The Yemeni government’s escalating violence against largely peaceful protesters and medical workers should prompt countries around the world to freeze foreign assets of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his top security officials, Human Rights Watch said. Other countries should also ban all exports of arms and security equipment to Yemen, Human Rights Watch said.
During the three-day rampage in Taizz, beginning May 29, 2011, and followed by an additional attack on June 3, state security forces, in concert with pro-government assailants, shot dead at least 19 people, including a young boy and a man who bled to death after troops forced a doctor to stop tending him, witnesses and doctors told Human Rights Watch. Doctors pronounced at least eight other protesters clinically dead. They said the clashes left at least 262 people wounded. Security forces and armed gangs also burned and razed protesters’ tents to force them from their sit-in site, fired on medical facilities using live ammunition, prevented medical workers from treating wounded protesters, and detained a doctor and four nurses along with two dozen protesters, the doctors and witnesses said.
“First the security forces kill and wound protesters, then they keep medical workers from treating the wounded and raze the protesters’ camps to wipe out all traces of them,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Foreign countries need to respond. They should freeze the assets of the president and other top officials until these horrendous abuses stop and those responsible are brought to account.”
The fatal shootings of anti-government protesters and assaults on medical workers in Taizz coincides with sharply escalating clashes in Sanaa, the capital, and elsewhere between Saleh’s forces and opposition tribal fighters and a shelling of the presidential palace on June 2 that injured Saleh.
States should freeze Saleh’s assets and those of top security officials, including the president’s nephew Yahya Muhammad Saleh, who commands the Central Security paramilitary forces, and the president’s son Ahmad Ali Abdullah Saleh, who heads the elite Republican Guards, Human Rights Watch said. The US, the EU, and Gulf states have condemned serious human rights violations and stepped up calls for the president to relinquish power, but have stopped short of imposing arms embargoes and individual sanctions similar to those in place against officials in Syria and Libya.
“We did nothing; we are peaceful protesters,” one protester told Human Rights Watch after the first round attacks in Taizz on May 29 and 30. “So why is the president doing this to us?”
Human Rights Watch has confirmed the deaths of 166 people in attacks by security forces and pro-government assailants on largely peaceful protesters since February, when demonstrators took to the streets to call for an end to Saleh’s 33-year rule. At least 130 people have died in heavy fighting since May 23 between government and opposition tribal forces in and around Sanaa but because of precarious security conditions Human Rights Watch has been unable to confirm how many were civilians. Government forces in recent days also reportedly conducted airstrikes against alleged Islamist militant targets in the southern coastal town of Zanjibar.
Human Rights Watch also urged the United Nations Human Rights Council to pass a resolution condemning the serious human rights violations against protesters in Yemen and to establish monitoring and reporting mechanisms to address the abuses. Human Rights Watch criticized the UN Security Council for stalling on addressing the Yemen crisis.
“After months of coordinated attacks by government forces and armed gangs on largely peaceful protesters in Yemen, the silence of the Security Council is deafening,” Stork said. “It’s past time for the Security Council to take steps to help protect the Yemeni people from unlawful attacks.”
The Attacks on Taizz
Human Rights Watch’s account of the attacks on Taizz is based on more than two dozen telephone interviews with protesters, doctors and other witnesses.
Killings at General Security Building
The incidents in Taizz, a city south of the capital that has been a focal point of anti-Saleh protests, began around 3 p.m. on May 29 when thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the General Security office in the al-Qahira district to demand the release of a protester arrested earlier that day, several witnesses told Human Rights Watch. At the request of an officer at the building, the demonstrators left and returned at 5 p.m. with the promise that they could collect the detained protester.
At around 5:30 p.m., a man in civilian clothes armed with a Kalashnikov shot at the protesters from a distance of about 15 meters, then ran into the General Security building, a protester who was shot in one leg told Human Rights Watch. This wounded protester and another protester said that large numbers of armed civilians and General Security forces then shot at the demonstrators from the building’s roof, balcony, and main entrance for about one hour.
The two witnesses said some protesters then threw stones at the building and captured one security officer who had been shooting at protesters. Human Rights Watch was not able to learn what happened to the security officer. One of the witnesses said the protesters then retreated about 100 meters to a site they call “Freedom Square,” where they had been staging sit-ins against Saleh since February.
Between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m., doctors at Taizz’s al-Safwa hospital received the bodies of four protesters killed outside the General Security office, a doctor at al-Safwa told Human Rights Watch. About 60 demonstrators wounded during the attack were admitted to a field hospital for protesters in a nearby mosque, the field hospital’s chief doctor said. The wounded were then transferred to other medical facilities, including al-Safwa hospital and a makeshift clinic in a tent at Freedom Square, doctors at those facilities said.
“We have credible reports that the security forces opened fire at protesters at almost point-blank range, and for no apparent reason,” Stork said. “Security forces including the officials in charge of the al-Qahira General Security office should be immediately investigated in connection with these killings.”
Attacks and Killings At Freedom Square
Thousands of protesters then retreated to Freedom Square. There, five protesters separately told Human Rights Watch, uniformed members of the Republican Guards, Central Security, Military Police, and Public Security, in addition to armed civilians, again began firing on the protesters. One protester said that between about 6:30 p.m. on May 29 and 1 a.m. on May 30, increasing numbers of security forces approached the protest area from different sides, shot at the protesters, retreated, and then sporadically returned and re-opened fire. Around 1 a.m., the witnesses said, the security forces moved into the heart of the protest area, shooting as they went.
One protester told Human Rights Watch that as the various security forces advanced, she saw three protesters die in front of her, shot in the chest and the head. She said she also saw Republican Guards and Central Security forces drag two apparently dead protesters from the scene.
In addition to live ammunition, the security forces then used teargas and a water cannon against them, protesters said. Security forces threw bottles filled with liquid at some of the protesters’ tents, causing them to burst into flames. The protesters scattered as some threw stones at the security forces. Soon after, four protesters told Human Rights Watch, they saw bulldozers roll up and flatten the sit-in tents.
By then Freedom Square was empty, but around 3:30 a.m. or 4, security forces seized about 24 more protesters who had been hiding in buildings on the square and detained them at al-Jamalia police station in Taizz, said a protester who was released June 2. The protester said that he was among 20 detained protesters released without charge on June 2 and that authorities were holding the other four for prosecution.
Human Rights Watch was not able to learn whether the protester who was detained on May 29 was released.
At least 8 people were killed and about 120 were wounded in the attack on Freedom Square on May 29-30, several doctors said.
Attack on Medical Personnel and Denial of Medical Care
Human Rights Watch spoke with several doctors working in three medical facilities at and around Freedom Square who described simultaneous attacks by security forces or armed civilians on the three facilities, and the arrest of a doctor at a fourth medical facility, after the assaults on Freedom Square. The first three attacks began about 2 a.m. on May 30.
Scores of Republican Guards and Central Security forces shot live ammunition as they approached al-Safwa hospital, then fired teargas into the facility, said one doctor and three wounded protesters who were inside. The doctor said the forces then entered the building, shot into the air, and ordered him to stop treating wounded protesters, including those in need of emergency care.
The doctor said one patient who had been hit in an artery in the leg was bleeding heavily and died in the hospital after security forces ordered medical staff to stop treating patients. The same doctor said that the security forces pointed their guns at the heads of the wounded and hospital staff, and forced everyone inside the hospital to leave.
“Even monsters would not treat people like this,” the doctor said.
A second doctor at al-Safwa hospital said the security forces took four nurses from the hospital and detained them at al-Jamalia police station.