Freedom in the World
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Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Yemen continued to face political uncertainty in 2013. After replacing long-time president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012, President Abdu Rabu Mansur Hadi struggled to address a series of national challenges. The secessionist movement in southern Yemen staged protests throughout the year against corruption and lack of political inclusion. Security forces responded violently to protests several times during the year, including in February when authorities killed at least 9 people in response to demonstrations in Aden. Hadi took steps to limit the lingering influence of Saleh and his family in June when he sacked several of the former president’s family members from prominent positions in the military and reassigned them to diplomatic posts abroad.
The country’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC), a months-long initiative including over 500 delegates aiming to resolve issues such as corruption and Yemen’s political future launched in March. Originally scheduled to conclude in September and to put forward a new constitution for a national referendum in October, the NDC was extended and the referendum delayed through the end of the year due to ongoing tensions with the South.
Low level clashes in the North between the Ansar Allah, a Houthi rebel movement, and their Salafi and Al-Islah Sunni opponents spilled into Sanaa with the spread of demonstrations and random violence there. Security killed 10 Houthi protestors in June.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) carried out regular attacks during the year. Insecurity in the south and Yemeni and American concerns about terrorism led the United States to continue its controversial policy of using to unmanned aerial drones to strike at targets in the country.
Political Rights: 10 / 40 (+1)
A. Electoral Process: 3 / 12
Elections have been marred by flaws including vote buying, the partisanship of public officials and the military, and exploitation of state control over key media platforms. The original six-year mandate of the current parliament expired in 2009, and elections were postponed again amid the turmoil of 2011. The political system has long been dominated by former president Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC) party, and there are few limits on the authority of the executive branch. The president is elected for seven-year terms, and appoints 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. Provincial councils and governors are also elected.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 4 / 16
Yemen’s relatively well-developed and experienced opposition parties have historically been able to wring some concessions from the government. The 2011 ouster of President Saleh, was accomplished through a sustained campaign of protests motivated primarily by grievances over imbalances of power and levels of corruption, but also over lack of access to decision-making and political participation by regular citizens. Under sustained pressure from the United States, the United Nations, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saleh signed a Saudi-brokered agreement in November 2011 that transferred his powers to Yemen’s vice president, Abdu Rabu Mansur Hadi, in exchange for immunity from prosecution for his role in the violent crackdown during the 2011 demonstrations. In 2012, Yemeni voters selected Hadi, who ran unopposed, as the country’s new president.
As part of the transitional agreement, the Yemeni government and the opposition launched the country’s NDC in March. The NDC, while boycotted by some in the opposition, was attended by 565 delegates, including members of the Southern separatist movement as well as rebels from the north. The Dialogue was not free of controversy, as some Yemenis were displeased with which delegates were selected to participate. The NDC was meant to move forward a new constitution that would be put up for a national referendum in October. The referendum was delayed due to tensions between Sanaa and the South. In December, several political parties agreed that giving limited autonomy to the South based vaguely on the notion of federalism would help break through stalled dialogue talks. It remained unclear at the end of the year what political force the agreement would have.
C. Functioning of Government: 3 / 12 (+1)
Corruption is endemic. Despite recent efforts by the government to fight graft, Yemen lacks most legal safeguards against conflicts of interest. Auditing and investigative bodies are not sufficiently independent of executive authorities. Yemen was ranked 167 out of 177 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Since coming to power Hadi has struggled to consolidate his political authority. Yemen’s political stability has been adversely affected by meddling by Saleh and his supporters within the military. Hadi took steps to address Saleh’s lingering influence within the military in 2012 by restructuring the army and dismissing military leaders closely related to Saleh, including his son, brother, and one of his nephews. Hadi took additional measures in 2013, assigning Saleh’s son Ahmed Ali Saleh as the country’s ambassador to the UAE and sending Saleh’s nephew Ammar Muhammad Abdullah Saleh to Ethiopia, where he took up a diplomatic post as military attaché.
Civil Liberties: 16 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 6 / 16
The government does not respect freedoms of expression and the press. Article 103 of the Press and Publications Law bans direct personal criticism of the head of state and publication of material that “might spread a spirit of dissent and division among the people” or that “leads to the spread of ideas contrary to the principles of the Yemeni Revolution, [is] prejudicial to national unity or [distorts] the image of the Yemeni, Arab, or Islamic heritage.” The government controls most terrestrial television and radio; however, seven privately-owned radio stations launched between 2012 and the end of 2013. Although they have diminished in scale as the 2011 protest movement receded, attacks on journalists have continued. In February Wagdi al-Shabi, who previously worked for the Yemeni daily Al-Ayyam, was killed by unknown assailants wearing military uniforms in his home in Aden. In April an explosive device was found in the offices of Shabab TV in Sanaaand disarmed before it could detonate. Mansoor Noor, a correspondent for “September 26” newspaper was shot in Aden and had to have his leg amputated. Also in April two Al Jazeera journalists were attacked by members of the Southern secessionist movement.
