Not Free
PR Political Rights 1 40
CL Civil Liberties 8 60
Last Year's Score & Status
9 100 Not Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Overview

Yemen, previously home to a long-running series of smaller internal conflicts, has been devastated by a civil war involving regional powers since 2015. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and their allies intervened that year to support the government of President Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi against Ansar Allah (Supporters of God), also known as the Houthis—an armed rebel movement that is rooted in the Zaidi Shiite community, which forms a large minority concentrated in northwestern Yemen. The civilian population has suffered from direct violence by both sides, as well as from hunger and disease caused by the interruption of trade and aid. Elections are long overdue, normal political activity has halted, and many state institutions have ceased to function.

header2 Key Developments in 2022

  • In April, the United Nations announced a two-month truce between the internationally recognized government and the Houthi leadership, allowing a pause in air strikes by the government’s foreign allies, an increase in fuel shipments, and the reopening of Sanaa’s international airport. The truce was renewed in June and August, but the Houthis declined to extend it in October. The progovernment coalition generally adhered to its terms through the end of the year; while the Houthis launched some attacks on oil-related targets in the southeast in October and November, there was no major escalation in fighting.
  • After the truce took effect in April, President Hadi stepped down and transferred his powers to an eight-member council, which would lead the internationally recognized government. Hadi’s original electoral mandate had long since expired.
  • Despite the reduction in fighting during the year, millions of Yemenis remained displaced within the country, and civilians more broadly continued to suffer from shortages of food and other basic supplies.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 0.000 4.004

Under the existing constitution, the president is elected for seven-year terms. In 2011, after sustained pressure from the United States, the United Nations, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh signed a Saudi-brokered agreement that transferred his powers to then vice president Hadi in exchange for immunity from prosecution for his role in a violent crackdown on antigovernment protests. In 2012, Yemeni voters confirmed Hadi, who ran unopposed, as interim president with a two-year term. In 2014, the multiparty National Dialogue Conference (NDC), a months-long initiative in which more than 500 delegates aimed to reach agreement on Yemen’s political future, concluded with a plan to transform the country into a federated state of six regions. The NDC also extended Hadi’s term by one year so that the proposed reforms could be finalized in a new constitution.

However, the constitutional drafting process and election schedule were thrown into disarray by the Houthis, who took over large swaths of the country, eventually occupying Sanaa in September 2014. The Houthis subsequently refused to evacuate the capital as part of a tentative power-sharing agreement, leading Hadi and his cabinet to flee into exile in early 2015. Meanwhile, the Houthis assumed control of state institutions in the areas they held. Hadi retained international recognition as president but had no clear mandate and little direct control over the country.

In April 2022, the UN announced a truce agreement between the Houthis and the internationally recognized government. Later that month, Hadi announced that he was removing his vice president and relinquishing his own executive powers to an eight-member council, the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), that was elected by delegates in Riyadh under the auspices of the GCC. A cabinet led by Prime Minister Maeen Abdelmalek Saeed since 2020 remained in place.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 0.000 4.004

According to the constitution, the president selects the 111 members of the largely advisory upper house of Parliament, the Majlis al-Shura (Consultative Council). The 301 members of the lower house, the House of Representatives, are elected to serve six-year terms. The original six-year mandate of the last Parliament expired in 2009, and elections were put off again in 2011 amid the popular uprising against Saleh. In January 2014, the NDC declared that parliamentary elections would occur within nine months of a referendum on the new constitution then being drawn up. The constitutional drafting committee completed its work in January 2015, but due to the outbreak of the civil war and the Saudi-led intervention in March of that year, no vote has yet taken place. The incumbent Parliament was disbanded in early 2015 after the Houthis seized control of the capital.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 0.000 4.004

Presidential and legislative elections are now many years overdue, and no side in the civil war has been able to assert enough territorial control to implement any electoral framework.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 1.001 4.004

Political parties continue to exist in Yemen, but they face severe repression by different authorities and armed groups across the country.

The Houthis have harshly suppressed political dissent in areas under their control since 2015. Yemeni forces associated with the UAE have used arbitrary arrests, detentions, and enforced disappearances to persecute certain political groups, including members of Al-Islah, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen.

