Yemeni president must be held accountable over rights violations

The Yemeni president and his political allies must not be given immunity from prosecution as the price for ending the country’s spiralling human rights crisis, Amnesty International said today. Following months of protests against his 33-year rule, President Ali Abdallah Saleh is expected to agree a deal to transfer power to opposition leaders and step down 30 days later.The deal appears to provide blanket immunity to the President and those who served under him, and could prevent prosecutions of senior officials for the deaths of more than 120 protesters and other violations committed during recent protests and in earlier years.“President Ali Abdullah Saleh must not be allowed to evade accountability for the long catalogue of human rights crimes committed under his rule,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.“President Saleh and those around him must be held accountable for the arbitrary arrests, torture and unlawful killings that have been committed on their watch if the rule of law is to have any meaning in Yemen.” “He must not be awarded a “get-out-of-jail” card to walk free from any question of investigation or justice for what has been done under his authority.”The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which has been brokering an agreement to transfer power from President Saleh as mass protests against his rule have continued, reportedly consulted the US government and the European Union before presenting a draft to the Yemeni government and Yemeni opposition leaders last week. “The GCC’s efforts to break the impasse and end the current torment in Yemen are to be welcomed but President Saleh should not be allowed to set his own price for agreeing to stand down,” said Malcolm Smart. “If he is given legal immunity it would be a gross betrayal of the many victims of human rights violations committed under his government who continue to cry out for justice and reparation.”In a recent report Moment of Truth for Yemen, Amnesty International called on the international community to play a more active role if Yemenis are to receive accountability for human rights violations.“What sort of signal will it send to the leaders of other governments that arbitrarily lock up, torture and even kill their opponents if President Saleh is allowed to walk away from what has been done under his rule in Yemen?” said Malcolm Smart. “Are the Western governments that have spoken up so strongly for accountability in Libya and elsewhere now willing to endorse this shabby attempt to evade justice by one of the Middle East’s longest-serving rulers?” “If there is to be real reform in Yemen, the new authorities must first break the cycle of impunity that has so long prevailed, and address the long legacy of abuses under President Saleh and his government.”The organisation also urged the Yemeni government to recognize that human rights and justice must be at the heart of any strategy to defuse rising tensions in the country.