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Saleh is accused of orchestrating a brutal crackdown on pro-government protesters, but Yemen is set to transfer power to a unity government next month.
WASHINGTON — The US Department of State on Monday defended a bill by Yemen's cabinet to grant immunity to its embattled president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, according to the BBC. Saleh's rule has been rocked by months of protests, and he has agreed to step down in February.
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The cabinet bill, which was approved Sunday and still has to be approved by Yemen's parliament, would also give immunity to a vast swath of Yemen's government bureaucracy for any role officials had in the crackdown.
Saleh, who is an ally of the United States, works closely with Western powers on issues related to the Al Qaeda presence in his country. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operates in the lawless tribal areas of Yemen and is “the most active operational franchise” of the terror network, according to President Obama’s counter-terrorism advisor, the BBC reported.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Monday: "This is part and parcel of giving these guys confidence that their era is over and it's time for Yemen to be able to move forward towards a democratic future,” according to AFP.
Yemen’s prime minster, Mohammed Basendowah, said the bill was necessary to help Yemen stop the violent crackdown on protests against the Saleh regime that has resulted in hundreds of deaths, CNN reported. Basendowah said: "We granted President Saleh immunity to rid the country from a civil war or possible bloodshed.”
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UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay issued a statement on Friday that called on Yemenis to bring those who committed atrocities to justice. “Victims have the right to justice, to the truth, to remedy and reparation – these are rights that are well-established internationally,” she said.
On Tuesday an editorial in the Christian Science Monitor said that while bringing a tyrant to justice was the ideal course, other countries, like South Africa, had transitioned to democracy in part by granting immunity to former rights abusers. The editorial recommended Yemen form a truth commission if amnesty is granted to Saleh.
The Monitor concluded: "Every nation in transition to democracy needs a display of justice to help cement a public respect for the rule of law. Saleh may not be held to account, but his alleged crimes can still be exposed."