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Yemeni FlagCivic Freedom Monitor: Yemen

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated 6 July 2017

Update: Yemen has been mired in a civil war since late 2014, and two governments – the National Salvation Government in the capital, Sanaa, led by the Houthis, and one led by the former president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, and his supporters – currently compete for authority in the country. In early 2017, the government in Sanaa issued instructions requiring all local and international organizations to coordinate and receive approval of the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation before implementing any activities. In addition, in February 2017, the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation temporarily halted UNICEF’s activities in the Yemeni governorates under its control, citing the organization's lack of coordination with the Ministry. The Ministry reversed its decision after one day, however.

Introduction

The Law on Associations and Foundations (Law 1 of 2001) is the most enabling law governing civil society organizations (CSOs) in the Arabian peninsula. Compared with CSOs in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and other Arab Gulf countries, Yemeni CSOs are generally easy to establish under the law and able to operate with minimal government interference. That said, Yemeni civil society has criticized restrictive implementation practices for a number of years, and the government has regularly proposed new restrictions on Yemeni CSOs. As of this writing, no new restrictions have been approved by Parliament; however, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs proposed amending the CSO law as recently as November 2012, and the Ministry of Legal Affairs continues to work on drafting new amendments. While many Yemeni CSOs welcome the amendment process as an opportunity to address implementation problems, several organizations have warned that it may lead to new restrictions.

According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, as of 2012, more than 10,000 associations and foundations have registered under Law 1 of 2001. (The Ministry has also claimed however, that only 25% of these organizations are active.) Most of these organizations work in the philanthropic field, while others work in social development, and democracy and human rights. With regard to foreign organizations, the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation has indicated that more than 50 international organizations are operating in Yemen, including organizations from Britain, France, Germany, and the US. However this number may only refer to those organizations working in the areas of development-related services, such as health, education, water, etc. – while discounting those active in the fields of human rights and democracy.

After the 2011 Revolution, Yemen launched a National Dialogue process to discuss various political and social issues facing the country and agree on a binding document to form the basis of a new constitution for the nation. Following the completion of the National Dialogue Conference in January 2014, interim President Hadi announced the formation of a committee to draft a new constitution. The drafting committee, comprising 17 members, completed its first draft in January 2015. The initial drafting process included substantial opportunities for CSOs to contribute their feedback, and resulting draft articles provide a strong basis for the protection of freedom of association, among other rights.

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms Associations and Foundations
Registration Body Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs
Approximate Number 10,000
Barriers to Entry Associations are required to have at least 21 founding members and foundations are required to deposit a comparatively large initial balance with a bank.
Barriers to Activities The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has extensive rights to monitor CSO activities; CSOs must obtain the Ministry’s approval before undertaking activity requested by a foreign entity.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy No legal barriers to speech or advocacy, but in practice, vocal human rights organizations may face difficulties in dealing with government.
Barriers to International Contact No legal barriers.
Barriers to Resources No legal barriers, however CSOs must notify the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs when seeking to obtain foreign funds.
Barriers to Assembly The state has excessive leeway to ban or interfere with public assemblies and has used excessive force to break up assemblies.

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Key Indicators

Population 27,392,779 (July 2016 est.)
Capital Sana'a
Type of Government Republic
Life Expectancy at Birth

Male: 63.4 years
Female: 67.8 years (2016 est.)

Literacy Rate

Male: 85.1%
Female: 55% (2015 est.)

Religious Groups Muslim including Shaf'i (Sunni) and Zaydi (Shia), small numbers of Jewish, Christian, and Hindu
Ethnic Groups Predominantly Arab; but also Afro-Arab, South Asians, Europeans
GDP Per Capita (PPP) $2,500 (2016 est.)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2016.

