Yemen grants immunity to President and aides

Yemen grants immunity to President and aides

Yemen’s Cabinet approved a law granting President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and anyone who has worked under him, immunity from prosecution for any crimes committed during his 33-year rule.

Sunday’s decision came as a surprise to many in Yemen, who believed that a power transfer deal he signed in November granted him and his family immunity from prosecution for the killings of protesters, but would not extend to cover his 33-year rule and anyone who worked in government.

The Cabinet approved the law despite nationwide daily protests demanding the longtime leader be put on trial for the killing of hundreds of people in raids on protest camps, the use of snipers and armed attacks on marches during the country’s 11-month popular uprising.

The wording of the law “provides President Ali Abdullah Saleh and those who worked with him, including in civilian, military and security institutions during the period of his presidency, legal and judicial immunity.” Activists say that the country’s Republican Guard, run by Saleh’s son, are responsible for most of the attacks on protesters.

Yemen’s new national unity government comprised of an equal number of opposition and loyalist ministers approved the law in accordance with the transfer agreement that Saleh signed in neighboring Saudi Arabia late last year. The agreement, brokered by Yemen’s powerful Arab neighbors and backed by the United States, the EU and the U.N., grants Saleh immunity in exchange for him handing over powers to his deputy. Yemenis were angry at the offer of legal immunity to Saleh over the killing of demonstrators have been taking to the streets, calling for him to be put on trial while the United Nations has said the deal would violate international law. Saleh is scheduled to hand over the presidency to his vice president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, on Feb. 21.

 Saleh has repeatedly rejected previous such deals drafted in the wake of protests that have pushed Yemen to the brink of civil war. Islamic militants have exploited the unrest to seize several towns in the south, territory Saleh’s opponents say he deliberately lost to justify his claim that his rule keeps al Qaeda in check. The United States and Saudi Arabia are keen for the plan to work, fearing that a power vacuum in Yemen is giving militants an opportunity to thrive alongside the Red Sea, a key shipping channel. But U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Jan 7 any guarantee of immunity to Saleh would violate international law.