This case note is a part of our series of case notes that document the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. The case note contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.
Background of the Conflict
The Yemeni Civil War began in late 2014, between the Yemeni government led by Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and the Houthi armed movement and its supporters and allies, both of whom claim to constitute the official government of Yemen (Orkaby 2015). In September 2014, the Houthi forces took over Sanaa, the capital city of Yemen, and took over the government as well. By March 2015, the Houthi-led Supreme Revolutionary Committee mobilized forces to overthrow Mansur Hadi and to expand their control by moving into the southern part of Yemen as well (Oudah 2015). Fighting began the next day in Lahij Governorate, which the Houthis captured by the end of March, as they progressed toward Aden. Around this time, a Saudi-led coalition launched military operations and deployed air strikes to restore the Hadi government (The Globe and Mail 2015). At present, the Houthi forces control Sanaa and all of northern Yemen, with the exception of the Marib Governorate. They constantly fight against the pro-government forces that are backed by Saudi Arabia.
By 2017, the Southern Transitional Council, a secessionist organization, was established. They managed to capture Aden in 2018. The current anti-Houthi group now stands fragmented, and clashes continue between the pro-Mansur Hadi forces backed by Saudi Arabia and the southern separatists who have the support of the UAE. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the ISIS have also launched attacks in the conflict, with the former controlling large swathes of territory in the hinterlands and along the coast (Council on Foreign Relations 2015). Though there has been no direct intervention into the conflict by Iran, commentators view the conflict as an extension of the Iran-Saudi proxy war, and as an effort on the Saudi side to counter the rising Iranian influence in the region (McKernan 2018).
The conflict has caused over 100,000 deaths, including 12,000 civilians. It has also created a famine that has claimed 85,000 lives (BBC News 2017).
Prevalence of Sexual Violence
Women constitute 52% of the total number of people displaced as a result of the Yemeni civil war (Aboudi 2015). By the end of 2016, as many as 10,000 incidents of sexual violence were reported (Naharnet 2017). The United Nations flagged allegations of rape, sexual violence, and gender-based violence committed by all parties to the conflict in the course of the Yemeni Civil War (Keaten 2019). The Panel of Experts on Yemen documented instances of sexual violence in the course of the armed conflict, particularly those committed by Houthis in detention settings. They also found that men and boys, in addition to women, were subjected to rape and sexual violence, and that individuals across the SOGIESC spectrum were especially vulnerable to sexual violence as a result of entrenched patriarchal norms. Research by the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies indicated that women and girls in Yemen have been affected by rape, kidnapping and domestic violence, while boys have faced sexual violence and are forced to work (Gavlak 2019).
The Basis of Sexual Violence
Sexual violence in the Yemeni conflict is largely used as a systemic tool to oppress, intimidate, and torture individuals, especially detainees who are subjected to such treatment as punitive measures for their perceived political affiliation or in an attempt to forcefully extract confessions. It is also used as a means to humiliate women who pursue political careers or choose to be outspoken in the course of their work, in denouncing war and the impact on civilians. Sexual violence has also been used to target individuals across the SOGIESC spectrum out of a mindset informed by deeply entrenched patriarchal ideologies. Further, rampant poverty caused by the war has also resulted in young men and women being lured into sexual activity in exchange for money and subsistence (Gavlak 2019).
Resolution 2511 (2020) of the UN Security Council affirmed that sexual violence was indeed prevalent in Yemen during the civil war, and constituted a sanctionable act and a threat to the peace, security, and stability of Yemen. Through Resolution 2564 (2021), it imposed sanctions on Sultan Zabin, who was the director of a Sanaa based criminal investigation department and used sexual violence against women who were politically active.
"Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Pakistan ready for ground offensive in Yemen: report". The Globe and Mail. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/saudi-arabia-has-150000-troops-for-yemen-operation-report/article23628188/
Abdul-Aziz Oudah. "Yemen observer." https://www.yemenobserver.com/front-page/1397-supreme-revolutionary-commission-declares-general-mobilization.html
Aboudi, Sami. 2015. "In Yemen chaos, Islamic State grows to rival al Qaeda". Reuters. 30 June 2015. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-islamicstate-insight-idUSKCN0PA1T920150630
BBC News. 2017. "Yemen war: Saudi-led air strike 'kills 26 at Saada market'". BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-41830119
Council on Foreign Relations. "Yemen in Crisis". Council on Foreign Relations. 8 July 2015. http://www.cfr.org/yemen/yemen-crisis/p36488
Gavlak, Dale. 2019. Violence Grows Against Women and Children in Economic Deprivation of Yemen’s War. https://www.voanews.com/middle-east/violence-grows-against-women-and-children-economic-deprivation-yemens-war
Keaten, Jamey. 2019. Rights experts flag violations of rape, sex abuse in Yemen. https://apnews.com/article/ac80c7d3107e4af180638b2a75859ab9
McKernan, Bethan (21 November 2018). "Who are the Houthis and why are they fighting the Saudi coalition in Yemen?". The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/21/who-are-the-houthis-fighting-the-saudi-led-coalition-in-yemen
Naharnet. 2017. "Bahrain Says Three Soldiers in Yemen Coalition Killed". Naharnet. http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/198216
Orkaby, Asher (25 March 2015). "Houthi Who?". Foreign Affairs. http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/143295/asher-orkaby/houthi-who