The power-sharing cabinet formed by anti-Houthi factions in 2020 included Hadi’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party; the Southern Transitional Council (STC), a separatist group backed by the UAE; Al-Islah; the Socialist Party; and a number of smaller parties and independents. The PLC established in April 2022 was headed by Rashad al-Alimi, who served as interior minister under former president Saleh and maintained close relations with Saudi Arabia. Other members of the council included Tariq Saleh, nephew of the former president; Aidarous al-Zubaidi, head of the STC; and Sultan Ali al-Arada, governor of Marib Governorate and a member of Al-Islah.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 0.000 4.004

Parliamentary elections have not been held in Yemen since 2003 and were last due in 2009. The most recent presidential election, in 2012, featured only one candidate. No date had been set for future elections as of 2022, and peaceful political opposition has been suppressed in the context of the civil war.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 0.000 4.004

Ordinary political activity is impeded by the presence of multiple armed groups throughout Yemen, including Houthi-led rebel forces, extremist groups, southern separatists, foreign troops from the Saudi-led coalition, government troops, and local or partisan militias.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 0.000 4.004

All segments of the population lack political rights under current conditions in Yemen. Thirty percent of the NDC’s delegates were women, and its final agreement called for similar representation in all branches of government under a new constitution, but the draft constitution has been on hold since the outbreak of war. Only one woman won a seat in the last parliamentary elections, and no women were appointed to the 2020 power-sharing cabinet or the 2022 PLC. A caste-like minority group with possible East African origins, known as the Akhdam or Muhamasheen, accounts for as much as 10 percent of the population but has long been marginalized in politics and in society. The group had one representative at the NDC.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 0.000 4.004

Yemen has no functioning central government with full control over its territory, and any state institutions that continue to operate are controlled by unelected officials and armed groups. The newly established PLC is largely dependent on its foreign patrons, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which also have parallel relationships with other anti-Houthi groups. The Houthis receive at least some support from Iran.

Saudi and Emirati military forces have occupied several strategic portions of Yemeni territory during the war, including Al-Mahrah Governorate and the island of Socotra, respectively. Emirati and STC forces long disregarded the official government’s objections to their presence and quasi-governmental activities on Socotra; in July 2022, the PLC appointed an STC figure as Socotra’s governor, apparently formalizing the group’s local dominance.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 0.000 4.004

Government probity was minimal even before the outbreak of war in 2015, as a network of corruption and patronage established under Saleh remained entrenched in public institutions, and formal anticorruption mechanisms were largely ineffective. The disruption to legal commerce caused by the civil war has increased the role of smuggling and created further opportunities for graft. Food aid is often stolen and sold illegally by officials on all sides of the civil conflict, exacerbating a food-security crisis that has left millions at risk of malnutrition. In an effort to address perceived corruption, the PLC in July 2022 reshuffled cabinet members, replacing the oil and defense ministers.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 0.000 4.004

Government transparency, already limited prior to 2015, has deteriorated along with state institutions during the war. The only truly national institution that had initially continued to function during the conflict, the central bank, has been split between a government-backed version in Aden and a rebel-backed version in Sanaa since 2016. This has caused politicized disruptions to public-sector salaries, aid, and commerce, and further reduced the transparency of state finances and monetary policy. Both the Houthis and the Yemeni government have allegedly undercounted COVID-19 cases and withheld related data.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 0.000 4.004

The state has historically controlled most terrestrial television and radio, though there have been several privately owned radio stations. Since the outbreak of the war, the belligerents have either taken over or enforced self-censorship at any surviving media outlets in the country. Houthi-backed authorities reportedly block certain news websites, online messaging and social media platforms, and satellite broadcasts.

All sides in the conflict have subjected journalists to harassment, arbitrary arrests and detentions, violent attacks, and enforced disappearances. At least one journalist was killed in Yemen during 2022, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, for a total of at least 29 killed since 2015.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 1.001 4.004

Islam is the official religion, and the constitution declares Sharia (Islamic law) to be the source of all legislation. A small number of Yemenis belong to non-Muslim religious groups; their rights have traditionally been respected in practice, though conversion from Islam and proselytizing to Muslims is prohibited. Christian converts and members of the Baha’i and Jewish communities in the north have encountered increased persecution under Houthi rule. Houthi authorities reportedly enforce their interpretation of the Zaidi Shiite faith among Muslims. The militant group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) poses a threat to non–Sunni Muslim residents, particularly in the southeast.

