Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Yemen's discriminated and ostracized Akhdam people

It's no secret that all across the world, people who look like me, dark-skinned, are ostracized, marginalized and discriminated against simply because of skin color or origin. The Al-Akhdam or Akhdam people (also called Al-Muhamasheen - "the marginalized ones") of Yemen are a classic example of how people with so-called "African features" are degraded, mistreated and pushed to the fringes of society with little or no rights.

I watched a news report on Al Jazeera English on 24 April 2012 that shed light on the plight of the Akhdam people - Yemenis reportedly treated as third class citizens by the majority simply because they have darker skin.

According to an article published in The New York Times on 27 February 2008 titled Languishing at the Bottom of Yemen's Ladder, there are more than a million Akhdem people among Yemen's population of 22 million. Other estimates show that there're between 500,000 to 3.5 million Akhdam people in Yemen. [Source]. They live in segregated slums in major cities and mostly work as street sweepers. They sweep the streets during the day and retire to the slums by night. The Akhdem people face "persistent discrimination" and desperately poor immigrants in Yemen fare better than them. They face discrimination at work, live in appalling conditions and have not been issued identification documents. The government of Yemen has done little to improve their living conditions or grant them access to health care and education. [Source].

The following video report was aired on Al Jazeera English on 24 April 2012. It puts into perspective the plight of Yemen's marginalized ones.


In another YouTube video, Akhdam women tell their stories of violence, injustice and poverty in Yemen.

The word "Akhdam" means servants in Arabic. It's incomprehensible why a group of people are literally called "servants" in the 21st Century. Understandably, they reportedly prefer to be called "the marginalized ones".

Yemen Arab Republic has ratified key international human rights conventions. The government of Yemen acceded to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on 6 April 1989. The state has a legal obligation to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination within its borders and to ensure that all Yemenis (including the marginalized ones) enjoy civil political, economic, social and cultural rights without distinction as to race, color, or national or ethnic origin.

However, it's worth mentioning that according to the status of ratification of CERD as at 24 April 2012, the government of Yemen made some shocking reservations in respect of article 5(c) and article 5(d) (iv), (vi) and (vii) of CERD. [Source]. The reservations concern political rights, rights to marriage and choice of spouse, right to inherit, and right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. These reservations could be interpreted to mean that during its accession to CERD, the government of Yemen intended to free itself from any obligation to ensure that all Yemenis enjoy all rights laid down in the convention. Drawing from the plight of the Akhdam people in modern-day Yemen, it's plausible to conclude that the reservations were made in bad faith - with the intention of limiting the rights of certain people.

Other international treaties bind Yemen, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

In its March 2012 concluding observations (para. 12), the Human Rights Committee expressed concern about "long-standing discrimination and marginalization" of the Akhdam people, 80% of whom are illiterate. [Source]. In May 2011, the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights expressed deep concern in its concluding observations (para. 8) that the Akhdam people continue to face "social and economic marginalization and discrimination". [Source]. In March 2011, the Committee on Elimination on Racial Discrimination also expressed concern in its concluding observations at the "persistent and continued social-economic exclusion" of communities such as the Al-Akhdam. [Source].

The government of Yemen should ensure that the marginalized ones of Yemen enjoy, without discrimination, all constitutional rights as Yemenis and all rights laid down in international conventions that bind Yemen.

*Photo of Akhdam demonstration in Sanaa, 21 July 2009. Source: Biyokulule Online.

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