Yemen has demanded that illegal prisons run by the United Arab Emirates, with U.S. support, be closed as human rights groups and news organizations have reported on severe torture cases.
The interior minister of the internationally recognized Yemeni government Ahmed al-Maysari made the demand during talks with Reem al-Hasemi, the UAE's international cooperation minister, held in Aden on Monday, as reported by the state news agency SABA on Wednesday. Brigadier Mohammed al-Hassani, UAE's top military commander, was also present at the meeting.
In June, an investigation by the Associated Press news agency reveals that hundreds of Yemenis had been taken to secret prisons and subject to different, humiliating and painful kinds of torture, in order to obtain information about al-Qaeda or the Islamic State group.
AP interviewed survivors, witnesses and smuggled testimonies from inside prisoners, who were able to recognize the foreign, Emirati accent. The prisoners had been held without charges or trial, not even knowing what they were being accused of.
Anwar Gargash, state minister for foreign affairs and for federal national council affairs denied the UAE has any responsibility on the case.
According to the investigation, four of the prisons where the AP found sexual torture are in Aden. One of them is at the Buriqa base, UAE's headquarters in Yemen; another one is the house of Shallal Shaye, Aden's security chief and close ally of the Emiratis; another is the former nightclub Wadah; and the last one is Beir Ahmed.
Prisoners and security officials told AP they've seen U.S. personnel and Colombian mercenaries at the Buriqa base.
The report follows a previous investigation in 2017 by AP, which suggested U.S. involvement in the detention centers.
It said that senior U.S. defense officials had acknowledged their forces were involved in the interrogations, but they denied taking part in or knowing about human rights abuses.
"We always adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct," chief Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White told AP. "We would not turn a blind eye, because we are obligated to report any violations of human rights."
At that time, the UAE said in a statement that “there are no secret detention centers and no torture of prisoners is done during interrogations."
On Thursday, Amnesty International (AI) also called for an investigation on disappearances, torture and deaths in a “network of secret detention facilities,” run by the UAE and allies, demanding the immediate release of prisoners.
In their report, including more than 70 interviews with survivors and relatives of missing people in Yemen, AI registered “systemic enforced disappearance and torture and other ill-treatment, amounting to war crimes” in the illegal detention centers.
It also demanded the U.S. suspend intelligence and military cooperation with the UAE.
“All fingers point to really alarming patterns of abuse that have been ongoing now for well over a year, and they have been taking place within a culture of impunity," Tirana Hasson, director for crisis response at Amnesty, told Al Jazeera.
Responding to the allegations the UAE government said It has "urged the Yemeni government to conduct an independent investigation into the matter and continues to follow up with the Yemeni government on this front ... The UAE believes that these reports are politically motivated to undermine its efforts as part of the Arab coalition to support the Yemeni government."
On Tuesday, Maysari said he had reached an agreement with the UAE and that now all prisons in the government-held areas are under the control of the Yemeni general prosecutor.
Amnesty said an investigation conducted between March 2016 and May 2018 in the southern provinces of Aden, Lahj, Abyan, Shabwa, and Hadramout has documented widespread use of torture and other ill-treatment in Yemeni and Emirati facilities, including beatings, use of electric shocks and sexual violence.
"The UAE, operating in shadowy conditions in southern Yemen, appears to have created a parallel security structure outside the law, where egregious violations continue to go unchecked," Hasson said. "Ultimately these violations, which are taking place in the context of Yemen's armed conflict, should be investigated as war crimes."
The Western-backed alliance has been fighting a war for three years against the Ansarallah rebel group, popularly known as “Houthis,” which ousted the internationally recognized government of President Abd-Mansour Hadi in 2015 and established a Supreme Revolutionary Committee after several failed dialogue attempts.
They currently control the capital Sanaa and much of northern Yemen.
The Gulf State is a key member of a Saudi-led military coalition that entered Yemen's conflict in 2015 to fight on the government's side against Houthi rebels. They have launched thousands of airstrikes in a campaign to restore President Hadi, leading to the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, largely ignored by international media.