Since the outbreak of the war in 2015, assassinations and other violent attacks on religious clerics have increased, and combatants on all sides have destroyed many religious buildings across the country. Progovernment forces have allegedly seized or destroyed Shiite religious sites.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 0.000 4.004

Since 2015, Houthi officials have been accused of skewing the curriculum in schools and universities to promote their political ideology. Houthi authorities have also dismissed and replaced faculty and administrators who are deemed politically disloyal, and repeatedly detained and prosecuted scholars and students as part of their crackdown on dissent. Outspoken academics face a heightened risk of physical violence from the Houthis as well as other armed groups and progovernment forces, and some scholars have been killed by unidentified assailants in recent years.

The war has caused damage to educational facilities across the country, suspension of classes and other activities at many schools and universities, and deaths of children caught in either errant or deliberate military attacks on schools. Millions of students no longer attend school due to the war, and thousands have been recruited by armed groups.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 1.001 4.004

Freedom of personal expression and private discussion is limited due to intimidation by armed groups and unchecked surveillance by the Houthi authorities, who have detained critics of their rule and used courts under their control to issue harsh penalties, including death sentences, for some perceived opponents.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 1.001 4.004

Yemenis have historically enjoyed a degree of freedom of assembly, limited by periodic restrictions and at times deadly interventions by the government. Demonstrations against both the internationally recognized government and Houthi authorities have occurred in recent years, resulting in arrests and alleged torture of detainees in some cases.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 1.001 4.004

A number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) work in the country, but their ability to function is restricted by interference from armed groups. Houthi forces have closed or raided NGO offices and detained workers, and both main sides in the civil war have blocked or seized humanitarian aid. Human rights defenders risk arrest and detention by both Houthi and anti-Houthi forces, and several arrests were reported during 2022. AQAP abducted five UN staff members in February, and they apparently remained in the group’s custody at year’s end.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 1.001 4.004

The law acknowledges the right of workers to form and join trade unions, but in practice these organizations have had little freedom to operate. Virtually all unions belong to a single labor federation, and the government is empowered to veto collective bargaining agreements. Normal union activity has been disrupted by the civil war and the related breakdown of the economy.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 1.001 4.004

The judiciary, though nominally independent, is susceptible to interference from various political factions and armed groups. Authorities have a poor record of enforcing judicial rulings, particularly those issued against prominent tribal or political leaders. Lacking an effective court system, citizens often resort to tribal forms of justice and customary law—practices that have increased as state institutions continue to deteriorate. Criminal courts in Houthi-controlled areas remain active, but they are used as a political instrument by the Houthi leadership, according to UN experts. The judicial system is mostly inoperative in some other parts of the country.

In September 2022, the Yemeni Judges Club organized a strike in the capital to protest an incident in which a judge was abducted and later killed by suspected Houthi militants; the judge had reportedly ruled on land disputes involving Houthi figures.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 0.000 4.004

Arbitrary detention is common, with hundreds of cases documented in recent years. Many amount to enforced disappearances, with no available information about the victims’ status or location. Detainees are often held at unofficial detention sites. As with other state institutions, security and intelligence agencies like the Political Security Organization have been split into parallel structures aligned with the different sides in the civil war. In areas that lie within the UAE’s sphere of influence in southern Yemen, Emirati special forces have operated a network of secret prisons and detention centers where torture is said to be rife. Human rights lawyers have faced detention or intimidation by both Houthi and official government authorities, particularly when they attempt to represent high-profile defendants.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 0.000 4.004

The civil war has included periods of acute violence across the country. Saudi-led coalition air strikes have failed to distinguish between military and civilian targets, and artillery fire from Houthi forces has been similarly indiscriminate. A number of other armed factions, including foreign military units and extremist groups like AQAP, operate in the country with impunity for any abuses. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), some 158,000 people have been killed in the conflict since the beginning of 2015, including thousands during 2022 alone.

