Geneva - SAM Organization for Rights and Liberties said that the Houthi group is committing a grave violation of the property rights of citizens living in Madhbah, Al-Sunainah and Sawan in the capital, Sana'a, under the pretext of public interest and military necessity, emphasizing that the expropriation of land and private property and the imposition of restrictive conditions that impede citizens' enjoyment of their right to build and improve their property under the pretext of the public interest, as well as the establishment of military sites, constitute a grave violation of basic rights guaranteed by international and Yemeni law alike, and the Houthi group must immediately stop the escalation by using force sometimes and the judiciary at other times against civilians to extract land and private property.
"SAM" indicated in a mini report issued by it on Wednesday 18 May 2022 that the competition over land ownership in the areas controlled by the Houthi group has increased since the Houthi group seized the capital, Sana’a, in addition to the emergence of a conflict of interests between its leaders, where the wing led by Muhammad al-Houthi assumed the task of confiscating and repossessing large areas of land and expropriating them from others on the pretext that these were lands belonged to the Awqaf or they were owned by the state which has had a significant impact on civilians and threatens thousands with forced displacement.
The human rights organization pointed out that the Houthi group is still working to significantly intensify its control over the real estate market and to facilitate the tasks of its leaders in seizing state-owned lands, and lands owned by the Awqaf and population in the areas under its control. The organization also confirmed that it received a lot of complains related to the dispossession of property and the deprivation of dozens of citizens from building, in addition to the refusal of Houthi armed men affiliated with the so-called "supervisory offices" in Sana'a to pay the rent of apartments they rented from their owners, or even to leave them, for a long time.
SAM noted that the Houthi group has, during the past few years, expanded its operations of dredging, looting and buying the rest of the pieces of land and real estate of the country and citizens in Sana'a, the capital, and other cities under its control, which happens in conjunction with making appeals by a large number of homeowners in Houth-controlled areas to redress the injustice against them and to save them from the campaigns imposed on them by the group to force them to pay exorbitant sums of money under various names and pretexts.
The organization further highlighted that its team met with a number of victims and affected people whose lands were confiscated and were prevented from building, in addition to testimonies that proved the dispossession of entire lands in order to establish military sites and points, which the organization confirms that it is a flagrant and unacceptable violation and a clear attack by the Houthi group on guaranteed and protected rights.
Following up Sawan Events
In 1992, President of the Presidency Council, Ali Abdullah Saleh, ordered the State Real Estate Authority to allocate lands to the employees of the Presidential Office. Years later, the State Real Estate Authority determined the Sawan area as a place for state employees to live there by installments. In June 1998 the employees obtained their plots of land licensed from all official bodies such as state properties and courts.
The residential area of Sawan is located on the northeastern plateau of Jabal Noqum, east of Amanat Al Asimah. The number of granted properties amounted to 6,747 Libnah (a standard unit of measuring lands in Yemen equivalent 44.44 meters), in which more than 750 buildings were built since 1998 including thousands of apartments and public services such as schools, health and service centers, and these people were granted to utilize the pieces of land the way they like such as sale, purchase, ownership and other property rights.
In June 2017, the Houthis established a committee called the Armed Forces Real Estate Committee, led by a Houthi officer named Abu Haider Abdullah Jahaf. The special military real estate authority decided to prevent residents in the city of Sawan from repairing, renting, building, selling or buying anything related to the residential city of Sawan.
The military police - affiliated with the Houthi group - also abducted more than 20 homeowners in the city and took them to the military prison, along with the workers who worked with them in the repair of homes.
The organization stated that the Houthi group is using a gang affiliated with the committee to assault the residents. One of these gangs is led by "Abu Mohsen Al-Hashishi" and this gang is backed by the police station in the Saraf area east of the capital city. There is also another gang that can erupt a tribal war from Beit Al-Luhedda, and these gangs sometimes require amounts between 1-2 million Yemeni riyals to allow home improvement.
Moreover, the Houthi militia demolished a school courtyard, ripped out windows from private homes, destroyed the foundations and parts of several homes, destroyed several homes, and seized building materials from buildings whose residents decided to renovate their homes.
On November 7, 2021, a gang affiliated with Jahaf, led by a person named "Al-Hashishi", assaulted the owner of a house at night and took off the tiles of his house, while on December 12, 2021, elements affiliated with Jahaf demolished a house whose owner wanted to complete it.
The Houthis announced that they aim to seize more than 19,000 Libnas in the suburbs of Sanaa, such as Al-Khaniq, Sarf, Al-Hashishiya, Sawan, Wadi Dhahr, and Al-Rawda, according to what was published by their Saba News Agency. The Houthi Supreme Judicial Council decided on the fifth of April 2021 to refer real estate cases and what is known as real estate fraud to the criminal courts of Sana’a and Al Hudaydah, and to establish criminal courts in all governorates.
