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Yemen: Ensure Rights Progress Follows Leadership Change

Incoming President Should End Abuses, Start Reforms to Entrench Human Rights

(Sanaa) - Yemen’s incoming president, Abd Rabu Mansur Hadi, should take immediate steps to ensure Yemen’s transition to the rights-respecting democracy that thousands of protesters have sought, Human Rights Watch said today. Hadi will be the country’s first new leader in three decades, following an uncontested vote on February 21, 2012.

Hadi, the current vice president, was the lone candidate in the election for a caretaker president as part of a deal backed by the United States, the European Union, and the Gulf Cooperation Council to end President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule. Saleh agreed to the exit deal in return for amnesty for all crimes during his presidency, including his security forces’ killings of hundreds of peaceful protesters who staged a year of demonstrations demanding his resignation.

“Yemen’s potentially historic transition could be off to a shaky start unless Hadi immediately breaks with the abuses of the past,” said Letta Tayler, Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The incoming president needs to move decisively to gain the confidence of all Yemenis by ushering in promised reforms that uphold human rights and the rule of law.”

Many Yemenis abstained from voting to protest the absence of additional candidates. Poll workers tallied only “yes” votes. One group of vote counters in Sanaa said they had been counting ballots marked “X” as votes for Hadi for hours until a polling official told them to set those ballots aside.

Local activists said told Human Rights Watch that unidentified gunmen shot at polling places in Aden, Shabwa, Lahj and Hadramawt in southern Yemen, where members of the Southern movement, a coalition demanding secession or greater autonomy for southern Yemen, boycotted the vote. Southern activists and a doctor in Aden said seven people, including one child, were killed in southern provinces in voter-related violence. Election officials said the dead included three soldiers and an election worker. The violence prompted authorities to close several voting sites in the south. In northern Yemen, Huthi rebels who had fought intermittently with government forces from 2004 to 2010 also boycotted the vote.

Saleh’s exit accord includes a two-year transition blueprint that calls on Hadi’s caretaker government to draft a new constitution, restructure the security forces, ensure women are represented in government posts, and hold parliamentary elections in 2014.

The accord also instructed the Yemeni parliament to grant immunity from prosecution to Saleh and all officials who served with him, in violation of Yemen’s international legal obligation to prosecute serious human rights violations. The parliament in January granted blanket amnesty to Saleh and immunity for all political crimes except terrorism to all those who served with him.

That measure shields all officials from prosecution for attacks by security forces and pro-government gangs that killed at least 270 people and wounded thousands more during last year’s largely peaceful demonstrations. At present, all security force commanders remain in place. Many of them are Saleh’s relatives.

“Yemen faces many difficult challenges in building a rights-abiding government, including how to provide justice for those killed and wounded in unlawful attacks,” Tayler said. “Hadi should seize this critical moment to carry out genuine reforms, including the freedom to demonstrate peacefully without fear of reprisal.”

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