- By J. Dana StusterJ. Dana Stuster is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy. He has studied at the American University of Beirut and graduated in 2010 with degrees in English and International Relations from the University of California, Davis. Before coming to FP, his work appeared in the Atlantic and the National Interest, among other publications.
As Yemen’s National Dialogue approaches — an ambitious effort to reconcile the country’s many tribal, political, and sectarian factions as part of its transition from Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule — Human Rights Watch has pushed a new issue onto an already crowded agenda: death sentences and executions of juvenile criminals in violation of Yemeni and international law.
In its new report, HRW notes that there are currently "at least 23 young men and women await[ing] execution under death sentences in Yemeni prisons despite having produced evidence indicating they were under 18 at the time of the crimes for which they were convicted." HRW cites an additional 15 potentially underage individuals executed by the government since 2007.
Just as disturbing as the reports of juvenile executions are the descriptions of the juveniles’ treatment in prison, which included torture and forced confessions. One imprisoned Yemeni man sentenced to death, who claims he was falsely convicted of a murder he witnessed when he was 15 or 16 years old, told an HRW interviewer:
They beat me with their hands, sometimes they would electro-shock me until I fell down. At that point if they had asked me, "Did you kill one-thousand?" I would have said, "Yes," out of fear.
Another prisoner told HRW:
They’d shackle us like a chicken, put metal between our legs and do falaka. This means beating you with a wooden stick on the bottom of your feet. Of course you’d want to confess anything. They also broke my fingers … So of course I told them I did it.
The National Dialogue is scheduled to begin on March 18, on the two-year anniversary of a massacre of protesters that inflamed Yemen’s protest movement. With two weeks remaining before the Dialogue, concerns remain about the representation of various factions and whether or not enough groups will participate for the Dialogue to be considered credible by most Yemenis.