The United Nations brokered a two-month truce between progovernment forces and the Houthis in April 2022, and it was renewed twice, in June and August, before lapsing in October when the Houthis declined to extend it. Although the truce led to increased mobility and a decline in air strikes and ground offensives, nearly 3,000 violations were reported, according to ACLED, including 374 air and drone attacks. Hundreds of civilians and combatants were killed as a result of protracted violence among the belligerent forces, as well as a resurgence in AQAP and tribal violence. After the truce lapsed, the progovernment side generally abided by its main terms through the end of the year. While the Houthis carried out attacks on oil-related targets in the government-held southeast in October and November, there was no resumption of large-scale combat.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 0.000 4.004

Despite the growing sectarian rift between the Sunni Muslim majority and the large Zaidi Shiite minority, Yemen is relatively homogeneous in terms of language and ethnicity. However, the Muhamasheen are subject to severe social discrimination and poverty. Women also continue to encounter discrimination in many aspects of life, and their testimony in court is equivalent to half that of a man. Same-sex sexual activity is illegal, with possible penalties including lashes, imprisonment, and death. Due to the severe threats they face, few LGBT+ Yemenis reveal their identity.

Migrants and refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Horn of Africa continue to arrive in Yemen. Many of those entering were seeking work in the Persian Gulf states but met with harsh conditions, violence, and barriers to further travel once in Yemen. Effective legal protections and basic supplies are also lacking for internally displaced persons (IDPs), most of whom perform unskilled jobs in the informal economy.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 0.000 4.004

There were 4.5 million IDPs in Yemen by the end of 2022, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Around 232,000 new displacements were recorded across the country between January and June 2022, but due to the truce, the year as a whole featured an 18 percent decrease in displacement.

Movement within the country has been impaired by combat, landmines, floods, damage to infrastructure, and checkpoints at which a variety of armed groups engage in harassment and extortion. Even in peacetime, a woman must obtain permission from her husband or father to receive a passport and travel abroad.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 1.001 4.004

Property rights and business activity have been severely disrupted by the civil war and unchecked corruption, as well as the retreat of state authorities from large areas of Yemen and the division of the country into spheres of influence controlled by different armed groups. Women do not have equal rights in inheritance matters. Land disputes in the Houthi-held areas are handled by Houthi-controlled courts, which can lead to the rejection of government-issued documentation and the seizure of land.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1.001 4.004

Women face disadvantages in divorce and custody proceedings and require a male guardian’s permission to marry. Child marriage is a widespread problem. There are some restrictions on marriage to foreigners; a woman can confer citizenship on a child from a foreign-born spouse if the child is born in Yemen. The penal code allows lenient sentences for those convicted of “honor crimes”—assaults or killings of women by family members for alleged immoral behavior. Although female genital mutilation is banned in state medical facilities, it is still prevalent in some areas. Extremist groups have attempted to impose crude versions of Sharia in territory under their control, harshly punishing alleged violations related to sexual activity, personal appearance, and other matters.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 0.000 4.004

The war has increased the risk of human trafficking, and after 2015 the government was no longer able to pursue antitrafficking efforts it had previously begun. Migrants, refugees, and IDPs are especially vulnerable to exploitation. Children have reportedly been recruited as fighters by all sides in the war. In April 2022, the Houthis and UN officials signed an action plan to curb child recruitment; Houthi officials were tasked with identifying recruits under 18 years old, releasing them, and reintegrating them into their communities.

Border controls and naval blockades imposed by the Saudi-led coalition have contributed to shortages of food, medicine, fuel, and other essential imports, leaving the public more exposed to famine and disease as well as coercion and deprivation by armed groups and illegal traders. The World Food Programme reported that as of September 2022, 19 million people were food insecure in Yemen, with 161,000 of them believed to be living in famine-like conditions. A long-running cholera outbreak continued in 2022. The 2022 truce allowed for an increase in the movement of fuel and other supplies through the port of Hodeidah and in commercial flights through Sanaa’s international airport.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    9 100 not free