At least 2,000 Yemenis were killed during the year of political unrest after popular protests broke out seeking the ouster of the entrenched authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s minister of human rights announced in a speech to the United Nations.
The total was a surprise because it appeared to far exceed estimates by human rights groups that said government forces had killed 200 protesters.
“Despite the commitment of the peaceful revolution, unfortunately there were scenes of violence and armed clashes, and serious violation of human rights occurred,” the minister, Horeya Mashour, said in front of the U.N. Human Rights Committee session in New York last week.
“Many victims died, and according to initial reports, they are numbered to be over 2,000 martyrs, including 143 children and 20 women,” Mashour continued, according to the official statement published by Yemen’s official Saba news agency.
Yemen was caught up in the uprising that swept the Arab world as popular discontent with authoritarian leaders and stagnant economies led to massive street protests that toppled governments. The protests in Yemen were largely peaceful until government forces opened fire on demonstrators. That led to a split in the military, which promoted a general to side — and fight — with the demonstrators in Sanaa, the capital. In other places, like the central city of Taiz, residents rose up to defend themselves and fought back.
The tally of dead steadily climbed.
It was not clear, according to Mashour’s statement, whether the number included soldiers killed. Nor did she specify if her figure referred to civilians killed in fighting between the military and al-Qaida militants in Yemen’s south.
The fighting, and killing, slowed in November when Saleh signed an internationally brokered deal to hand power to his vice-president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Hadi was confirmed as president in a one-candidate vote largely embraced by Yemenis who saw the transfer as a chance for a new start. The crisis made life in the impoverished nation even harder as prices for basic goods soared and public services like electricity ground to a halt.
Now Hadi faces the formidable challenge of patching together a nation that was showing signs of failure even before the uprising. Militants aligned with al-Qaida control large parts of the country’s southeast, where they act as the de facto government and have become increasingly bold in their attacks against government forces.