A moment of grace in war-torn Yemen: Tribal chief forgives man involved in son’s killing

Documented in pictures, this story of forgiveness has inspired many Yeminis on social media networks.
Documented in pictures, this story of forgiveness has inspired many Yeminis on social media networks. © @Alsakaniali

On February 20, 2023, a man convicted of murder was pardoned moments before he was supposed to be executed in the Marib region of central Yemen. Many locals have been sharing the story on social media as a source of inspiration and to ease the burden in a country scarred by nine years of war. Our Observer told us that the pardon was granted after a woman intervened and that her gender played an important role.


In 2016, Rabae Al-Demasi, a young man from the Bani Jabr tribe in western Marib, killed his friend Sadam during an argument. Sadam was the son of Abdullah Al-Quhati, the chief of the Murad tribe in Marib. Rabae has since been arrested and sentenced to death. His execution was scheduled for 20 February 2023. 

But as the execution approached, Rabae's mother went to the grave of the victim, Sadam. She camped there and begged Abdullah for forgiveness. On 20 February, the day of the execution, Abdullah decided to grant the mother's request and pardon Rabae. 

Although the perpetrator was tried by a state court, the Yemeni legal system granted the victim's father the right to a pardon. 

The moment when Abdullah forgave the man involved in his son’s killing was captured in photos that were widely shared on social media. 

Other photos show the murderer's mother sitting in front of the victim's grave in a makeshift tent with a child in her arms. 

In this video, released on February 20, Abdullah walks up to the mother of his son's killer, in the company of some of his tribesmen, to tell her the good news. "You can remove your tent, your son is forgiven", he says to her.

'According to tradition, it is shameful to refuse a woman's request'

Our Observer, Nadwa Dawsari, is a Yemeni researcher who lives between the United States and her home country. Her work focuses on the role of tribal customs in conflict resolution in Yemen. She believes that this story highlights the prominent role women play in conflict resolution within Yemen's tribal communities.

Women have a certain amount of influence when it comes to dealing with tribal leaders in Yemen, they are listened to and respected. But their importance is often unrecognised and underreported.

In the tribal system, women are protected and it is strictly forbidden to attack them, even if they are from an opposing camp or if a conflict breaks out. 


In this video, one of the mediators reads a statement announcing forgiveness. The victim's father stands to his right, wearing a white turban. At 1'51" the latter also speaks, to make it clear that he does not demand any compensation. "I don't want a penny," he says.

When there is a conflict, women usually intervene as mediators. For example, they are allowed to collect the bodies of dead people and return them to their families. 

If this woman camped for several days in front of the victim's grave to beg for his father's forgiveness, it was a way of putting him under pressure, of embarrassing him. According to custom, it is shameful to refuse a woman's request in such a situation. When the aggrieved person agrees to forgive, he or she emerges stronger and is more respected in the community. In the case, the father showed that he is a man of honour, a worthy person. 

More generally, the tribes, through the customary law that governs their daily lives, play a very important role in maintaining peace.

Tribal customary law prohibits a person from shooting their rival if they are in a public market with a woman. 

If this system did not exist, there would a lot more chaos in the country, as the state has been considerably weakened since the start of the war.

Many localised truces have been reached through tribal mediation since the war began. Last August, for example, tribal leaders succeeded in reopening a major road linking the southern town of Mukayras to Lawdar. The road had been closed since 2015 due to fighting between pro-government forces and the Houthis.

In Yemen, two legal systems coexist: state courts and tribal arbitration, called "tahkim". According to our Observer, many Yemenis resort to the latter, which they believe is fairer and more efficient.