US places sanctions on Houthi officials over human rights abuses

Sanctions were also placed on Haitian and Russian officials and were announced on Human Rights Day

A woman carries a young infant suffering from severe malnutrition since birth in Yemen's northern Hajjah province on December 6, 2020. / AFP / ESSA AHMED

The US Treasury Department on Thursday imposed sanctions on Houthi officials for human rights abuses in war-torn Yemen.

The sanctions are part of a broad batch of penalties also placed on Haitian and Russian officials, including Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic.

“As we recognise international Human Rights Day, the United States stands with innocent civilians around the globe who have been victims of violence and oppression,” said deputy secretary of the Treasury, Justin Muzinich.

“The United States also welcomes the growing ability of our partners to join us in targeting human rights abuses.

"Over the last few months, the United Kingdom and the European Union have each adopted new sanctions authorities, creating a powerful, global framework for targeting human rights abuses.”

Sanctions were placed on Sultan Zabin, head of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels' Criminal Investigation Department, and the Houthi deputy minister of the Interior, Abdul Hakim Al Khaiwani.

They also designate Abdul Rahab Jarfan and Motlaq Al Marrani, former leaders in the Houthis’ National Security Bureau, and Qader Al Shami, former director of the Houthis’ Political Security Organisation.

The Treasury Department said Mr Zabin had detained and tortured female political activists opposed to the Houthis “under the pretence of a policy designed to curb prostitution and organised crime".

These violations were allowed by Mr Al Khaiwani, who is now director of the Houthis’ security and intelligence service.

The Treasury Department designated Mr Jarfan for the torture of Yemeni citizens and Mr Al Marrani for targeting humanitarian workers.

Mr Al Shami was designated for the “illegal detention and torture of prisoners, including children".

In Yemen, the US sanctions decisions was controversial.

Some considered it a victory while others said it was overdue and not enough.

Bardis Al Saiyaghi, a Yemeni politician who was released from a Houthi detention centre in November 2019, said she was extremely happy when she heard the news about US sanctions against Houthi security officers, especially Sultan Zabin, who tortured her.

"I have been waiting for such happy news," Ms Al Saiyaghi told The National.

"However, I have some concerns related to those who are still detained in the Houthi dungeons in Sanaa. Such decisions will affect their release from the Houthi prisons.

“I am pretty sure that the Houthis will not free the women who are still detained in their prisons, especially after the imposition of the sanctions."

She said that 450 women were still being held in the Houthi detention centres and that some have been detained in special underground areas.

Nadwa Al Dawsari, a Yemen conflict analyst and non-resident scholar at the Middle East Institute, told The National  that the US decision was a welcome step.

"Thanks to everyone, the Yemeni activists and international human rights organisations who helped make that happen,” Ms Al Dawsari said.

“But it is also important to sanction key Houthi leadership who not only allow but also created this system where terror and systematic abuse are used to oppress people.

"It is not enough to only sanction these apparatuses."

Essam Al Shaeri, a lawyer and head of the Sah Organisation for Defending Rights and Freedom, said the US decision was overdue.

“We welcome such a decision by the US Treasury Department,” Mr Al Shaeri said.

"However, it is overdue and didn’t include all of the Houthi officials who have committed war crimes against innocent Yemeni women."