(New York) - President Ali Abdullah Saleh cannot use his promised immunity from prosecution as a carte blanche to tolerate attacks on peaceful protesters, Human Rights Watch said today. Gunmen shot dead 11 more anti-Saleh protesters and wounded more than 130 on April 27, 2011, marking the worst violence in Yemen in more than five weeks.
The demonstrators, among those calling for Saleh's resignation since mid-February, were shot as they protested a deal that would purport to grant Saleh and his close relatives immunity from legal prosecution in exchange for the president leaving office within one month. The deal, between Saleh and political opposition parties, is tentatively scheduled to be signed May 1. Saleh's close relatives run branches of the security forces.
"President Saleh and those who implement his orders, take note: No immunity deal will absolve you of responsibility for widespread unlawful killings," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Yemeni courts and foreign governments will still be obligated to hold you to account."
International law rejects impunity for serious crimes, such as crimes against humanity and torture, Human Rights Watch said. International treaties, including the Convention against Torture, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, require states parties to ensure alleged perpetrators of serious crimes are prosecuted, including those who give the orders for these crimes. Systematic or widespread unlawful killings, carried out as a state policy, are likely to be crimes against humanity.
Human Rights Watch has confirmed 109 deaths since protesters began daily demonstrations against Saleh in mid-February and believes the toll may be higher. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases in which Yemeni security forces either attacked peaceful protesters or stood by as armed assailants attacked peaceful protesters.
On April 27, gunmen in civilian clothes, some firing from rooftops, shot dead 11 protesters who were marching past a stadium that had been a camp for Saleh supporters in the capital, Sanaa, witnesses and a field doctor told Human Rights Watch. They said one of the dead was a 14-year-old boy. The gunmen wounded at least 130 others and injured hundreds more with sticks and fists, the witnesses said, adding that they saw no signs of violence from the protesters. The attack marked the worst day of violence in Yemen since March 18, when pro-government gunmen shot dead as many as 52 protesters and bystanders.
The continued attacks underscore the urgent need for the United Nations Human Rights Council to convene a special session on Yemen and to dispatch a team to Yemen to conduct in-depth investigations on rights abuses. The UN Security Council should also hold an open session in which members can publicly condemn the violence in Yemen, as a follow-up to the private briefing it received April 19 on instability in that country.
Foreign countries such as the United States and European Union states also should suspend all military assistance to Yemen until the government stops attacks on peaceful protesters, allows independent prosecutors to conduct fair and transparent investigations into the attacks, and holds those responsible to account.
"The UN and donors should not shy away from actions to immediately end the carnage just because President Saleh now says he will resign," Stork said. "These repeated attacks fly in the face of the president's claims that he is negotiating a peaceful resolution to the crisis."