“The shooting started from different buildings around the same time and continued for more than 30 minutes.”
An eyewitness describing to Amnesty International an attack on a protest camp in Sana'a on 18 March 2011 which reportedly left 52 people dead.
The human rights situation in Yemen has deteriorated rapidly this year. The most shocking manifestation of this has been the brutal repression of protests calling for reform, and increasingly for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stand down, fuelled by frustration at corruption, unemployment and repression of freedoms in the country. Scores of protesters have been killed and hundreds injured after security forces have repeatedly used live ammunition to break up demonstrations.
The most deadly attack against protesters took place on 18 March, when an apparently co-ordinated sniper attack on protesters in Sana’a reportedly left around 52 people dead and more than 200 wounded. The incident took place following Friday prayers as protesters gathered near Sana’a University and were reported to have been chanting anti-government slogans when at around 1.30pm local time, armed men in plain clothes, believed to be members of the security forces, started shooting live rounds from the top of nearby buildings.
As of 1 April, around 94 people were reported to have been killed in protests in Yemen since February 2011, but the death toll has continued to rise this month.
The response of the authorities has been woefully inadequate. While investigations have been announced into some of the killings, they inspire little confidence. The apparent impunity enjoyed by the security forces for their actions reflects a broader pattern of lack of investigations into violations committed in the context of the government’s response to other challenges: the secessionist movement in the south, the intermittent conflict in the north, and the presence of al-Qa’ida in the country.
Yemen now faces a moment of truth. The authorities must acknowledge they need the international community’s help to carry out investigations that can uncover the full facts, the truth, about the recent protest deaths in the country, and the international community must provide this assistance when asked to do so. This investigation should be the springboard for a much wider process of dealing with the heavy legacy of impunity for patterns of violations in recent years.
Please sign the petition urging the Yemeni authorities to:
• Issue all security forces with orders with immediate effect not to use live ammunition against protesters who are not posing a risk to their lives or the lives of others;
• Establish promptly an independent, impartial and thorough commission of inquiry to investigate the killings and injury of protesters and others since February 2011 and seek the international assistance needed to ensure it functions effectively;
• Ensure that peaceful protesters are not arbitrarily arrested and detained, or tortured or otherwise ill-treated.
The action is scheduled to be closed on 18 April, a month following the deadliest attack on 18 March.
Image: Protest in Sana'a on 3 February 2011 (Sana'a University pictured on the left). © Benjamin Wiacek