Human Rights in Yemen and the Houthi insurgency

Written by Iasmina-Măriuca Stoian

The short history of the Houthi movement 

The Houthi movement, or Ansar Allah, is a Zaydi Shiite group that emerged in the northern part of Yemen in the early 1990s. This group was born as a response, partially, to the financial development and religious expansion in the region of Saudi Arabia. Since 2004, the group has been in conflict with Yemen’s government which is majoritarian Sunni. However, in November 2009, the Houthi movement expanded its operations in Saudi Arabia, when, after the launch of multiple air strikes, more than 130 Saudis died.i The horrors continue, as in September 2014 the capital in Yemen, Sanaa, was controlled by Houthis, and seized control over almost all northern regions of Yemen by 2016. In parallel, the Houthi also continued their attacks against Saudi Arabia, most notably in 2017, when a ballistic missile was fired at Riyadh’s airport.ii By 2018, Houthi missile attacks on Saudi Arabia became common, leading to a protracted and complex war in the region. 

The current situation in Yemen 

Even if there has been a decrease in the number and intensity of the attacks compared to the previous years, Yemen continues to suffer, and civilians continue to be victims of unlawful attacks and targeted killings. Both the internationally recognised Yemeni government and the Houthi de facto authorities are responsible for serious human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, harassment, and forced disappearances. People were not only targeted depending on their political beliefs but also on their religion. For instance, according to an Amnesty International report,iii multiple members of the Baha’i religious minority forcibly disappeared, violating their right to freedom of religion and belief. 

The Houthi’s recent attacks on the Red Sea have also disrupted the maritime security in the region. Between November and December 2023, Houthi groups targeted 24 commercial and military ships in the Red Sea, publicly announcing that these attacks would not cease until Israel ended its military campaign in Gaza.iv This conflict has drawn in multiple foreign countries, making the situation even more complex. Thus, the Saudi-Arabia coalition, along with the United States, supports the Yemeni government with their military aid and airstrikes. On the other hand, Iran is currently accused of supporting the Houthi groups by providing weapons and training. 

Apart from the political arena, civilians face most of the consequences of the conflict, adding to the environmental challenges currently existing in the country. Extreme weather and water scarcity, food insecurity and restriction of humanitarian aid are some of the examples that will be further discussed below.  

Humanitarian Rights Violation 

One of the most important objectives of International Humanitarian Law is the protection of civilians during armed conflicts. Under these rules, civilian individuals enjoy certain protection against the actions carried out by organised armed groups. Of course, certain exemptions exist, in cases of active participation in hostilities, for example. However, even those rules exist, we can see that in Yemen, the articles show that over 100 civilians are killed or injured monthly, one example being October 2021v. Between April 2015 and May 2024, the statistics show that there have been over 166,000 fatalities in Yemen, out of which 16,400 were civilians who died because of the attacksvi

Impact on Education 

The war in Yemen has also affected the education in the country. Schools across Yemen have for all intents and purposes become centers of indoctrination. The Houthi groups have systematically transformed regular public schools into a “prison” for children, charging tuition fees and implementing a very strict curriculum promoting both their political and religious ideologies. Not only the children are affected, but also the teachers, who have been intimidated by the Houthis. Thus, many teachers quit their jobs because of the violence against them and the irregular and unequal payment of their salaries. As a consequence, the numbers show the devastating landscape in education, with over 2,900 schools and universities in Yemen destroyed to ruins, over 2.4 million children who do not have access to education, and another 8.5 million at risk of dropping out.vii 

Humanitarian Crisis and Aid Restrictions 

Currently, the Yemen government and the Houthi groups are impeding humanitarian aid, leading to huge delays in offering resources and aid to the victims. The main travelling corridors from and to Taizz have been blocked by the Houthi, violating the right to free movement, as well as the flow of essential resources, food and medicines. Despite the UN efforts and multiple protests against Houthi, these roads remain closed until today. Moreover, different humanitarian female staff struggled to conduct fieldwork in the affected areas because of the mahram requirement, preventing visits or providing aid. In many traditional interpretations, it is considered forbidden for a woman to travel alone for long distances (usually defined as a journey that takes more than a day and night without a mahram, namely a male relative whom she cannot marry). 

