Report highlights torture and execution of juvenile offenders in Yemen

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 ...

Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images
Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images
Brent Stirton/Reportage by Getty Images

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:

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.

J. Dana Stuster is a policy analyst at the National Security Network. Twitter: @jdanastuster

More from Foreign Policy

Soldiers of the P18 Gotland Regiment of the Swedish Army camouflage an armoured vehicle during a field exercise near Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland on May 17.
Soldiers of the P18 Gotland Regiment of the Swedish Army camouflage an armoured vehicle during a field exercise near Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland on May 17.

What Are Sweden and Finland Thinking?

European leaders have reassessed Russia’s intentions and are balancing against the threat that Putin poses to the territorial status quo. 

Ukrainian infantry take part in a training exercise with tanks near Dnipropetrovsk oblast, Ukraine, less than 50 miles from the front lines, on May 9.
Ukrainian infantry take part in a training exercise with tanks near Dnipropetrovsk oblast, Ukraine, less than 50 miles from the front lines, on May 9.

The Window To Expel Russia From Ukraine Is Now

Russia is digging in across the southeast.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken participate in a virtual summit with the leaders of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries at the White House in Washington on March 12.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken participate in a virtual summit with the leaders of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries at the White House in Washington on March 12.

Why China Is Paranoid About the Quad

Beijing has long lived with U.S. alliances in Asia, but a realigned India would change the game.

Members of the National Defence Training Association of Finland attend a training.
Members of the National Defence Training Association of Finland attend a training.

Finns Show Up for Conscription. Russians Dodge It.

Two seemingly similar systems produce very different militaries.