(Yemen Post) – An investigation conducted by al-Wethaq a couple of months ago – a right group organization based in Yemen – revealed that two years in its post revolution era Yemen is still home to hundreds of slaves.
Despite its many promises to address all grave human rights violations such as slavery, the central government has proven unable, or politically unwilling to impose its human rights agenda to Yemen, barely controlling its institutions.
Because of Yemen tribal structure and an overlapping of influences in between the state institutions and tribal leaders, Yemen’s government can often only “advice” Sheikhs, encouraging them to follow their directives rather than impose the rule of law.
It is this conflict of power and political authority which is preventing issues such as slavery, child labor and under-age marriages to be properly addressed and rooted out from society.
Yemen will have at one point or another to reconcile its desire for democracy and its tribal tradition, as both as they currently stand now cannot cohabit.
Al-Wethaq established in its six-months field study that slavery mostly persists in three north western provinces — Hodeidah , Hajjah and al-Mahwit –
UNHCR wrote in its 2012 report “while no official statistics exist detailing this practice, sources report that there could be 300 to 500 men, women, and children sold or inherited as slaves in Yemen, including in the al-Zohrah district of al-Hodeidah Governorate and the Kuaidinah and Khairan al-Muharraq districts of the Hajjah Governorate, north of the capital.”
In all three provinces slave markets are being operated by human traffickers and smugglers.
Most incredibly, deeds of ownership are exchanged between slave traders and the slave owners upon completion of the trade with a price tag running at around $2500 per person at any given moment.
The idea that “legal papers” are being exchanged warned activists is proof slavery in those areas has been standardized.
An activist in Hodeidah said under cover of anonymity he had himself witness slave trading. “Traffickers are operating quite freely in the region, slave trading has been normalized here. Given the economic difficulties Yemen is going through right now the government needs to put an immediate stop to such practices or more people will fall victims to slavery.
Farmers are always looking for cheap labor and nothing is as cheap as slaves. This is a dangerous situation as minority groups and African refugees are at great risk here.
Al-Wethaq recorded 190 cases of slavery so far which as far the foundation is concerned is 190 too many.
Human rights activists working for al-Wethaq have complained that despite their many pleas and reports to the government, officials had so far “politely” ignored their calls, only half-heatedly committing to support their anti-slavery campaign efforts.
While Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashour has been active in promoting anti-slavery and other human rights violations, her ministry alone cannot possibly hope to eradicate slavery on its own.
Activists made clear that unless the government as a whole is willing to actively pursue traffickers and hand out hefty prison sentences while rehabilitating slaves back into society, they had little hope things will ever get better.
“Yemen slavery problem is an economic one. People needs to make money, hence traffickers and others, buyers, are looking for cheap labor. The equation is really simple and there is plenty of money to be made on the misery of others,” said Ahmed an activist in Hodeida.
He added that while buyers were often local land owners, many were also acting on behalf of Gulf nationals — Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE and Qatar. And if some rich families are only buying the slaves to free them later on as an act of charity others will arrange for their smuggling over the border and use them as domestic help or some instances sex workers. A link has been made in between slave trading and prostitution, where women and sadly even children were sold into prostitution abroad.
Ethiopian and Somali women and children travel voluntarily to Yemen with the hope of working in other Gulf countries, but some are subjected to sex trafficking or domestic servitude in Yemen. Others migrate based on fraudulent offers of employment as domestic servants in Yemen, but upon arrival are subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor. Some female Somali refugees are forced into prostitution in Aden and Lahj governorates, and Yemeni and Saudi gangs traffic African children to Saudi Arabia. Smugglers capitalize on the instability in the Horn of Africa to subject Africans to forced labor and prostitution in Yemen,” read UHCR 2012 trafficking in person report.
Mohammed Naji Allaw a former member of parliament explained while most slaves in Yemen were freed after September 26 Revolution – 1962 – the practice had somehow survived through the decades, the remnants of Yemen old feudal system.
Najeeb al-Saadi, an activist working for al-Wethaq noted the government had tried on many instances to quiet his organization, denying slavery was an issue in Yemen as to avoid answering embarrassing questions.
Back in 2010 HOOD, – most prominent rights organization in Yemen – launched an anti-slavery campaign calling on the country’s general prosecutor to pursue all slave masters and for the government to build housing complexes on fertile plots of land to help those emancipated from slavery get a new start.
“We asked the government to look into the problem and the general prosecutor to investigate,” said Khaled al-Anesi, a lawyer with the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms in 2010.
Despite the campaign and calls from local and international rights organizations nothing of consequence was ever achieved. Slavery continues to be an issue in modern Yemen.
Activists now hope that the momentum created by 2011 revolution and a sense of civic duties will mean the government will eventually come through and devise a plan action which will translate into real change. Because beyond being set free Yemen’ slaves need to be given a chance to re-integrate society as well as receive compensations for their suffering.