(Sanaa) – Representatives to Yemen’s ongoing National Dialogue Conference should endorse a proposal to strike down the country’s immunity law. The proposal, from the conference’s Transitional Justice Working Group, would require parliament to rescind the law, which violates Yemen’s international legal obligation to hold all of those responsible for serious human rights violations to account.
“The National Dialogue should embrace the proposal to rid Yemen of its terrible immunity law,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Allowing the worst human rights violators to escape prosecution puts all Yemenis at risk of future abuses.”
The government created the National Dialogue Conference to bring together all segments of Yemeni society to set the country’s future direction, including the building blocks for a new constitution and national elections. The 565-member conference began in March 2013. Since October 27 it has debated the Transitional Justice Working Group’s recommendations. A presidential decree obligates the government and state agencies to carry out the National Dialogue’s final recommendations.
Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, left office in February 2012 under an accord brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council and backed in most aspects by the United Nations Security Council, the United States, and European Union member countries. As part of the accord, Yemen’s parliament on January 21, 2012, passed a law granting blanket immunity to Saleh from prosecution for any action during his 33-year rule. It also shields Saleh’s aides from prosecution for “political crimes” that are not terrorist acts.
A UN-facilitated “Implementing Mechanism” for the accord required the transitional government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi to convene a National Dialogue Conference to produce recommendations regarding the contents of a new constitution, legal reforms, and government policies for the future Yemen. President Hadi issued a decree clarifying that government authorities must carry out all of these recommendations.
The Transitional Justice Working Group’s 108th recommendation is to revoke the immunity law to allow for possible prosecutions of serious crimes by those shielded by the law. The immunity law violates Yemen’s international legal obligations to prosecute those responsible for serious human rights violations, including crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, enforced disappearance, and extrajudicial execution. The prohibition of amnesties for these crimes is based on the obligation of governments to investigate and prosecute all of those responsible for such crimes, and ensure truth, justice, and reparations to the victims of abuses.
“National Dialogue Conference representatives have a great opportunity to assure victims of past abuses that the government will have to provide an avenue for real justice,” Whitson said. “If the government doesn’t take firm measures to end the legacy of impunity, it will only signal that nothing has really changed in Yemen.”
Excerpts from Yemeni Immunity Law, January 21, 2012
Law No. 1 of 2012 Concerning the Granting of Immunity from Legal and Judicial Prosecution
- Article 1: Brother Ali Abdullah Saleh, President of the Republic, shall hereby be granted complete immunity from legal and judicial prosecution.
- Article 2: Immunity from criminal prosecution shall apply to the officials who have worked under the President – in state civil, military, and security agencies – in connection with politically motivated acts carried out during the course of their official duties; immunity shall not apply to acts of terrorism.