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale
(best - worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 160 (2015) 1 – 182
World Bank Rule of Law Index 7 (2015) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 8 (2015) 100 – 0
Transparency International 154 (2015) 1 168
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Not Free
Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 6 (2016)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index Rank: 4 (2016) 177 – 1

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Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 1987
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) No --
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1987
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) No --
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1972
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1984
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women No --
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1991
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) No --
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Yes 2009
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Yes 2013
The Paris Commitments to Protect Children from Unlawful Recruitment or Use by Armed Forces or Armed Groups Yes 2013
International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance Yes 2013
Key Regional Agreements Ratification* Year
Arab Charter on Human Rights Yes 2008

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The current Constitution of Yemen was ratified by popular referendum on May 16, 1991, with amendments made in 2001. Relevant constitutional provisions include:

  • Article (48)(a): "The state shall guarantee to its citizens their personal freedom, and preserve their dignity and their security. The law shall define the cases in which citizens' freedom may be restricted. Personal freedom cannot be restricted without the decision of a competent court of law."
  • Article (51): "Citizens have the right of recourse to the courts to protect their rights and lawful interests. They also have the right to submit their complaints, criticisms, and suggestions to the various government bodies directly or indirectly."
  • Article (53): "The state shall guarantee the freedom and confidentiality of mail, telephone, telegram and all other means of communication, none of which may be censored, searched, exposed, delayed or confiscated except in cases specified by law and according to a court order."
  • Article (58): "In as much as it is not contrary to the Constitution, the citizens may organize themselves along political, professional and union lines. They have the right to form associations in scientific, cultural, social and national unions in a way that serves the goals of the Constitution. The state shall guarantee these rights, and shall take the necessary measures to enable citizens to exercise them. The state shall guarantee freedom for the political, trade, cultural, scientific and social organizations."

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Relevant national legislation governing civil society includes the following:

  • Law on Associations and Foundations (Law 1 of 2001) [English] [عربي]
  • Implementing Regulations for the Law on Associations and Foundations [English] [عربي]
  • Law on Cooperatives and Unions
  • Law on Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorism

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

Yemen’s Ministry of Legal Affairs developed a new draft CSO law in late 2014. The draft law was expected to be submitted to the government and then to Parliament in 2015 but ongoing political, security, and humanitarian crises following the takeover of government institutions by the Houthi rebels in February 2015 and subsequent military intervention by a Saudi-led coalition has stalled all legal developments.

In addition, the 17-member committee formed to draft Yemen’s new Constitution completed its first draft in January 2015. In light of the political turmoil in the country, it is likely that the draft it will be significantly amended before being submitted for a public referendum. As issued in January 2015, however, the draft Constitution contains several enabling articles that pertain to freedom of association. An unofficial translation of these articles follows, below:

Article 111: Citizens have the right to create associations, foundations, and civil society organizations upon notification. In their creation, management, and operation, these organizations must adhere to the principles of democracy, good governance, and transparency of accounts, revenues, and sources of funding. The State guarantees their independence and freedom to carry out their activities, and may not halt their activities or dissolve them or their administrative bodies except upon a court order.
Article 134: Rights and freedoms contained in this Constitution shall not be disrupted, deviated from, or compromised in any way. In cases where the law provides for the development of regulations to control these rights and freedoms, such regulations shall not affect the origin of the right, or its essence or content. The regulations shall not be developed except as necessary and in order to protect the rights of others, public order, or public morals, and they shall be within the minimum necessary for these purposes, as required by the foundations of the civil democratic states, provided that they are not limited to a specific case.
Article 10: The State is committed to respecting the United Nations Charter, the League of Arab States Charter, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to international charters and treaties ratified by the legislature, and generally recognized principles of international law.      
The draft was developed with substantial opportunities for CSOs to submit their suggestions and feedback during the committee’s drafting process. If the draft is adopted, it will provide a stronger constitutional basis for the protection of freedom of association and a supportive legal environment for civil society in Yemen.

Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of pending initiatives, write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

There are two organizational forms for civil society in Yemen: associations and foundations.

The Law on Associations and Foundations (Law 1 of 2001) provide for the formation of associations, including national associations and organizations, cultural centers, and clubs. Associations are defined as:

"any popular group established in accordance with this law by natural persons the least number of which is 21 persons at the time of application for the establishment thereof and 41 persons at the constituent meeting, the primary purpose of which is the realization of a common benefit for a specific social group, or to undertake activities or functions that are of a public benefit, and which does not seek from its activities to generate a financial profit for its members, and the membership of which shall be open in accordance with the conditions spelled out in the organizational procedures" (Article 2).

Foundations can be formed by one or more natural or legal persons for a public benefit purpose. There are no separate governance provisions for foundations.

