Imprisoned Sons and Scattered Families

Are the Yemeni Peace Negotiations Ignoring the detainees’ File?
Ala'a Mohammed
March 3, 2023

Imprisoned Sons and Scattered Families

Are the Yemeni Peace Negotiations Ignoring the detainees’ File?
Ala'a Mohammed
March 3, 2023

Fathia always sits in front of the TV screen at times and the radio at other times, to follow up on the latest developments in the issue of those detained due to the war in Yemen, hoping to find a glimmer of hope about the fate of her absent son. So, every day that passes for this woman living in the capital Sana'a, becomes like a thousand months because of the long waiting period for her son's release.

However, she finds nothing of the sort. Besides that, over the past three years, the time which her son Mohammed remained in prison and who is still detained till now by the forces affiliated with the internationally recognized government in Taiz, the warring parties have not considered the issue of releasing him and others whose files were locked up.

This woman tells "Khuyut," "I miss my son, who used to support me and his family after his father's death; his absence has been prolonged, and we no longer know when he will be released."

Likewise, the same scene is repeated, but in the Taiz governorate. Ahmed Al-Ghaili's mother tells how she suffers from grief over her son Ahmed, who was arrested in mid-May 2021 by the Ansar Allah group (Houthis) while he was traveling on the road from Marib to Sana’a, on the charge that he was working as a cook for the forces of the internationally recognized government.

In his interview with "Khuyut," Musa, the detainee's brother, Ahmed, says, "My family and I feel distressed, and life no longer has a taste since we know that my brother, who suffered a stroke, is detained behind prison bars, whose location we do not know."

Nevertheless, others haven’t known about what happened to their sons or relatives, who were arrested from the roads, their homes, and their places of work by the various warring parties in Yemen. For example, the young man, Muhammad Al-Muafa, who suddenly disappeared in the year 2017, after he left his family’s home in Sana’a, and Similarly, the twenty-year-old young man, Ashraf Abdulwareth, who disappeared on December 1, 2021, after leaving his home in Aden, heading to the city of Al-Houta in Lahj governorate, who is still missing and nothing is known about his fate until now, as his father, Abdulwareth Ahmed, says during his interview with "Khuyut".

Moreover, the file of detainees is shrouded in a deadlock and oblivion, due to the intransigence of the Yemeni warring  parties, as no significant progress has been made, despite the significant developments of events during the last period, and the achievement of breakthroughs in several complex files, which reaching to conducting extensive unannounced negotiations, under the auspices of the Sultanate of Oman.

Huda Al-Sarari, a co-founder of the Abductees' Mothers Association (an organization formed of mothers, wives, families of abductees and forcibly disappeared persons, and activists working in the field of freedoms and human rights), says in a statement to "Khuyut" that the prisoners' file is everyone's responsibility, including the concerned international organizations.

It's Time For Peace

On December 22, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced that it had conducted visits to thousands of prisoners on both sides in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, a step that could pave the way for an exchange of detainees between the rival parties.

A number of Yemeni journalists are still in detention, including four of them sentenced to death by the authority of Ansar Allah (Houthis): Abdul Khaleq Amran, Akram Al-Walidi, Hareth Humaid, and Tawfiq Al-Mansouri.

Recently, the ICRC facilitated the release of 126 detainees and their repatriation to Yemen, upon the request of the Saudi authorities, and based on its humanitarian mandate in situations of armed conflict. Also before that, in 2019, the ICRC contributed to the simultaneous or unilateral release and transfer of over 1,500 former detainees by the parties to the conflict and assisted in their repatriation.

In 2020, the ICRC facilitated the largest simultaneous release of detainees in wartime, as 1,081 detainees were exchanged; some of them had not seen their families for years, says Ali Al Daoudi, the official spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, during his interview with Khuyut.

Al Daoudi adds that all releases are based on an agreement between one or all parties to the conflict, reached through negotiations. As a neutral intermediary, the ICRC does not participate in these negotiations; however, it remains ready to act as a neutral intermediary to ensure the release of detainees and transporting them safely, in an appropriate manner, and to assure that the detainees have agreed to the arrangements for their release without coercion.

On the other hand, Maen Al-Obeidi, a member of the Yemeni women’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG) of the office of the United Nations envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, believes that optimism is required in the issues related to the file of detainees.

Maen, who is very active in this aspect with the various concerned parties, continues her talk by saying that there is a consensus on rejecting the war and the ongoing conflict, and the time has come for peace.

Negotiation Rounds 

Three years ago, since the last exchange deal was between the parties to the war in Yemen, Then, this file fell into oblivion and was shrouded in great ambiguity, especially after what the country witnessed last year in terms of a truce agreement that remained steady from April until October 2022.

On October 15-16, 2020, the two parties to the conflict in Yemen, the internationally recognized government of Yemen and the Ansar Allah group (Houthis), released 1,056 detainees—civilians and fighters. As part of an interim step to implement the so-called "Prisoner Exchange Agreement" attached to the Stockholm Agreement, which was signed on December 13, 2018, and after 21 days of meetings in which these parties gathered, under the auspices of the United Nations in the Swiss city of Montreux and co-chaired by the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The International Committee of the Red Cross announced, in a statement during that period, that it had facilitated this exchange process in cooperation with the Yemeni Red Crescent and the Saudi Red Crescent, and also indicated that the process involved 11 ICRC-operated flights into and out of five cities in two countries—Yemen and Saudi Arabia—Sana’a, Seyoun, Aden, Abha, and Riyadh. The number of detainees released and provided with transportation was 1,056.

One of the detainees released in that deal, Abdullah Hussein Al-Nofi, who has been in a prison in the city of Marib, which is under the control of the internationally recognized government, for five years, tells Khuyut that many of his companions who are still in prison are hopeful that one day they will be released.

Al-Nofi says, “I work to reassure many of the detainees' relatives, who ask me about the conditions of their relatives whom I knew in prisons, but sometimes feel helpless and unable to talk when people ask me about others close to them who are still in detention and whom I don't know or haven’t met.” "This makes both of us—me and them—feel great grief and pain," he added.

However, it is not only the civilians who suffer from the continued imprisonment of their relatives, but also a number of leaders affiliated with both parties are still under arrest and detention since 2015. The most prominent of them are senior officials in the internationally recognized government, including Major-General Nasser Mansour, brother of the former President Hadi, Major General Mahmoud al-Subaihi, the former minister of defense, and Major General Faisal Rajab, in addition to the leader of the Yemeni Islah Party, Mohammed Qahtan.

Furthermore, a number of Yemeni journalists are still in detention, including four of them who are sentenced to death by the authority of Ansar Allah (Houthis): 

Abdul Khaleq Amran, Akram Al-Walidi, Hareth Humaid, and Tawfiq Al-Mansouri.

Mutual Accusations

Following the implementation of the prisoner exchange deal in October 2020, the parties to the conflict in Yemen worked, under the auspices of the United Nations, to hold negotiating sessions for consultation in Jordan. Additionally, the last session was in March 2022, in which was agreed to exchange more than 2000 prisoners and detainees from both sides.

In August, a round of negotiations was held in the Jordanian capital, Amman, in order to agree on determining the names of the prisoners who will be released, under a joint committee that verifies the identity of the names of detainees included in the lists of prisoners. However, none of that happened, despite the exchange of visits between Saudi officials and those affiliated with the "Ansar Allah" group to verify the names of the prisoners to be released. 

Late last year, the head of the Houthis’ prisoner affairs committee, Abdul Qader al-Murtada, accused the Yemeni government and Saudi Arabia of deliberately obstructing the prisoner exchange deal. Nevertheless, his counterpart in the internationally recognized government, Hadi Haig, responded to the Houthi accusations by confirming that his government is ready to exchange prisoners on the “all for all” basis.

On January 18, the UN Deputy Envoy to Yemen, Muin Shreim, held talks with the “Ansar Allah group” with the aim of starting procedures to push for the implementation of the recent Amman agreement regarding prisoners. Moreover, the head of the Houthis’ prisoner affairs committee in the government of Sana'a, Abdul Qadir Al-Murtada, announced that he is optimistic about achieving progress on the prisoners' file within the next few weeks; however, no significant progress yet has been made, he said.

On February 3, the Foreign Minister of the Yemen’s internationally recognized government, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, accused the "Houthi group" of freezing the prisoners' file. “the international community is no longer interested in the issue of prisoners or talking about it,” he said.

On the other hand, the internationally recognized government accuses the Sana'a-Ansar Allah authority (Houthis) of renouncing any understandings and agreements and reneging on implementing its obligations, as it has refused to disclose the fate of some abducted and imprisoned “politicians, activists, and journalists” and has renounced the agreement to release prisoners “all for all.”

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