Abdulelah Haider Shaye, who had reported on American responsibility for military strikes that killed civilians and was arrested and convicted in 2011 of allegedly having ties to Al-Qaeda, was transferred from prison to house arrest in July, where he will spend the remaining two years of his sentence despite having been pardoned by former-president Saleh shortly after his conviction. His continued imprisonment is the result of pressure from the U.S. government.
Access to the internet is not widespread, and the authorities block websites they deem offensive. Although the ban on most news websites has been lifted, some websites and forums where political debate takes place are blocked due to security concerns.
The constitution states that Islam is the official religion and declares Sharia (Islamic law) to be the source of all legislation. Yemen has few non-Muslim religious minorities, and their rights are generally respected in practice. The government has imposed some restrictions on religious activity in the context of the rebellion in the northern province of Saada. Mosques’ hours of operation have been limited in the area, and imams suspected of extremism have been removed. Strong politicization of campus life, including tensions between supporters of the ruling GPC and the opposition al-Islah party, infringes on academic freedom at universities.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 3 / 12
Yemenis have historically enjoyed some freedom of assembly, with periodic restrictions and sometimes deadly interventions by the government. Over the past four years, southern Yemenis have mounted growing protests to challenge the government’s alleged corruption and abuse of power, the marginalization of southerners in the political system, and the government’s inability to address pressing social and economic concerns. The protest movement has in the past called for secession by the south, although several of the movement’s leaders agreed to participate in the NDC.
Freedom of association is constitutionally guaranteed. Several thousand nongovernmental organizations work in the country, although their ability to operate is restricted in practice. The law acknowledges the right of workers to form and join trade unions, but some critics claim that the government and ruling party elements have increased efforts to control the affairs of these organizations. Virtually all unions belong to a single labor federation, and the government is empowered to veto collective bargaining agreements.
F. Rule of Law: 2 / 16
The judiciary is nominally independent, but it is susceptible to interference from the executive branch. Authorities have a poor record on 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 or direct appeals to executive authorities. Arbitrary detention is partly the result of inadequate training for law enforcement officers and a lack of political will on the part of senior government officials to eliminate the problem. Security forces affiliated with the Political Security Office (PSO) and the Ministry of the Interior torture and abuse detainees, and PSO prisons are not closely monitored. As part of the November 2011 agreement for him to step down from power, Ali Abdullah Saleh was granted immunity from prosecution for his role in the country’s deadly crackdown in 2011.
Tensions between Zaidis, Yemen’s largest Shiite community, and Sunnis escalated and spread in 2013. Ongoing unrest between Ansar Allah, a Houthi rebel movement, and the state in the north continued in 2013. Clashes between Houthis and Sunni Salafis in the north killed more than 250 people in November and December. Tensions also spread to Sanaa where the two communities waged low-level violence against one another, including random attacks, struggles to control mosques, and staging competing demonstrations. State authorities responded harshly to Zaidi protests, killing 10 people in one demonstration in June.
Same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable by death. In 2013 there were credible reports of AQAP killing men for allegedly being gay. Due to the severe threat against them, few LGBT Yemenis reveal their sexuality or gender identity.
Yemen’s penal code allows lenient sentences for those convicted of “honor crimes”—assaults or killings of women by family members for alleged immoral behavior. Although the law prohibits female genital mutilation, it is still prevalent.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 5 / 16
Yemen is relatively ethnically and racially homogeneous. However, the Akhdam, a small minority group, live in poverty and face social discrimination. Thousands of refugees seeking relief from war and poverty in the Horn of Africa are smuggled annually into Yemen, where they are routinely subjected to theft, abuse, and even murder. Up to 200,000 Yemenis working in Saudi Arabia either faced or were forcibly deported from the oil-rich kingdom in 2013. Yemen’s economy has struggled over the last year, with inflation rising from 5.5 percent in November 2012 to over 14 percent in September.
Women continue to face discrimination in several aspects of life. A woman must obtain permission from her husband or father to receive a passport and travel abroad, cannot confer citizenship on a foreign-born spouse, and can transfer Yemeni citizenship to their children only in special circumstances. Women are vastly underrepresented in elected office; there is just one woman in the lower house of parliament. School enrollment and educational attainment rates for girls fall far behind those for boys.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year