Environmental challenges 

The environmental issues further worsen the already existing tensions in Yemen. The country suffers from heavy rains and floods, but also water scarcity in some areas, most notably in Taizz. Yemen is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, with over half of its population lacking access to sufficient and safe water for personal and sanitary uses. This issue of water shortage has also contributed to the spread of water-borne illnesses and diseases, further risking the health and well-being of the population. Furthermore, the Houthi groups have weaponized the water scarcity, by preventing water from flowing into government- controlled Taizz city from the two basins they oversee, where the primary water treatment station is situated. The Houthis have cut off access to this water source even though they are aware that the people of Taizz city depend on water from these reservoirs. 

International involvement and legal framework 

The current conflict in Yemen has drawn international attention due to its allegations of violations of human and humanitarian rights, and its impact on national security and regional stability. The involvement of multiple parties, including not only the recognized government of Yemen and the Houthi authorities, but also external actors, for example, the Saudi Arabia- led coalition and the Southern Transitional Council, has complicated the situation and raised concerns about violations of both international humanitarian and human rights law. 

From a legal perspective, the conflict in Yemen is governed by international humanitarian law, which includes the four Geneva Conventions and their supplementary protocols. These legal documents govern how parties behave during times of armed conflict, safeguarding the well-being of civilians and guaranteeing the fair and humane treatment of prisoners of war. By breaking these laws, like illegally targeting civilians and civilian objectives, the implicated actors may face legal repercussions on a global scale, including possible trials for war crimes. Additionally, the conflict has also implications for international human rights law, particularly regarding the rights of women, children, and minority groups. The restrictions imposed by the Houthi de facto authorities, such as the mahram requirement for women and the targeting of religious minorities, among others, raise concerns about violations of fundamental human rights principles. 

Conclusion 

To summarize, it is clear that the Houthi movement in Yemen has severely impacted regional stability through the ongoing conflict in Yemen. The civilian population is subjected to denationalization, schools destroyed, inaccessibility to education, limited humanitarian access due to their race, and continuous conflicts and wars leave Yemen as a failed state with an uncertain future. The involvement of multiple foreign actors complicates the conflict, raising serious concerns about widespread violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws, potentially leading to global legal repercussions for the involved parties. International involvement is expected to continue, as the international community must support comprehensive peace talks to foster long-term and sustainable stability and prioritize humanitarian aid. 

References

  • Alquhaly, H. Y. H., & Basir, S. M. (2023). The Potential Violations of Civilians’ Rights in Armed Conflicts in Yemen from the Perspective of International Law. OAlib, 10(10), 1–24. https://doi.org/10.4236/oalib.1110749 

French Guiana’s Education System: Current Challenges

Written by Juliana Campos.

France’s largest territory in South America, French Guiana, faces social and economic growth challenges still yet to be addressed by the French government, including difficulties in administering the Guianese education system.

Guianese population has doubled in the last 20 years and is now estimated at 301,099 inhabitants i. Recently, due to its status as an overseas department of France, the region has experienced a surge in immigration from neighbouring countries such as Brazil and Suriname. The uncontrolled immigration, along with inadequate infrastructure, poverty and elevated unemployment rates have significantly lowered the quality of life in French Guiana and the region faces several challenges which make access to basic services such as healthcare and education more difficult.

The issues which stem from social and economic inequality would greatly benefit from a bigger interest of the French government in improving and expanding education in French Guiana. Although substantial investments have been made in the last decade, money alone is not enough to ensure access to quality education.

The Guianese Education System

In French Guiana, education is free and mandatory from ages 6 to 16. Primary education lasts five years and, for that particular stage of school life, enrolment rates are as high as ever in bigger cities and are slowly improving in more remote areas where there aren’t as many resources, such as in Indigenous settlements. As it is the reality of other developing countries, high Primary School enrolment is contrasted by alarmingly high drop-out rates in Secondary School and High School.

One big contributing factor to this phenomenon is the fact that Primary school is usually cheaper for governments to provide and children in that age group are more likely to stay in school, as parents can’t yet leave them unattended at home while working. In Secondary education, however, many children are given extra tasks at home or in the growing informal market, some live too far from school, and others simply do not receive encouragement from family members to continue their studies.

Besides, it is worth mentioning that although all Guianese children have the right to attend school free of charge, studying is not free. Additional costs with transportation, clothes, food and school materials take a toll on low-income families and may affect students’ attendance rates.