Associations and foundations must be registered at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in Sana'a and/or its local representative offices in the governorates.

Public Benefit Status

Law 1 of 2001 provides that associations may be established for either a mutual (group) benefit or public benefit purpose, while foundations must have a public benefit purpose. Under Law 1 of 2001, all associations and foundations receive certain tax exemptions, including exemption from customs fees on imports necessary for their work and on gifts and grants from overseas (subject to approval by the Minister of Finance). With regard to public benefit status, Article 18 of Law 1 requires that the government provide financial and material support to associations which serve a public benefit. The law does not, however, define “public benefit” or provide for a process for CSOs that serve a public benefit to formally obtain a public benefit, tax-exempt status.

Barriers to Entry

Any association established pursuant to Law 1 of 2001 must be founded by no less than 21 natural persons at the time of application and 41 persons at the time of the first meeting. According to the implementing regulations, associations must also deposit one million Yemeni rials (approximately US $5,000) with a bank before they can register. 

Barriers to Operational Activity

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has extensive authority to monitor and constrain the activities of associations, according to the following elements of the law:

  • Law 1 of 2001 requires that a Ministry representative supervise the internal elections of associations;
  • Law 1 of 2001 fails to guarantee associations the right to develop their internal regulations in the way their members wish;
  • All associations must submit annual reports to the Ministry in order to renew their license. The Ministry has the right to audit an association’s funding, including its sources and disbursement;
  • Law 1 of 2001 provides the Ministry with the right to question associations about their activities and financial matters.

Law 1 of 2011 further constrains CSO activities by requiring associations and foundations to obtain the Ministry’s permission before conducting activities “on the request or assignment of a foreign entity.” (Article 23) The implementing regulations for Law 1 require CSOs to submit an application that includes the foreign entity’s name, address, nationality, purpose, geographic scope, and the nature and goals of the proposed activities. The Ministry must review and respond to the application within 30 days and inform the CSO of its decision. (Article 18) The regulations do not further define the types of activities encompassed by this requirement, nor do they provide for a CSO to appeal a negative decision by the Ministry.

Additionally, in February 2010, the House of Representatives passed the Law on Money Laundering and Combating Terrorism. The Law contains an article that permits a committee in the Central Bank to:

  • Examine and inspect bank accounts without prior notice.
  • Halt the activities of any company or organization operating in Yemen for a period of 24 hours, with a possible extension up to a month without following any legal procedures.

The Civic Democratic Initiatives Support Foundation and its partners as well as the Union of Yemeni Lawyers presented written proposals to the Central Bank committee, arguing that the provisions related to illegal searches and surveillance of bank funds could harm associations and organizations that have projects funded by international parties.

In March 2010, the Department of Administration of Associations in the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs performed field visits to the offices of a number of associations and foundations, and requested that questionnaires be filled out on the activities of each organization. It announced that such visits would be conducted periodically in order to ensure the organizations' functioning.

Since August 2009, the Yemeni government has been in conflict with political opposition groups in the far north of the country and in much of the south. Although the confrontations have only turned violent in the far north (e.g. Sa’ada), this continued tension has negatively affected the general work environment for CSOs, both humanitarian and political. For example, many humanitarian organizations—both domestic and international—complain about their inability to provide services to those in need in the far north. They have been able to provide services only to those who sought refuge in camps established by the government in some of the governorates. At the same time, almost all human rights organizations have reported on the serious deterioration of human rights in Yemen and a growing number of violations which have touched the lives and freedoms of Yemenis. Importantly, CSOs have faced extreme difficulties in monitoring such violations.

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

There are no legal barriers to speech or advocacy. Nonetheless, active human rights defender organizations are often accused of being aligned with opposition political parties, or face difficulties in dealing with various governmental departments.

In terms of public participation, while many government bodies encourage associations to engage in formulating laws and policies, the government typically expects these associations to agree to the government proposals. Therefore, in practice, the space for dialogue between the two sectors is limited.

Barriers to International Contact

There are no legal barriers to international communication or contact.

