(Sanaa) – Representatives to Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference should reject a proposal that would unnecessarily restrict the political rights of potential candidates for election to top offices. The conference’s Good Governance Working Group has proposed 15 eligibility requirements to run for office in Yemen’s next national elections, expected in early 2014.

While some proposed conditions are positive, such as prohibiting serious rights abusers from running, others are a discriminatory, disproportionate, or arbitrary restriction on political rights, Human Rights Watch said. They require a candidate for president or other senior office to be a Muslim, have Yemeni parents and not have a foreign spouse, and to have obtained a university degree. A requirement for the candidateto be “qualified, of good repute and known for integrity, competency, and good manners,” is vague and opens the door to arbitrary exclusion. Another problematic provision is the effective ban from office on all members of the government of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh without any opportunity to contest the prohibition.

“Yemenis should want to make sure that abusive Saleh-era officials don’t hold high public office, but the process needs to be fair,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “These sweeping provisions deny people the right to run for office without any way to contest a decision against them,”

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 Good Governance Working Group’s recommendations. A presidential decree obligates the government and state agencies to carry out the National Dialogue’s final recommendations.

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, granted immunity to Saleh and those who served with him for political crimes committed during his 33-year rule.

The Good Governance Working Group’s proposal specifically seeks to bar anyone covered by the immunity law from becoming president, head of a political party or organization, or other leading political positions.

Citizens of countries that suffered under dictatorship and are struggling to build democratic societies have a legitimate concern that these efforts could be undermined by people whose past conduct reflected the criminal, repressive, or corrupt character of those dictatorships, Human Rights Watch said. Some of the proposed conditions serve legitimate aims, such as the condition that the candidate must never have been involved in any serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law.

However, restrictions may not discriminate on the basis of protected status, such as descent or religion. Any restrictions imposed should be necessary to the goal of protecting democracy and avoiding impunity for serious crimes, based on clear criteria set out in law. Restrictions should also be proportionate, affecting a limited number of people for a limited period. In addition, anyone affected should have full due process protection, including the right to confront and challenge the evidence against them, a chance to present their own evidence, and the right to appeal to an independent judicial tribunal.

International law obligates Yemen to allow all citizens the right to hold political office without discrimination based on political association. As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Yemen must allow its citizens equal opportunity to participate in political life, without discrimination or “unreasonable restrictions.” International standards limit the practice known as lustration – that is, restricting the political participation of people because of their past involvement in abusive governments.

In its interpretation of article 25 of the ICCPR on the right to participate in public affairs, the UN Human Rights Committee, the body of independent experts who assess state compliance with the covenant, stated that, “[a]ny conditions which apply to the exercise of the rights protected by article 25 should be based on objective and reasonable criteria.” Additionally, “[p]ersons who are otherwise eligible to stand for election should not be excluded by unreasonable or discriminatory requirements such as education, residence or descent, or by reason of political affiliation.”

“Several of the proposed conditions violate the basic right of Yemeni citizens to seek public office,” Stork said. “Setting fair and reasonable qualifications for candidates will contribute to making the upcoming elections a landmark for Yemeni democracy.”

The 15 Conditions (unofficial translation)
“The constitution should stipulate the below requirements for either running for or appointment to one of the following positions: President of the Republic, Head or Secretary General of a political party or organization, all other leading and political state positions.

    1. Is Muslim;
    2. Both parents are Yemeni;
    3. Has no foreign spouse;
    4. Has no nationality other than that of Yemen;
    5. Has a university degree;
    6. Has not held the position of President, Party Head, Prime Minister or Head of Shura council for two consecutive terms;
    7. Is at least 40 years of age (for the position of President);
    8. Was never convicted, by a final judicial verdict, in a charge that impinges on his/her integrity and honor, a charge of corruption or a serious crime, unless rehabilitated;
    9. Is not immune from the law, to be tried for any violations, because of legal fetters that hinder the law;
    10. Was never involved in any serious human rights or international humanitarian law violations, according to international treaties, laws and instruments (war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity);
    11. Is not associated with a military or security institution, unless s/he quit his/her work in either at least 10 years prior;
    12. Presents a financial disclosure concerning his/her own person, their sons, daughters and spouse(s), revealing all their assets both inside Yemen and abroad, and to relocate foreign assets to Yemen before running;
    13. Includes, in oath of office, a commitment to uphold the constitution, respect human rights and comply with the rule of law and the principles of good governance, and to work in all integrity and responsibly for the common good and not his/her personal gain;
    14. Is qualified, of good repute and known for integrity, competency, and good manners;
    15. Will not conduct commercial business during his/her term of office.”