UN agencies on Tuesday called for the immediate release of four staff members who have been held by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, saying their whereabouts remain unknown.
The “unacceptable detentions” are breaches of the privileges and immunities accorded to UN staff under international law, read a statement from Unesco head Audrey Azoulay, human rights chief Volker Turk and Toily Kurbanov, executive co-ordinator of the UN Volunteers programme.
“We have not received information about the reasons for their detention or their status, even though the Ansar Allah movement (also called Houthis) have repeatedly assured that their release would be imminent,” they stated.
Two of the UN staff members have been in custody since 2021, while the other two have been detained since August and October 2023, respectively.
The Houthis, who have been at war against the internationally recognised government backed by a Saudi-led coalition since 2015, have emerged as a major military force in the Arabian Peninsula, with tens of thousands of fighters and a huge arsenal of ballistic missiles and armed drones.
The group controls northern Yemen and its Red Sea coasts.
The Yemen war has settled into a stalemate and the fighting has largely stopped, but both sides have failed to renew a UN-brokered truce that expired in October.
The war has killed tens of thousands of people and caused a dire humanitarian crisis, with 80 per cent of Yemen's population reliant on aid.
Kidnappings are frequent in the impoverished nation, with armed tribesmen and militants taking hostages to swap for prisoners or cash.
A UN spokesman told The National that the world body is actively working to secure the release of the Yemeni UN personnel and is engaging with appropriate intermediaries in the process.
“They haven’t shared any information so it’s unknown what they want. We are repeatedly calling for their release and hoping it will happen soon,” said Seif Magango, representative for the UN Human Rights Office.