Yemen | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017



Freedom Status: 
Not Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free

Yemen has been devastated by a civil war that began in 2015, when incumbent president Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi fled the capital and foreign powers led by Saudi Arabia intervened to support his government against the Houthi rebel movement—rooted in the Zaidi Shiite community, which forms a large minority in Yemen—and allied forces linked to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The civilian population has suffered from direct violence by both sides, as well as hunger and disease caused by the belligerents’ interruption of trade and aid. Elections are long overdue, normal political activity has halted, and key state institutions have ceased to function across the country. Terrorist networks have taken advantage of the disorder, seizing territory in some areas and encouraging sectarian hostility.

Key Developments: 
  • Several rounds of peace talks and abortive cease-fires during the year failed to halt the civil war, and the United States and some European allies continued to support the Saudi-led coalition, including by providing weapons, logistical aid, and intelligence for military targeting.
  • The United Nations estimated in August that at least 10,000 people had been killed during the war to date. A cholera outbreak in October presented a new threat, sickening more than 12,700 people and killing nearly 100 by year’s end.
  • Civilian activists, aid workers, and journalists were targeted by combatants. At least six journalists were killed in connection with their work during the year, and several others were abducted.
Executive Summary: 

In July 2016, as Yemen’s civil war continued with no end in sight, the Houthi rebel movement and former president Saleh’s political party announced plans to form a new government. In August they appointed a 10-person Supreme Political Council, which in turn declared the formation of the new government in November. The unconstitutional process was not recognized by the international community.

Although the rebel forces controlled the capital and much of the country’s north and west, the Hadi government and its allies—headed by Saudi Arabia—attempted to press in on this territory from all directions, particularly from their base in the southern port of Aden. A Saudi-led air campaign supported by the United States and some European governments struck civilian infrastructure and population centers throughout the year, repeatedly hitting medical facilities. In an especially deadly attack in October, an air strike on a funeral in Sanaa killed at least 140 people. The Saudi-led coalition reportedly used internationally banned munitions, such as cluster bombs, that tend to increase civilian casualties. Several rounds of peace talks during the summer and late fall, including a series of short cease-fires, failed to make significant progress.

The war, combined with a blockade that prevented food, medicine, and other vital supplies from reaching rebel-held areas, intensified hardships for civilians during the year. The United Nations estimated that more than half of the population lacked adequate access to food and that 2 to 3 million people were internally displaced. The majority of Yemen’s health facilities were shuttered or not fully functioning by the end of 2016, crippling the country’s ability to stem a cholera outbreak that began in October.

Two major extremist groups, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State (IS), retained pockets of territory in the southeast and carried out terrorist attacks throughout the year. The pro-Hadi coalition was at times accused of tacitly cooperating with Sunni extremist fighters against the Shiite-led Houthis, who in turn were alleged to draw material support from Iran. The United States, in addition to aiding the coalition, periodically carried out direct attacks on suspected AQAP targets inside Yemen.

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