UN criticises Iran-backed Houthis over detained staff in Yemen

Armed group held security staffers housed at the former US embassy compound in Sanaa

The Iran-aligned Houthis have controlled Sanaa and much of northern Yemen for seven years, frequently drawing criticism from the UN. EPA
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The UN on Wednesday accused Yemen’s Houthi rebels of arresting and detaining two of its employees “without any justification or charge” in the capital Sanaa and called for their speedy release.

Stephane Dujarric said the two Yemeni men, understood to have been working in the UN’s cultural and human rights divisions, were taken into detention separately on November 5 and 7 and have been held without access to their families or colleagues.

“Last Thursday, we received assurances from the Houthis that the two staff members would be released,” Mr Dujarric told reporters in New York.

“As of today, the staff members remain in detention in breach of UN privileges and immunities and in direct contravention to the assurances we received last week. We call again for their immediate release.”

The Iran-aligned Houthis have controlled Sanaa and much of northern Yemen for seven years, frequently drawing criticism from the UN, western and Gulf nations and aid agencies operating in the region's poorest nations.

The National contacted the Houthis via social media for comment on the issue but did not receive an immediate response.

The US special envoy to Yemen, Tim Lenderking, was on Wednesday visiting the Gulf to discuss the Houthis’ detention of some Yemeni staff at the US embassy compound in Sanaa. The embassy was shuttered in 2015 and now operates from Riyadh but some security staff remain on site.

The US State Department earlier said most of its local employees had been released, without saying how many had been detained or when they had been arrested. Houthi leader Mohammed Ali Al Houthi on Sunday criticised the US for “abandoning” local staff without providing further details.

Mr Lenderking has visited the region frequently this year as part of UN-led efforts to broker a ceasefire and restart talks to end the war.

The country has been mired in violence since the Houthis ousted the internationally recognised government from Sanaa in late 2014, claiming they were fighting corruption. A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened the following year to restore the toppled government.

The Houthis have made gains in recent weeks along Yemen’s west coast and in the oil-rich Marib region. Peace talks have stalled, with the Houthis demanding the lifting of a coalition blockade before they negotiate.

The UN's World Food Programme said this week that Yemen is “on the brink of famine”, with some 16.2 million people — about half of the country's population — underfed and 11 million at “crisis” levels of food insecurity.

Updated: November 17, 2021, 7:46 PM