The Emirates-funded black sites are where human rights violations including torture and beatings have been committed, according to a Geneva-based rights group.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the two high-profile cities in the oil-rich UAE, have long been known for their wealth and luxury. Away from their glittering skyscrapers, the country runs secret prisons in war-torn Yemen, where barbarity is unleashed on humans in disguise.
A Geneva-based human rights group, SAM, has recently released a report, outlining serious violations of human rights in Abu Dhabi-run secret prisons. SAM monitors abuse of rights committed by all types of actors and stakeholders from the Iran-backed Houthis to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Yemen.
According to SAM’s report, the UAE, which is allied with Yemen’s Southern Transitional Council (STC), a separatist group, has established “dozens of secret prisons” across the country. In the Yemen war, the Saudi-UAE alliance backed by the US fights with the Houthis.
“These prisons are managed and funded by the Emirati forces, as [Emirati-run] forces intend to detain thousands of Yemenis, including political opponents, opinion-holders, and even civilians, without any charge and any judicial process,” the report says.
“There are no accurate figures about the number of these prisons due to their widespread nature and other difficulties to locate them,” the report indicates. But SAM was able to locate some of those prisons successfully.
UAE-run secret prisons are located in places like Mahra, Seiyun and Mukalla in the Hadramout province and Azzan in the Shabwah province, the report says. There are also other prisons in provinces of Abyan and Lahj as well as in areas like Mocha and Al Khokha in the Western coast, according to the report.
The SAM report also includes firsthand accounts of two people, who were subjected to various tortures and beatings during their detentions in UAE-run secret prisons.
“I was beaten by a large number of soldiers until I lost consciousness. I only woke up when they sprayed me with cold water, and then they hit me again until my strength collapsed,” said Abdullah al-Ashari, a 35 years old man, who was detained in one of those secret prisons.
Ashari spent time in the secret Al Khokha prison, which is under the control of the 9th Brigade led by “Yahya Al-Wahsh”, according to the SAM report. The infamous prison has been funded by the UAE, according to the group.
Ashari says that he was “kidnapped” and detained by UAE-backed forces due to his refusal to give up his litigation efforts in courts against the brigade’s brutalities. SAM obtained medical reports, which clearly stated that he was subjected to multiple tortures.
“What military leaders supported by the UAE are doing in secret prisons funded by the latter indicates terrible violations of the basic principles of international law that criminalises attacks on human dignity, enforced disappearances and detentions without judicial authorization,” said Tawfiq al Hamidi, the chairman of SAM, referring to the group’s report.
Hamidi has also criticised the international community’s inaction toward warring parties’ atrocities in the Yemen civil war. The Saudi-UAE coalition’s intervention in the Yemen war led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis according to the UN.
“The international silence formed an indirect cover for those parties to escalate their violations," Hamidi viewed.
“Those forces and those who support them bear full criminal responsibility for their practices that fall under war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Hamidi said, referring to the UAE-run secret prisons.
Hamidi called on respective UN agencies to take necessary measures to protect the rights of Yemeni civilians from those violations committed by all sides.
Prior to SAM’s report on the UAE’s atrocities in Yemen's dark sites, Amnesty International in 2018 accused Abu Dhabi of committing war crimes by torturing detainees at a network of secret prisons, which have been run in the southern part of the war-torn country.
“The UAE, operating in shadowy conditions in southern Yemen, appears to have created a parallel security structure outside the law, where egregious violations continue to go unchecked,” said Tirana Hassan, Crisis Response Director at Amnesty International, at the time.
“Ultimately these violations, which are taking place in the context of Yemen’s armed conflict, should be investigated as war crimes,” Hassan added.