Barriers to Resources

Law 1 of 2000 allows CSOs to receive funds from a foreign person or entity “with the knowledge of the Ministry.” (Article 23(1)) Implementing regulations for the law specify that CSOs must provide the Ministry with detailed information about the source and purpose of foreign funds, but does not give further detail on the notification process. With regard to finances generally, associations and foundations may freely receive resources from government or non-government persons and entities, in a manner “that does not conflict with the effective applicable law.” (Article 39(2))

In April 2010, the House of Representatives passed the Law on Money Laundering and Combating Terrorism. Although some minor amendments were made to the law leading up to its adoption, it still contains provisions which may harm associations and organizations with projects that are funded by international parties. For instance, the Law provides for a committee in the Central Bank to examine and inspect bank accounts without prior notice, and to stop any company or organization operating in Yemen from activity for a period of 24 hours—with the possibility of extending up to one month—without following regular legal procedures.

Barriers to Assembly

Legal Restrictions. Public assemblies in Yemen are regulated by Law No. 29 of 2003 on the Organization of Marches and Assemblies. Article 3 of the Law stipulates that “every citizen in Yemen, every political party, every public organization, every trade union and syndicate has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly including peaceful demonstrations and marches in compliance with the constitution, the provisions of this law and the applicable laws.” This provision improperly restricts the right of freedom of assembly by excluding, for instance, non-citizens.

Vague Provisions. Vague provisions in Law No. 29 give the state excessive leeway to ban or interfere with public assemblies. For instance, Article 16 prohibits “a demonstration or march that targets the Republican system, homeland security, or the unity of [Yemen’s] territories.” The vagueness and breadth of these provisions allow the government to bar virtually any demonstration or march that it does not support. In addition, Article 5 stipulates that the authorities may reschedule the start and end of an assembly and change its route within 24 hours of the assembly, “for only security reasons and in the case of necessity.” The Ministry of Interior may interpret such provisions in an expansive way to unduly interfere with an assembly shortly before it takes place.

Advance Notification. Article 4 of Law No. 29 requires organizers to notify the Ministry of Interior 72 hours before all demonstrations and marches. This exceeds the 48-hour advanced notice period recommended by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association.  

Article 5 of Law No. 29 allows organizers the right to appeal the authority’s decision if the authority decides to reschedule the assembly without justification. The appeal must be made to a court within 24 hours, and the court is to decide within a period not exceeding 72 hours. The decision of the court is considered final.

Law No. 29 does not specifically allow for spontaneous assemblies; due to this absence in combination with the notification requirement, spontaneous assemblies may be considered prohibited. However, Article 19 states that “The provisions of this law do not apply to protests and sit-ins that do not turn into a demonstration or a march.” This Article provides some space for spontaneous gatherings on a smaller scale.

Enforcement. In the past several years, authorities in Yemen have used excessive force to disperse peaceful protestors on a number of occasions. A report by Human Rights Watch, for example, found that during a series of protests in the port town of Aden in 2011, Yemeni security forces “routinely used lethal force that was clearly excessive in relation to the danger presented by the protestors.” Since 2011, forces have continued to use live ammunition and other excessive means, particularly against pro-secession protestors, including a 2014 confrontation in the south that left two dead and dozens more injured.

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Reports

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports Universal Periodic Review: Yemen (2009)
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs Yemen
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes Not available
U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015: Yemen
Fragile States Index Reports Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
Fund for Peace Country Profile: Yemen
IMF Country Reports Yemen and the IMF
International Commission of Jurists Not available
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library Yemen

Events

The Yemeni Journalists Syndicate issued its semi-annual report, which examines violations against journalists in Yemen from January 2016 until June 2016.

On January 10, 2016, the Yemeni Center for Public Opinion organized a training in Sanaa for the Young Advocacy Group on advocacy strategies and communication skills.

On February 29, 2016, the Humanitarian Forum in Yemen organized a consultative workshop on activating the role of civil society to help address Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.

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News and Additional Resources

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

Yemen's Houthi and Saleh coalition stops UNICEF activities until further notice (February 2017)
The Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation of the National Salvation Government (formed by the Houthis and former President Saleh's party) stopped the UNICEF’s activities in the governorates under its control, due to lack of coordination with the Ministry.

Studies and Economic Media Center report on freedom of the press in Yemen (January 2017)
The Studies and Economic Media Center report compiles violations on press freedoms in Yemen for the year of 2016.