Al-Sunaina, the Biggest Grievance in Yemen’s Modern History (People of Al-Sunaina)
Saif, pseudonym, one of the residents of Al-Sunaina says in his testimony about what happened to him and others after the Houthi had controlled their lands, “The housing association was founded in the Al-Sunaina area in 2004, which was disbursed by (Ali Mohsen) to all segments of society, civilians, military and martyrs, and from all over the Republic. Since that date, many have sold their own land they obtained from the association or built on it, and the sale and purchase reached the seventh individual in some cases. I was one of those people who legally bought a piece of land there through legal trustees and there are others who made purchases through the courts. We built more than 6,000 homes and 11 neighborhoods, i.e. there are 11 neighborhood leaders and 3 sheikhs, all of whom are accredited by the Municipality of the Capital. These neighborhoods contain public and private schools, parks, and public services such as electricity, water, police stations, and they are regulated by the competent authorities.”
M.H, one of those who went out to demonstrate against the procedures of the Houthi group, “the Houthi group kidnapped the head of the association, Essam Al-Qaisi earlier, who was following up the issue with official authorities.” He added, “These houses are our rights as buyers, even if they were given to us. There is no longer an original owner, and the houses in that area have been sold by 90% from six to seven times a long time ago, which is estimated at more than 20 thousand pieces of land".
He indicated in his statement, “"I purchased the land where I live since 2006/2007, and I built and settled in my house until 2017. Then I was shocked, as the others residing in the area, that a military committee by the Ministry of Defense came and put up billboards at all the entrances to the neighborhood from all sides, that said Warning: A Military Zone “No Purchase or Procurement” after that, we established the association to follow up. We are now under a siege. We cannot carry out repairs or construction. For example, if a window is broken, I cannot repair it because it is simply banned by the order of the Houthi.”
Jabr, “a pseudonym,” one of the residents of Al-Sunina Madhbah neighborhood, says in his testimony to SAM, “"We have legal documents and complete files that prove we have the right and that their allegations are false and baseless. We have a previous directive from Al-Sammad, the head of the so-called Houthi Presidential Council, and the association is planned by the General Land Authority and neighborhood units. Despite all the directives that we have, it is useless."
Jabr concluded his testimony by pointing out that, “There are owners and tenants who have built half of the building, such as windows and roofs, but they were prevented from completing the work and are now unable to continue building or paying the rent. There are also sick people who need to sell their property in order to travel and receive treatment, and other humanitarian cases that need to end the current ban.”
According to testimonies documented by SAM Organization, the Houthi group imposes impossible conditions on anyone who wants to build, requiring him to sign a document that includes the relinquishment of his right to land or property at any time. After the people refused to do so, they amended the document and stated that whoever wanted to build on their land or property would give up his land in return for compensation.
On May 3, 2021, the Houthis decided to prevent the purchase or sale of any property until after obtaining a statement from the Awqaf Authority established by Ahmed Hamed stating that the property is not owned by it.
In early February, "Mohammed Ali al-Houthi" decided to prevent the construction of houses, residential buildings or malls unless they own a public yard for parking, and also decided that public works officials who allowed the construction of houses and towers without parking spaces should be held accountable. The Public Works Syndicate in Sana'a stated that dozens of its employees were kidnapped after this decision.
The Houthi militia, through the deputy of its Ministry of Public Works, called "Al-Dhari", imposed difficult conditions on building real estate in Sana'a, obligating them to employ the engineers loyal to the Houthi group in designing real estate and supervising its implementation at the end of February 2021.
It is also worth indicating that there are selling fees amounting to 3%-5% that are paid directly to a body belongs to “Muhammad Ali Al Houthi” called the judicial system. It is expected that the annual profits of the Muhammad Ali Al-Houthi Committee will be between 100-300 million dollars annually for the sale and trade of real estate, and may exceed that in case of adding Houthi-imposed fines. An economic report estimated the real estate trade in Yemen at more than three billion dollars annually.
The process begins with the person submitting all his official documents to the Land Registry Authority where it is prohibited to sell the land except through the trustees appointed by Muhammad Ali al-Houthi. Then the person submits all the land papers to a committee called settlements in the Land Registry, where the person must pay 2.5% to the Land Registry Authority. He also pays approximately 10% of each sale to the trustees of the sale of the property appointed by Muhammad Ali Al-Houthi, otherwise the documents will be void.
Testimonies and Models
- An eyewitness told SAM’s team during his testimony, “I built a house in 2001 consisting of a room, a bathroom and a kitchen and I lived in it in 2004 without completing the construction in terms of tiles and paint because I did not have enough money. Therefore, I started saving some money from my salary every year in order to complete building the house and I was living in it while building the rest until the so-called Military Committee came and prevented us from building or improving the house. Despite the expansion of my family and the increase in the number of its members, I was not even able to build a room for my daughters.” He added, "Some of my neighbors affected by this decision built some rooms on the roofs, to be surprised by the arrival of the military forces of the Houthi group, who detained them. They were released after being forced to sign document that states they would demolish what they built. We still suffer from this unjust decision as we are prevented from making basic modifications such as protecting the building from rain or allowing the establishment of a kitchen or toilet despite the legal documents we have and the approval of the judicial authorities.”