To address this issue, the French government and Guianese authorities have come up with financial aid programmes that aim to motivate students and their families. The bonuses are given to scholarship holders, aiding 46.4% of all middle school and high school students in French Guiana.ii However, there is a lack of follow-up data on whether these measures are actually effective.

Teacher shortage and inequality

Another issue currently hindering quality education in French Guiana is the shortage of trained teachers. The number of licensed educators native to the region is insufficient compared to the number of students, a problem which resulted in overpacked classrooms as the Guianese population grew. This demand brought teachers from mainland France and adjacent countries in South America to work in French Guiana, causing new problems as these professionals are usually unaware of the region’s specificities.iii

In fact, one of the biggest challenges faced by the French government when administering education in French Guiana is its extremely diverse and multicultural society. Though teachers are given freedom to adapt materials to their students’ realities, textbooks are usually made in mainland France and classes are administered in French, the official language.

By erasing French Guiana’s history, geography, languages and heritage from textbooks and national exams, French authorities perpetuate the colonialist idea that mainland France’s history and culture are somehow more relevant than that of its other territories. As a result, children may find school contents difficult to understand or hard to relate to and can grow up unaware of many of their local heroes and historic figures. Besides that, this erasure has a direct effect on students’ self-esteem and may discourage them from continuing their studies.

The adaptation of school contents by local teachers cannot derive much from the French curriculum, as French Guiana students are also subjected to standardized national exams such as the Brevet, the Lower Secondary School exam, and the Baccalauréat, the French academic qualification exam.

Considering the points previously mentioned, it is unsurprising that Guianese students do not reach the same results as mainland French students. According to GrowThinkTank and INSEE (2014), the year of the study in French Guiana, only 76% of students aged 15 to 19 were enrolled in school, whether as pupils, students or apprentices, compared to 89% in mainland France. Furthermore, more than one in two Guianese no longer attend school from the age of 19, compared to 72% in mainland France at the same age.

This stark difference surely doesn’t come from lack of resilience, lack of intelligence or any characteristic exclusive to French Guiana’s youth. It is simply a product of inequality and lack of opportunity. Not being in school or dropping out of school has long lasting effects on young people, not only for their professional future, but also for their individual growth as human beings and as citizens, as school is also the main place where children socialise.

Kids and a Teacher in a Classroom / Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz via Pexels

Education of Indigenous People and other minorities

Indigenous peoples play a substantial role in Guianese society, preserving culturally valuable knowledge, fighting for structural change and demanding protection of their territories. The erasure perpetrated by the French school curriculum affects these populations even more strongly, starting by the lack of data available on them. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) affirms that, according to estimates, Indigenous peoples represent some 4% of the Guianese population, or more than 12,000 individualsiv, but there is no way to be sure, as the French Constitution prohibits the collection of race-based census data.

For decades in French Guiana, as well as in many adjacent regions, education was only present in the form of Catholic Schools, residential institutions where Indigenous children were forcibly interned and required to replace their traditions and religions with the Catholic ideals. Their native languages were also prohibited and children were taught French instead.

This serves as an example of how school can be used as political tactic, as colonial France risked the disappearance of invaluable Indigenous knowledge in order to maintain its territory. To this day, the French government has not directly dealt with the cultural loss from French Guiana’s period as a colony, and the erasure of Indigenous minorities is still a very present issue, with their history, culture and languages often being ignored by the French education system.

Future Prospects

French Guiana suffers from social and economic inequalities that would greatly benefit from an education system that is better tailored to its extremely multicultural society. The French government has a responsibility to invest in French Guiana’s education by building new schools and preparing and hiring native teachers, as well as training foreign teachers on how to approach French Guiana’s diverse society. This would partially solve the issue of overpacked schools, while also stimulating the local economy.

In addition to these measures, the government should also include more about the history, cultures, geography, climate and religions present in French Guiana in textbooks and standardized exams, which could make school more relatable to students and have a direct effect on the current drop-out rates. A special effort should be made to ensure Indigenous peoples and other minorities have access to quality education which also respects their culture and heritage.

In order to effectively make these improvements, it is crucial that the French government monitors the developments of their investments, either by conducting their own research on the ground or relying on local leaders and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). It is particularly important to collect data on enrolment rates for both Primary and Secondary Education, but also to understand what can be done to make sure these children receive quality education and encouragement to finish their studies.

References: