US and Arab Gulf states are not legally bound by a decision to grant immunity to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh [official website, in Arabic; JURIST news archive] and should refrain from doing so, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said in a report [text] released Wednesday. Last month, the Yemeni parliament approved a bill granting complete immunity [JURIST report] to Saleh for crimes committed during his regime in exchange for him stepping down. In the report, HRW recommends [press release] that all countries "impose an asset freeze and travel ban on President Saleh" and other top Yemeni official implicated in the alleged human rights violations. HRW argues that countries should take such actions in order to "[p]ublicly express opposition to any grant of immunity to Yemeni officials who may have been responsible for serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law [and to m]ake clear that such immunity has no effect in jurisdictions outside of Yemen." Saleh is currently in the US receiving medical treatment. He is expected to return to Yemen sometime before the countries presidential election scheduled for February 21.
Criticism of Yemen's handling of the situation with Saleh has been ongoing since the country first announced it would give him complete immunity. Last month Yemen's newly appointed Council of Ministers approved a draft law [JURIST report] to grant Saleh immunity from any charges against him for alleged human rights violations from his time in office. A couple of weeks later, Yemeni officials amended that law [JURIST report] to give Saleh's associates only limited immunity. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] has spoken out against granting immunity [JURIST report] because of concerns that it might be too broad. In April, Saleh agreed to step down [JURIST report] in exchange for immunity. The UN is investigating human rights violations [JURIST report] in Yemen in relation to its handling of pro-democracy protests. Saleh and his party, the General People's Congress (GPC), had caused political tensions that led to the protests through their attempts to remove presidential term limits [JURIST report] and expand their political power.