Yemeni lawyer and human rights activist Huda Al-Sarari has won a global human rights award for her work exposing a network of secret prisons in south Yemen, where thousands of men and boys were arbitrarily held and tortured.
Ms. Al-Sarari was named on Wednesday as the 2020 winner of the Martin Ennals Award, the world’s most prestigious human rights prize given by 10 of the world’s leading human rights organizations to human rights defenders.
“Al-Sarari collected evidence on more than 250 cases of abuse taking place within the prisons and succeeded in convincing international organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to take up the cause,” the award organizers said in a statement.
In 2016, Huda was reached out by many mothers who were desperate to know the whereabouts of their sons, who had been ‘disappeared’. As a lawyer, she sought all possible official channels but received little or no cooperation. Then she helped to establish the Association of Abductees’ Mothers in Aden and worked on turning the case into public opinion.
in July 2017, Al-Sarari gave a video interview to the Associated Press (AP) on the secret prisons in southern Yemen run by the security forces of the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council (STC), about which Human Rights Watch and AP published reports based almost exclusively on Huda’s work.
As a result, she faced assaults at peaceful protests, death threats, media smears, and an online hate campaign. In 2019, her teenage son Mohsen was assassinated and her name also appeared on a leaked ‘hit list’ of targets.
“Huda Al-Sarari has chosen not to leave Yemen,” jury member Alice Mogwe of the FIDH said in the statement.
“That is a decision which shows a rare courage, all the more so as she is working in a high-risk context and a source of danger for herself,” she added.
“If not for people like Al-Sarari, these secret prisons in southern Yemen would have remained a secret. Despite death threats, a vicious media slander campaign by UAE-backed militias, and the pain of losing her teenage son in March 2019,” wrote Afrah Nasser, a Yemeni researcher.
The Martin Ennals foundation is named after the first secretary-general of Amnesty International and the 50,000 Swiss francs ($50,800, 47,000 euros) prize is judged by the London-based rights group, along with Human Rights Watch and other leading organizations.
Al-Sarari said the prize “gives me great strength and emboldens me to continue this fight for justice.”
“I believe the award will be incredibly important in drawing attention to the continual plight of victims of arbitrary detention, abuse and torture in Yemen.”