Yemen: U.S. must fulfill its duty to bring former President Saleh to justice

Yemenis protesting against the
government in Sana’a.
(Photo: UN News Centre)

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and its partners in Yemen – the Human Rights Information and Training Center (HRITC, national focal point of Social Watch) and the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedom (HOOD) — call on the United States government to uphold its international responsibilities and open an investigation into torture against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is in the North American country now.

As limited elections took place this week in Yemen, cries for justice and democracy continue from people in the street. The calls for justice are mainly focused on Saleh, Yemen’s President for the past 33 years, who has been allowed to travel to the United States despite being accused of serious human rights violations against his people, warns the FIDH in a press release.

Saleh has been in the United States since January 28th 2012, reportedly staying at the Ritz Carlton in New York. A United Nations Security Council resolution calls for an investigation into the brutal and repressive tactics used against peaceful protesters by Yemeni Security forces under Saleh’s control.

But the United States has failed to comply with its legal responsibilities to uphold this resolution and has allowed Saleh to remain in its territory without legal consequence, while demonstrations calling for justice continue on a daily basis in Yemen, reports the FIDH.

Numerous reports by Yemeni and international organizations, including the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, have documented the brutal human rights violations committed by the Yemeni armed forces while under Saleh’s command.

Prior to entering the United States the Yemeni Parliament granted Mr. Saleh and his aides amnesty from prosecution within Yemen for these violations, says the press release.

However, international law and conventions stipulate that immunity cannot be granted to perpetrators of grave human rights violations such as torture. As a signatory to the Convention Against Torture and War Crimes Statute, and as a key member of the UN Security Council, the United States has an obligation to investigate the serious and credible allegations of torture and other widespread violations brought against Saleh, according to the FIDH.

In addition, the Yemeni government is currently working on a draft law that would essentially prevent any investigation into human right violations from taking place in Yemen, closing the door to justice and genuine democratic transition, the organization added.

With this is mind, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) – a member organization of FIDH – has submitted a public letter to the United States Department of Justice’s Human Rights and Special Prosecution Section, elucidating why there is no immunity for Saleh from criminal prosecution for torture, and requesting the department to open a formal investigation.

“On November 23rd 2011, [Saleh] transferred all powers of the presidency to his vice-president, Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Although part of the transition agreement included the passing of a law granting Mr. Saleh immunity for some acts committed during his presidency, it is recalled that there is no immunity from criminal prosecution for certain serious international law violations, including torture, regardless of position. Because such actions are not and cannot be considered sovereign acts or governmental acts, they cannot fall within the scope of an official’s authority under international law,” reads the CCR’s letter to Teresa McHenry, chief of the Human Rights and Special Prosecution Section.

FIDH and its Yemeni partners fully support CCR’s request, signed by its Senior Staff Attorney, Katherine Gallagher, and call on the U.S. government to comply immediately with this obligation.

Letter from the CCR (in PDF format):