Saleh for Sale
Between You and Me
President Ali Abdullah Saleh has finally left Yemen, and now the Yemenis along with the international community must make sure that he does not return.
According to media reports, the president is visiting the United States for medical treatment, but he plans on going back to Yemen before the February election “to head his ruling party.”
Though the president, who is believed to be responsible for the death of hundreds of Yemeni protestors, is immune from prosecution for political crimes he may have committed during his 33-year rule, there is nothing in the GCC-brokered transition agreement that says Saleh and his supporters cannot be the target of a comprehensive asset freeze.
Many in the youth movement, including Nobel Peace Laureate 2011, Tawakkol Karman, have called on the international community to deal with Saleh in the same way it has dealt with presidents Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Muammar Qadhafi of Libya: Freeze the assets of Saleh, his family and collaborators in his regime.
Though the decision to grant Saleh immunity sets a dangerous precedent, i.e. a similar deal has been proposed for President Al-Assad, and spits in the face of accountability and human rights law, there appears to be a number of options that Yemenis might be able to take to bypass it, the first being that he can be tried for acts of terrorism and I believe corruption. Technically, the hoped-for elected constitutional assembly could define terrorism in a way that it would include crimes committed by Saleh and his collaborators.
First and foremost, however, transition to representative democracy in Yemen requires that Saleh not only step down from power, but that he is also prevented from exercising that power. Note the recent capture of Rada’a by Al-Qaeda forces, which, according to the Yemen Post, the US Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein suspects took place with the cooperation of Yemen’s security forces.
This means placing Saleh under strict surveillance, in addition to freezing his assets, at least until a new government is elected, which has not yet been scheduled, and all aspects of the GCC agreement have been implemented.
One point I am not clear on is for what period of time are Saleh and his associates immune from prosecution. It is possible that any crimes committed, say, after 21 January, are open to scrutiny.
Furthermore, what is preventing the UN Security Council from referring his case to the International Criminal Court, or individuals in other countries from bringing a case against him?
Now that the Yemeni parliament has accepted the immunity clause, the youth movement, which has been entirely excluded from the GCC initiative, and its supporters, should redefine their priorities.
First, they should pressure the UN Security Council to implement Resolution 2014, which underlines “the need for a comprehensive, independent and impartial investigation consistent with international standards into alleged human rights abuses and violations.”
Second, they should build consensus among the international community to freeze the assets of Saleh, the military and security officials.
Additionally, they should demand that no country sells arms to Yemen or provides it with military aid, which, according to a 2010 article in Spiegel Online, Saleh has used to support Al-Qaeda in their joint war against the Shi’a Houthis in the northern part of Yemen, and to brutally suppress all opposition against his rule.
Third, leaders in the youth movement should consult international human rights lawyers to find loopholes in the GCC initiative in order to circumvent the amnesty all together.
And finally, as required by the GCC initiative, the military and security institutions should be restructured. This is just a nice way of saying that Saleh’s relatives and supporters must be removed from their leadership positions in the military. This should happen immediately.
Commitment to follow through with these actions is the only hope for Yemenis to succeed in their dream for a newly unified country based on human rights, the rule of law, and representative democracy.