Yemen's Houthi Rebels Detain At Least 9 UN Staffers For Unspecified Reasons, Says Officials

Mayyun Organisation for Human Rights also confirmed the UN staffers detention and said that other aid group employees were also held by the Houthis.

Houthi rebels in Yemen detained four UN staffers in 2021 and 2023 as well. Photo: AP

At least nine Yemeni employees of the United Nations agencies have been detained by the Houthi rebels under unspecific circumstances, authorities said on Friday.

It is also likely that others who were working for aid groups might also have been taken. This comes amid the rising financial pressure and airstrikes on the Yemen's Houthi rebels from a US-led coalition.

Notably, the Houthis seized Yemen's capital of Saana nearly a decade ago and have been fighting a Saudi-led coalition shortly after that. The rebels have been targeting shippings throughout the Red Sea corridor over the Israel-Hamas war on the Gaza strip.

Regional officials confirmed the UN detentions to The Associated Press, saying that those held by the Houthi rebels include staff from the United Nations Human Rights agency, its development program, the World Food Program and one working of the office of special envoy. One of the official's wives has also been detained, they added.

Another unit, the Mayyun Organisation for Human Rights, also confirmed the UN staffers detention and said that other aid group employees were also held by the secretive rebel group.

According to them, the employees have been detained across the four provinces that the Houthis control -- Amran, Hodeida, Saada and Saana.

“We condemn in the strongest terms this dangerous escalation, which constitutes a violation of the privileges and immunities of United Nations employees granted to them under international law, and we consider it to be oppressive, totalitarian, blackmailing practices to obtain political and economic gains,” the organisation said in a statement.

Though Yemen's Houthi rebels and their associated media organisations ave not acknowledged the detention, Iranian-backed rebels planned to doe weekly mass demonstrations after noon prayers on Friday.

The reason or trigger behind the detentions is yet to be ascertained. However it is known that the Houthis have been struggling financially to support the economy of the provinces they hold. It was also indicated by their move to introduce a new coin into Yemen's currency, the riyal.

Yemen's government in exile in Aden, along with other nations, criticized the move as the Houthis turned to counterfeiting. Aden authorities also demanded all banks to move their headquarters there.

In an analysis published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Yemeni journalist warned saying, "Internal tensions and conflicts could spiral out of control and lead Yemen into complete economic collapse."

On Thursday, Bloomberg reported that the United States planned on further increasing the pressure on the Houthi rebels by blocking their revenue sources, including a planned USD 1.5 billion Saudi payment to cover government employees' salaries in the rebel-held regions.

The war in Yemen has claimed the lives of more than 1,50,000 people, including fighters and civilians, creating on of the world's worst humanitarian disasters.

Notably, thousands have been imprisoned by the Houthi rebels during the war. The AP reported that some detainees were scorched with acid, forced to hang from their wrists and beaten with batons.

Previously, the secretive group detained four other UN employees -- two in 2021 and then another two in 2023 -- who still remain in their hold. The UN human rights agency in 2023 called these detentions a "profoundly alarming situation as it reveals a complete disregard for the rule of law."

Earlier on Thursday, the Houthi group announced conducting joint aerial attacks with an Iraqi group which targetted ships in Israel's port of Haifa but the Israel military have denied the claim.

According to a statement by Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea aired by Houthi-run al-Masirah TV, the attacks were in retaliation for alleged Israeli actions in the Palestinian area of Rafah in Gaza.

(With AP inputs)