Lawmakers urge State to secure Yemen hostage release

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The leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee have called on the State Department to use “all available leverage” to secure the release of local staffers at the shuttered American embassy in Yemen who were detained earlier this month by Houthi rebels.

“The Houthis’ actions are a clear violation of international law and basic principles of human rights,” read the letter from committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and ranking member Michael McCaul (R-Texas). “We must respond robustly to these provocations to prevent such abuses in the future, whether in Yemen or elsewhere.”

In a statement this past Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged that “several” Yemeni citizens and their families had been detained and mistreated by the Iran-backed rebels after the rebels stormed the embassy compound.

“The Houthis’ unprovoked abuse of these Yemeni citizens is a gross disregard of diplomatic norms,” said Blinken, who did not say how many were still being held by the rebels or provide details of their treatment.

Yemeni walks past the shuttered US embassy compound during an anti-US protest in Sana'a, Yemen.
A Yemeni walks past the shuttered US Embassy compound during an anti-US protest in Sana’a, Yemen.
EPA/YAHYA ARHAB
to use "all available leverage" to secure the release of local staffers at the American embassy in Yemen
Ranking Member Michael McCaul along with Chairman Gregory Meeks sent a letter to the State Department to use “all available leverage” to secure the release of local staffers at the American embassy in Yemen.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
A Houthi fighter keeps watch outside the shuttered US embassy compound during an anti-US protest.
A Houthi fighter keeps watch outside the shuttered US Embassy compound during an anti-US protest.
EPA/YAHYA ARHAB
Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged that "several" Yemeni citizens and their families had been detained and mistreated by the Iran-backed rebels.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged that “several” Yemeni citizens and their families had been detained and mistreated by the Iran-backed rebels.
SARAH SILBIGER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

“The Houthis must immediately release unharmed all Yemeni employees of the United States, vacate the Embassy compound, return seized property, and cease their threats,” the secretary added.

The US Embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a has not been in operation since 2015 due to the ongoing civil war in the Middle Eastern country. The detained employees were working at the compound in a caretaker capacity.

Bloomberg reported Nov. 9 that at least 25 Yemenis working for the American government had been detained, including employees of the embassy as well as the US Agency for International Development. That same day, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the department was aware of and concerned by the reports and insisted that the “majority of those who have been detained are no longer in custody.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Gregory Meeks said that The Houthis’ actions are a clear violation of international law and basic principles of human rights.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks said the Houthis’ actions are a clear violation of international law and basic principles of human rights.
EPA/JUSTIN LANE

Tuesday’s letter from Meeks and McCaul accused Iran of enabling Houthi fighters to carry out the embassy attack and urged the State Department to work with the Pentagon and other federal agencies to “ensure that adequate resources are devoted to disrupting this destabilizing partnership, including by intercepting weapons smuggled by Iran to the Houthis.”

“The United States cannot tolerate a breach of our sovereign territory or attacks on LES [locally employed staff],” Meeks and McCaul concluded. “In order to succeed in our diplomatic mission around the world, LES must have confidence that they are protected from assault or reprisal. We stand ready to work with you to hold the Houthis accountable for these shameful violations.”

The day before Blinken’s statement, the United Nations Security Council condemned the seizure of the embassy compound, calling for “an immediate withdrawal of all Houthi elements from the premises“ and “the immediate and safe release of those still under detention.”

The civil war in Yemen has been ongoing since 2014, when the Houthis took control of Sana’a and much of the northern part of the country, forcing the internationally recognized government to flee to the south, then to Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi-led coalition entered the war in March 2015, backed by the US, to try to restore President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power. Despite a relentless air campaign and ground fighting, the war has deteriorated largely into a stalemate and spawned a massive humanitarian crisis.

With Post wires

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