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The Amnesty International (AI) has stated that three Yemeni children were raped in the southwestern city of Taiz by militiamen affiliated to Islah Party (Muslim Brethren offshoot).
The organization has said it had documented evidence of the rape of three boys - aging 8 to 16 years - and the sexual assault of a fourth - 12-year - in the official forces-held city surrounded by Houthi rebels.
"The families of four boys told AI that their sons had been sexually assaulted in a series of incidents over the past eight months," an investigation by the AI has revealed, including two at a mosque. "In two of the cases, families alleged that those responsible were Islah-aligned militiamen supported by the Saudi-led coalition."
All four families reported the assaults to the Criminal Investigation office, but no legal action was taken, according to the AI.
Yemen has been racked by an armed conflict that broke out after the Iranian-backed Houthis had ousted the internationally recognized government late in 2014.
The conflict escalated after a Saudi-led coalition intervened militarily in the country in March 2015 to reinstate the government of President Hadi, triggering what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
AI MENA regional director has said the "heartbreaking testimonies of these young survivors and their families expose how the ongoing conflict has rendered children vulnerable to being sexually exploited in a city plagues by weak security and institutions.
"These victims and their families have been left unprotected and alone to face the horrific ordeal of sexual abuse and its aftermath," added Heba Morayef.
"Rape and sexual assault committed in the context of an armed conflict are war crimes. Commander who fail to stop such heinous acts can themselves be responsible for war crimes."
AI official urged Yemeni authorities to "thoroughly investigate these allegations to signal that these crimes will not be tolerated and to protect the children's families from reprisal. Suspects, including members of the fighting forces and community leaders in trusted positions, must be brought to justice in fair trials."
Lack of Accountability
The Amnesty International has detailed the child rapes, how committers go unaccountable and fear of children's families of reprisal.
"A pattern of impunity and reprisal has thus far discouraged families from reporting these incidents, especially since suspects are reported to be politically aligned with the local Islah-controlled authorities," said the AI.
"These cases documented by AI do not appear to be the only incidents. Families and local activists reported at least two other cases in which families are too afraid to talk, fearing reprisal from local militias that are largely backed by members of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen. Two of the four affected families have had to relocate, fearing reprisal from militias."
According to the AI, a 16-year-old boy said he had been "raped in late December 2018 by an Islah-aligned militiaman in an Islah-controlled area of Taiz City."
The boy told AI that the attacker "threatened me with his rifle.. he began to hit me with the back of the rifle, kicked me and pushed me into the wall to try and knock me out.. he then said to me I want to rape you. I then started to cry.. and asked him to consider me like his son. He got angrier and started hitting me more.. he grabbed me by the neck and pushed me to the ground and I started screaming and he hit me with the rifle on my neck and raped me."
The boy's mother described the evening her son got back home after the incident, saying: "when he arrived that evening, he went directly to the bathroom. When he came out afterwards, I asked him what was wrong, and he wouldn't tell me what had happened. He then began to cry, and I started crying.
"We sat next to each other for three days, both unable to eat, drink or sleep.. his psychological state was very poor from the fright and his complexion looked yellow and drained.. he just sat there staring into space. He was unable to sit afterwards or go to the bathroom for three days."
She reported the rape to the Taiz Criminal Investigation Department who issued an order, seen by AI, that the forensic medical doctor should issue a report. The doctor, who works in a hospital under the control of the Islah group, refused.
The hospital then asked for money to produce the report but she was unable to afford to pay for it upfront. She said she would pay on delivery of the report, but it was never completed.
"The doctor told there is nothing wrong with your son and wouldn't produce a report," the mother told AI. "At that moment, I started shouting at him, 'Aren't you afraid of Allah?'"
Rape inside Mosque
In another case, the mother of an eight-year-old boy told AI that her son was raped on at least two separate occasions between June and October 2018 by both the son of an Islahi imam and his friend at a local mosque. She explained that her son's behavior started changing and that he was very often in tears.
"My son told me that [the son of the imam] locked him in the mosque's bathroom and put his hand over his mouth, choking him, and he started to undress him.. After he finished with him, he let another guy come in and also have his way with my son," she told AI.
According to medical reports examined by AI, the eight-year-old boy has since been suffering from impaired mobility, lack of concentration and a concussion as a result of the repeated assaults and beatings.
AI also spoke to the father of a 13-year-old boy who says he was raped by the same two men at the same mosque.
According to another testimony, an Islah-aligned militant attempted to sexually assault a 12-year-old boy in July 2018 in Taiz, but the boy escaped.
A relative of the boy told AI he was tricked into delivering a package to a neighbor's house by a militiaman who then followed and attacked him.
"He took him into his bedroom and threw him onto the bed and threw his rifle down next to him.. He began to threaten him and told him if he screamed or shouted, he would use the loaded rifle.. He [militiaman] then went to close the bedroom's door and started to undress.. At that moment, the little boy got frightened and picked up the weapon and shot the man to defend himself.. He then escaped," the relative told AI.
The attacker subsequently died. The family reported the incident to the local authorities but received no protection. They were attacked in their home two days later by militiamen belonging to the same group as the attacker. Three family members were injured, requiring surgery, and one person was killed in clashes.
Local authorities held the 12-year-old boy, his father and two brothers in voluntary detention for two weeks after the attack, to protect them from further reprisal.
According to the boy's family, the militiamen have not been arrested for the subsequent attack, and they have had to relocate outside Taiz due to fear of reprisals, shutting down their family businesses.
Similarly, no one has been arrested in relation to the rape of the 16-year-old and the alleged perpetrator - a militiaman - remains at large. Meanwhile, two civilian suspects are currently detained pending trial in relation to the remaining two cases.
Yemeni law provides for the use of the death penalty against sexual violence offenders. A number of men have been publically executed in recent years for the rape and murder of children. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception.
Since 2015, Taiz has witnessed intermittent heavy clashes between the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and the internationally recognized government's forces, in an armed race to take control over the city.
Still, government-held parts of the city see infighting between sections of different political and religious affiliations to control as much territories as possible.
Islah sections are backed by President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his deputy Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar.