The killing by government security forces of at least six protesters in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, must be promptly and impartially investigated, said Amnesty International.
“The gunning down of peaceful protesters in the streets of the capital has heightened fears that the current confrontation there will escalate into a full blown violent conflict,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“It is crucial that the authorities respect the right to peaceful protests, refrain from using excessive force to disperse demonstrations, and ensure that anyone responsible for unlawful killings is brought to justice in fair trials.”
According to eyewitnesses, at least six people were shot and more than 50 were injured when army units guarding the cabinet building in Sana’a suddenly opened fire on a group of protesters approaching the building.
One of the protestors described how Yemeni forces opened fire using machine guns and other weaponry:
“They did not warn us in any way but started shooting at us directly with heavy weaponry,” he told Amnesty International.
Afterwards, anti-riot police intervened using water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd. As the protestors escaped, members of the armed forces chased them and began arresting those who sought refuge in nearby buildings and even their private homes.
Eyewitnesses also said that the army is currently raiding hospitals where the wounded were taken and arresting anyone suspected of taking part in the protests.
“Instead of focusing their energy on crushing demonstrations, the Yemeni authorities should invest time and effort to ensure that the Huthis and others are able to protest peacefully,” said Said Boumedouha. “Anyone being held solely for participating in peaceful demonstrations should be released immediately and unconditionally.”
The latest violence in Sana’a has sparked fears that the armed conflict in the north of the country between the two sides may spread to the capital. Both sides have been accused of committing serious violations of international humanitarian law during the fighting such as carrying out indiscriminate bombings and destroying private and public civilian property, including schools.
There has been an intermittent internal armed conflict between the Huthis on one side and the government and pro-government tribes and militias on the other in the north of the country for several years. The latest round began in mid-2013 and by early 2014 had spread south from the Saada governorate, to the governorates of ‘Amran, Hajja and Jawf.
In mid-August, the Huthi leadership called for peaceful sit-ins in Sana’a demanding the government’s resignation, the rolling back of government’s removal of fuel subsidies and other political demands. In early September, the authorities announced a number of steps to address Huthi demands, but the opposition group refused these as inadequate and called for stepping up the peaceful protests by organizing demonstrations.
On 29 August, the United Nations Security Council called on the Huthis to “withdraw their forces from ‘Amran, return the city to Yemeni Government control; cease all armed hostilities against the Government in al Jawf; and remove the camps and dismantle the checkpoints they have erected in and around the capital, Sana’a.”