Studies and Economic Media Center survey on CSO sustainability during war(May 2016)
A survey conducted by the Studies and Economic Media Center showed that 60% of CSOs in Yemen experienced violations over the past year, and that 19% of CSOs suspended their activities as a result of the conflict and arbitrary attacks on CSOs by the Houthis.

How are civil society organizations working in Yemen?
(April 2016)
Academics and experts suggest that local CSOs in Yemen have not been sufficiently helping to diminish the growth of religious extremism and violence.

Human Rights Report from the Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights
(March 2016)
The Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights issued a new report on violations against human rights defenders in Yemen and the Gulf.

Arbitrarily Held by the Houthi (January 2016)
According to Human Rights Watch, Houthi authorities in Yemen have arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared dozens of people in the capital, Sanaa

Huthi Armed Group Must End Crackdown On Human Rights Defenders and NGOs (December 2015)
NGOs reported to Amnesty International that over the past six months, they and other organizations have come under increased scrutiny and pressure from the Huthi armed group, which has raided and closed down at least 27 NGOs in Sana'a. Organizations that have continued to operate are in many cases exercising self-censorship and face constraints due to harassment and intimidation of their staff.

Civil Society Key Theme at National Dialogue Conference (December 2014)
Reports from Yemen's recently completed National Dialogue Conference (NDC) have addressed the right to freedom of association and the importance of providing civil society organizations (CSOs) with greater space to operate. Among other things, these reports have affirmed the principle of non-interference by the state in CSO activities and the need for state support of CSOs via the public budget. However, the reports have also included provisions recommending that CSOs should not receive foreign funding if it is to be used for "developmental objectives." These reports (accessible in Arabic here and here) along with other outputs of the NDC were intended to inform the drafting of Yemen's new constitutions

Yemeni women play key role in civil society (October 2014)
It is as important as ever that during Yemen's transition civil society and individual contributions help in building a new Yemen. Given the government's current crisis, much of the society's well-being is dependent on the support and services provided by Yemeni citizens. A large and often underappreciated number of those working with local aid organizations in Yemen are women. It is a noble undertaking by Yemeni women to empower Yemen's minorities and to stand up for their rights. Their peaceful struggle in many ways reflects the broader political goals and visions put forth during the National Dialogue Conference. Five exemplary Yemeni women from around the country are profiled in the above-linked article.

News Archive

Yemeni security forces disperse separatist protest in Aden, 2 killed (February 2014)

Dispute between political parties will affect elections process (August 2013)

Journalists attacked, threatened amid Yemen protests (May 2013)

Human Rights Violations in the South of Yemen (December 2012)

Yemen aims to improve NGO sector through regulation and guidance (November 2012)

Youth initiatives in volunteerism (November 2012)

A National Independent Human Rights Commission (October 2012)

Workshop to discuss the Law on Associations (October 2012)

CSOs agree to partake in national dialogue in Yemen (August 2012)

IIRO calls for quick relief aid to save millions of Yemenis (July 2012)

Alarm bells over worsening humanitarian crisis (May 2012)

Tribal leaders discuss transitional justice law (May 2012)

Formation of a Common Entity (May 2012)

Law on Access to Information is passed (April 2012)

Servants protest for being marginalized (April 2012)

Minister discusses draft Transitional Justice Law and Human Rights Commission with civil society (March 2012)

No immunity for Yemen's Saleh abroad: Human Rights Watch (February 2012)

Coping with unrest - aid workers turn to the community (January 2012)

UN rights council slams Yemen violations (September 2011)

U.N. accuses Yemen of using deadly force in protests (September 2011) 

Targeted repression continues in Bahrain and Yemen (May 2011)

French aid group mulls Yemen staff pullback (May 2011) 

Yemen: violent protests as pact divides opposition and youth activists (April 2011) 

Yemen's neighbors step up role in pushing for Saleh's exit (April 2011)

UN human rights office voices concern at recent events in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria (March 2011)

In Yemen, female activist strives for an Egypt-like revolution (February 2011)

Women Journalists Without Chains Condemns the Death of a Woman and the Injury of Two Women During Women’s Demonstrations (January 2011)

Yemen adds to the protest in the Middle East (January 2011)

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The foregoing information was collected by Ghazi Al Samey, President of the Activist Organization for Development and Human Rights in Ta'iz, Yemen.