Citizen H.Q, told SAM, "I bought a piece of land five years ago in 2016. A year later, I was surprised that the housing association was completely suspended by the Houthi Ministry of Defense, and so far I have not been able to build or do anything."
Residents affected by Houthi decisions have been organizing continuous demonstrations since the end of September of last year to defend their properties and homes in front of the Attorney General’s Office, the pro-Houthi Parliament, and the office of the head of the Houthi political office. Furthermore, they created a Facebook page in order to cover their activities, which they called the City of the Presidential Office Staff Sawan and created another one for Al-Sunaina. Television discussions were also held, in which officials from: the Land and State Real Estate Authority attended, all of whom affirmed that the lands owned by the citizens are legal, and they have the right to use them the way they wish. Then the Houthi kidnapped a number of activists defending it, including Sheikh Ali al-Qawsi, in October 2021.
One of the victims said in his testimony, “We have blueprints issued by Ministry of Planning and Survey and approved by the Capital Secretariat from the General Authority, in addition to a letter issued by the head of the General Authority for Lands in the Houthi government demanding the release of the lands by the Houthi Ministry of Defense according to the documents they own, and the need for the Ministry of Defense to stop administrative expropriation as it violates the Act of Appropriation for Public Benefit, in addition to requesting the implementation of judgments issued by the judiciary in favor of the citizens, which obligate the Houthi Ministry of Defense to desist from the citizens’ lands, and to compensate civilians for the lands it seized in 2014.”
In September of last year, the Haider Jahaf Committee distributed a circular to all owners of residential buildings in Sana'a, asking them to hand them over a copy of their ownership papers and bring the original for verification. The residents refused, saying that it was an attempt by the committee to forge their land documents.
Entrance to the city for search and arbitrary detention
For his part, one of the affected people in the Al-Sunaina area said that the area had turned into a large prison. The Houthi committee has set one entrance for entry and exit, and at the entrance, the identity of those entering is checked and their cars are searched. He continued his testimony, “"The area where I live has a single entrance from the southern side, where the Houthis built two housing rooms for the soldiers, and a prison opposite to it where they search those entering and leaving the area in order to prevent any building-related materials from entering the area, including sandbags, windows or doors, even for the purpose of replacement. While one of the victims said, "Because of the rain, water leaked into the house, so I had to smuggle a small sandbag to close the cracks, but after inspection they discovered the sandbag and I was arrested for four hours. I was only released through mediation and in return for paying a sum of money estimated at 30,000 riyals.”
The organization indicated that a committee was formed under the leadership of "Abdullah Ahmed Jahaf" and others to examine the illegal abuse of individuals in terms of arbitrary arrest, threats and forcible seizure of civilian property. However, this committee did not do what is necessary to stop the repeated violations by the Houthi, nor did it stop the unjustified violations of the right of civilians to own property without restrictions or even stop the procedures for dispossession in violation of the law.
Decisions without executive claws
“SAM” organization reviewed an urgent case with the Southwest Court of the Amanat al-Asimah in the Capital, Sana’a, against the Ministry of Defense, filed on September 18, 2021, entitled “A temporary legal action to protect the apparent situation of possession of the claimed thing,” which includes not hurting the victims and protecting the apparent situation, and it was stated in its rationale that, “the Ministry of Defense built a wall on their lands and on the lands adjacent to theirs in order to prevent them from entering their lands, cultivating them, and benefiting from them.”
The organization also reviewed a memorandum issued by the Ministry of the House of Representatives of the Houthi group obligating the Military Committee of the Ministry of Defense to comply with judicial orders, in order to achieve the rule of law to which everyone must be subject. In addition to the request from the Ministry of Defense to stop the administrative appropriation procedure, which is considered a violation of the law, even if it is for the public interest, as the law confirms that if it is found that there are areas of strategic importance related to security or defense aspects and these areas are indispensable, and there are no alternative sites, so it may acquire these sites by consensual or judicial expropriation and abide by the legal conditions, including that their owners obtain fair compensation and that the Ministry be able to pay compensation, otherwise there is no expropriation.
“SAM” confirms that the testimonies it heard and the documents it received clearly contradict the assertion of international law that having adequate housing means securing tenure, free from fear of eviction or deprivation of home or land. This means living in a place that is compatible with the culture of the individual, and that enables him to access appropriate services, schools and job opportunities, stressing that the practices of the Houthi group in this context constitute a serious and unacceptable violation that must be stopped.
Recommendation of SAM
The organization concluded its mini-report by calling on the Houthi group to urgently release all persons who were arrested against the backdrop of the issue of dispossession, whether from those who refused the decision or those who built covertly because of the group’s restrictions.
Immediately stop harassing the owners in the areas mentioned in the statement.
Allow the people in the areas of Sawan, Al-Sunain and Madhbah to exercise their legal right to build as stipulated in the law