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(New York) – Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s arrival in the United States for medical treatment highlights the need for international action to serve justice for serious crimes in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today. Saleh arrived in the US on January 28, 2012, to receive treatment for wounds he suffered during an attack on the presidential palace in Yemen in June.

“The issue isn’t where Saleh gets medical care, but whether concerned governments are going to prevent him and his aides from getting away with the killings of peaceful protesters,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “International leaders should stand by the Yemeni people and insist on prosecutions of those responsible for last year’s unlawful attacks.”

Saleh arrived in the US one week after Yemen’s Parliament granted him blanket amnesty and granted all those who served with him immunity from prosecution for “political” crimes apart from terrorist acts. The immunity deal, which was backed by the US government, the European Union, and Persian Gulf states, could shield the president and his aides from prosecution for deadly attacks on largely peaceful demonstrations by state security forces and pro-government gangs in 2011. Human Rights Watch has documented the deaths of 270 protesters and bystanders during last year’s protests. Thousands more protesters were injured by live ammunition.

Providing immunity from prosecution for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, and other gross human rights abuses, violates international law, Human Rights Watch said. International treaties, including the Convention against Torture and the 1949 Geneva Conventions, require parties to ensure alleged perpetrators of serious crimes are prosecuted. As recently as January 6, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay reasserted that an amnesty cannot be granted for serious crimes under international law.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called for accountability in Yemen and challenged the validity of the amnesty recently granted to Saleh.

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