Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Wednesday released a statement [press release] calling on Yemen's National Dialogue Conference (NDC) [official website] to endorse proposed legislation that would strike down a 2012 law providing blanket immunity [JURIST report] to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The current law grants Saleh immunity from prosecution for any actions taken during his 32-year rule and also protects his aides from all political crimes, excluding acts of terrorism. The new legislation, proposed by the Transitional Justice Working Group, would rescind the 2012 law and allow Saleh to be prosecuted for any crimes, including human rights violations. Calling the immunity law a violation of an international legal obligation to protect human rights, Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson [official profile] urged the conference to embrace the proposal:
National Dialogue Conference representatives have a great opportunity to assure victims of past abuses that the government will have to provide an avenue for real justice. If the government doesn't take firm measures to end the legacy of impunity, it will only signal that nothing has really changed in Yemen.The NDC was organized by the transitional government in March to discuss governmental and political form following Saleh's reign. If it were to accept the proposal, government and state agencies would be required to enact the new legislation pursuant to a presidential decree requiring them to follow the NDC's final recommendations.
HRW has repeatedly urged Yemen's transitional government since its creation to reform the country's laws in accordance with international human rights standards. The rights group called on [JURIST report] the NDC in September to incorporate stronger protections for women's rights into its new constitution. In March, HRW urged [JURIST report] the government to stop seeking and enforcing the death penalty for juvenile offenders. The group accused Yemen's government, which has the fifth highest number of executions in the world, of executing at least 15 individuals since 2007 for crimes committed while under the age of 18. HRW also criticized [JURIST report] Yemen authorities in February for failing to investigate top officials for the shooting deaths of 45 anti-government demonstrators who were killed in March 2011.