in Yemen is welcome, but the challenge remains that the majority of the cases of persecution of Yemenis on the basis of freedom of religion or belief that have been documented by the FCO and USCIRF are occurring in the north of the country. This is in areas such as Sana’a and Hodeida, in territory that is under the control of the Houthi movement. The Houthis retain de facto control in much of the country but are not recognised as a legitimate government by the UN system and wider international community.
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