The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] called for the Yemeni government on Friday to crack down on deadly violence, expressing fear that the violence will push the country into a civil war [press briefing]. The OHCHR's concerns follow escalated violence that has claimed more than 100 lives since President Ali Abdullah Saleh [official website, in Arabic; JURIST news archive ] on Monday refused [Al Jazeera video] for the third time to sign a pact that will transfer power to his deputy and end his 32-year reign as the nation's leader. In April, Saleh agreed to step down [JURIST report] within 30 days of signing an agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council [official website], a group of six nations from the region, in exchange for immunity for Saleh and his family from any prosecution. Saleh refused to sign the agreement on Monday because the opposition party did not come to his palace and sign the agreement in his presence. Saleh believes a public signing is imperative because the opposition party will be part of the interim government once he steps down. Outrage in the streets of Yemen has since escalated to violence, and the OHCHR has called on the Yemeni government to crack down on the excessive and disproportionate use of force against protesters. The UN is concerned that continued violence will not only bring the country to war, but cause large numbers of citizens to flee Yemen which could result in major humanitarian issues.
Violence and human rights abuses have been pressing issues in several Middle Eastern nations where protests have erupted. Last week, the UN expressed concern over Middle Eastern rights violations [JURIST report] after reports were released that in Syria alone 850 people had been killed since the demonstrations began in March. Concern for violence in Yemen surfaced when Saleh requested the Yemeni Parliament end anti-government protests by enacting new emergency laws that gave the government greater power to arrest and detain protesters and to censor the media. In April, two human rights organizations criticized Bahrain [JURIST report] for rampant human rights abuses that related to using the emergency law to trample on human rights and create a state of fear.