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Yemen: Amidst Fresh Protests, Government Continues Crackdown With Impunity
ICRtoP Blog
19 October 2011

Fresh waves of civilian protests in Yemen, largely in the capital of Sanaa, have been met with increased violence by security forces loyal to the country’s leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Since 15 October, tens of protesters have been killed and hundreds injured, leading the UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights to condemn the “excessive use of force” employed  by Yemeni forces.

In a briefing note released on 18 October, the OHCHR stated:

We are extremely concerned that security forces continue to use excessive force in a climate of complete impunity for crimes resulting in heavy loss of life and injury, despite repeated pledges by the Government to the contrary. We reiterate our call for an international, independent, transparent investigation, for accountability and for justice. Those responsible for the hundreds of killings since the protest movement began in Yemen more than 8 months ago must be prosecuted, regardless of rank or title.

Civilian deaths and injuries have increased markedly since mid-September when Yemeni President Saleh returned from Saudi Arabia for medical treatment after an apparent assassination attempt. On 19 September, Yemeni forces loyal to President opened fire on anti-government protesters with machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons, killing at least 26 and wounding upwards of 300. Reports also emerged of Yemeni forces shelling protester camps with mortars and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

But this excessive use of force by the Yemeni government against civilian protesters has been ongoing for 8 months, and has continued with impunity. In response to the mid-September crackdowns, Human Rights Watch issued a press release detailing instances of the violence which it said were, “clearly disproportionate to any threat to the lives of security personnel”.

Amnesty International issued a presser that highlighted the dire situation for not only civilians, but for the entire country:

“Yemen is on a knife edge. Those who have been protesting peacefully for change are increasingly frustrated by the political deadlock,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Meanwhile, eruptions of violence point to a growing risk of civil war. The Yemeni authorities must stop the use of excessive force before the violence spirals out of control.”

OHCHR Details Risk of Descent Into Civil War, “Dire” Situation for Civilians

A similar finding was made by the report of the Fact-Finding Mission of the OHCHR to Yemen, published on 13 September, which stated:

The Mission notes the danger that the protests might become increasingly radicalized and more violent in response to the excessive use of lethal force by the government, and the growing involvement of, and intimidation by, armed elements within the demonstrations. In essence violence has led to more violence and it is a tribute to the street protesters that they have sought to maintain their peaceful character despite the heavy price in loss of life and in severe injuries that has been paid thus far.

But the focus of the OHCHR was the “dire humanitarian and human rights situation” that civilian protesters faced. As the report states:

The Mission observed an overall situation where many Yemenis peacefully calling for greater freedoms, an end to corruption and respect for rule of law were met with excessive and disproportionate use of lethal force by the state…Hundreds have been killed and thousands have suffered injuries including loss of limbs.

Aside from the excessive use of forces by government forces and their affiliates, the report also detailed extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other ill-treatment, and the denial of a right to an effective remedy and accountability for the commission of those crimes.

As such, the report called for an immediate international investigation into the alleged human rights violations that it documented, as well as immediate action on the government’s behalf to protect civilian populations.

Immunity Deal for Saleh and Subordinates an Obstacle to Accountability, Action

Standing in the way of holding those accountable for the violent crackdowns is a Gulf Cooperation Council-brokered immunity deal that would ensure that President Saleh and those serving under him would not be prosecuted if he ceded power.

The immunity deal has come under fire from the OHCHR, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, with the two rights groups urging the international community to ensure those responsible for grave violations be held accountable for their actions.

But as the Permanent Members of the Security Council met yesterday to discuss the situation, it seems that the immunity deal has been included in a draft resolution that has been tabled by the United Kingdom. As a Reuters report by Mohammed Sudam states:

The British-drafted resolution, which was obtained by Reuters, “stresses that all those responsible for human rights violations and abuses should be held accountable.” But it also demands that Saleh, or those authorized to act on his behalf, “immediately sign and implement a political transition on the basis of the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative” — which guarantees Saleh immunity.

Stressing the need to remove such an immunity deal from a Council resolution in the same article, Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch said, “for the Security Council to bless an immunity deal for Saleh and the people around him would set a devastating precedent.”

Those responsible for the violations of human rights must be held accountable, regardless of their rank or title. The recent violence against civilian protesters, including against women celebrating the Nobel Peace Prize bestowed to Tawakkol Karman, reaffirms the urgent need for action, especially in light of the warnings of a descent into civil war. We’ll be following this situation closely here on our blog and on Twitter.
 
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