Former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh will receive immunity from prosecution under a draft law approved by the country’s cabinet as part of a deal to transfer power created by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The law would provide amnesty to Saleh and his aides from “all government, civil and military departments” during his 33 years in power and must still be approved by the country’s parliament. Saleh signed the GCC agreement in November after repeatedly withdrawing his offers to do so for several months. Protests that began in January of 2011 have continued in the capital of Sanaa and elsewhere.
Navi Pillay, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, has already criticized the deal, saying that amnesty for Saleh violates Yemen’s obligation to international human rights. The BBC quotes Pillay:
International law and the UN policy are clear on the matter: amnesties are not permissible if they prevent the prosecution of individuals who may be criminally responsible for international crimes including war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and gross violations of human rights.
Based on information we have gathered, there is reason to believe that some of these crimes were committed in Yemen during the period for which an amnesty is under consideration.
Pillay did not name any “potential suspects.”
Daily protests have been going on for eleven months in Yemen, with hundreds killed in raids on protest camps, sniper fire and armed attacks on protesters.
The announcement that anyone who worked in Saleh’s government over the three-plus decades of his rule could receive immunity was a “surprise to many in Yemen,” who thought that the immunity granted in the GCC deal extended only to Saleh and his family, says Al Jazeera.
Saleh Retains Hold on Power in Yemen
While Saleh has officially stepped down and handed power to his Vice-President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and the opposition has set up a national unity government, Saleh’s family members and allies remain in power. Saleh’s son controls Yemen’s Republican Guard. Elections are to be held on February 21 and Saleh, who remains as honorary president, is to stand down then.
The New York Times reports that Saleh has still retained much of his power and doubts remain if he will stick to the terms agreed upon in the GCC proposal. An announcement in December that Saleh would leave Yemen and seek medical treatment in the US for injuries sustained in a June assassination attempt sparked hopes of allaying tensions, which have increased with labor strikes and a rise in violence. Nine protesters died on December 24 after soldiers opened fire as they marched from the central city of Taiz to Sana; Saleh announced that he would leave shortly after this fresh outbreak of violence.
But the news that Saleh might leave for the US also created an outcry, with protesters fearing that Saleh would try to escape prosecution while on the trip and even try to lobby the US government to allow him to stay in power. US officials, who had agreed to Saleh’s trip under certain conditions, faced criticism for appearing to harbor a political leader accused of international human rights crimes. Furthermore, “activists in the large Yemeni community in New York” got right to work planning protests against Saleh, says the New York Times.
In one possible sign that Saleh’s power is slipping, a security chief, Brigadier General Abdullah Qairan, who had overseen the crackdown on protesters, has been dismissed by a regional council in Taiz. Al Jazeera comments that before the GCC deal, “Saleh could have easily overruled Qairan’s dismissal.”
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Photo of Taiz in May 2011 by Sallam