Friday, January 13, 2012

Freezing Saleh’s Power

In a December speech at Chatham House, Nobel Laureate Tawakul Karman addressed the London public. She voiced two demands: freeze former Yemeni President Ali Saleh’s assets, an independent investigation into alleged war crimes. But in light of recent developments surrounding former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s departure, she must broaden the agenda in order to help bring about a total transition to democracy.

January 13, 2012

A Democratic Future for Yemen

Tawakul Karman, chaired by Ginny Hill

Chatham House

“With you we will build a new world,” Karman told the London audience as she urged them to help freeze Saleh’s assets—the assets of his regime and the assets of his family. Money is power for Karman and many Yemenis, and that power was used to sustain the violence committed against the Yemeni public during their struggles since January 2011.

According to the account Karman gave in her speech, these struggles led to the injury or death of 28,000 people, and are not yet over. Even in the lead-up to expected democratic elections later this spring, there is still constant protesting in the streets and violent clashes among opposition groups. The country is also closer to the edge of economic collapse than ever before. President Saleh’s presence in Yemen is still strong and his interference is unabated.

Salah reneged on the peace deal first brokered by the GCC in April 2011, which required him to step down. A new deal signed in late November requires Saleh to back down by the end of January. In exchange, Saleh will receive immunity, as will members of his administration. The country’s new interim president, Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, is now threatening to leave after reports that Saleh and his administration continue to meddle in the country’s affairs. Clearly, attempts to remove Saleh from power have not removed the problem.

Karman seems to think freezing Saleh’s assets could provide some incentive for him to cooperate, which is perhaps why she chose London as the platform to ask for the West’s help in freezing his assets. As it now stands, Saleh continues freely interfering in Yemeni government affairs and his wealth, despite the suspicion that he obtained the wealth through corruption and crime. This provides the foundation for Karman’s second request: prioritize UNSC Resolution 2014, which calls for an independent investigation into the war crimes that allegedly occurred in Yemen.

Perhaps the most disturbing news for Karman and the spirit of the pro-democracy protesters in Yemen is that the US, perceived as the world’s great protector of democratic values, has offered its support for the Saleh amnesty deal. This support comes much to the dismay of organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the latter of which called it a “smack in the face for justice.”

Certainly, the US has its own interests at stake: appeasing the GCC is a top priority. Karman makes a solid point regarding the freezing of assets, in pointing out that harsher international action was taken with Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s dictator Muammar Qadhafi. Why is there not the same reaction to Saleh? It is difficult to justify the asymmetrical approaches.

The US has stated that the deal is necessary to convince Saleh his time is over, but there are few incentives to prevent future meddling when there are no repercussions and no accountability. Additionally, without holding Saleh to public account, his memory will be strong in the minds of the Yemeni public and his supporters may be emboldened by this perceived success. Freezing Saleh’s assets does little to bring a sense of justice or closure to Yemenis. This is why Karman’s agenda must expand to include persuading the US to overturn their support for Saleh’s amnesty deal.

Her credentials are right for the job. Already, Karman is the co-recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her leadership during the initial protests. She is the first Yemeni —and the first Arab woman —to win the prize. Despite her broken English, her intentions and passions were clear throughout the Chatham House speech: hallmarks of an effective leader.

Since she is a member of the Al-Islah opposition party, winning over the US could still prove quite difficult, Other members of the party are seen as conservative and extreme, and some have been flagged by the US. This is, however, the same political party that brought her into Yemen’s parliament and supported her as she established Women Journalists Without Chains in 2005.

Additionally, the US has a rationale behind their backing of the amnesty package, seeing it as an effective method to oust Saleh while preventing further bloodshed. However, this theory has holes. It is more likely that if Saleh is not held to account he will continue to rifle in the affairs of the state, and there will be further violence as protesters continue their struggle against his authority and fight for their vision of a truly democratic Yemen.

What Karman offers best is a ‘boots on the ground’ perspective, and it is evident that in her opinion the West has a role to play. In her speech, she promised that as Yemen surprised the world with a revolution, it will surprise them again with the creation of a great Yemen. It may just be a matter of which Western nations will actually take solid steps to support the Yemeni people and support justice over the appeasement of oil-rich states as they work towards such goals.

2 protesters killed, 3 troops injured in violence at southern Yemen protest

By AHMED AL-HAJ | Associated Press

January 13, 2012

Two Yemeni protesters were killed and over a dozen people injured Friday, a medic and a witness said, when security forces fired bullets and tear gas at marchers in the southern city of Aden.

The protesters were demanding that the country's outgoing president be out on trial.

The witness said some armed men in the demonstration returned fire. A security official said three troops were injured, including an officer. The medic and security official spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters. The witness feared retribution.

Protesters held rallies in cities across Yemen Friday calling for regime change and rejecting a recent law granting President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his government officials immunity from prosecution for all crimes committed during his 33-year rule.

Security across Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, has collapsed during the 11-month uprising, and Yemen's active al-Qaida branch has seized territory in the country's south.

Inspired by the uprisings across the Arab world, Yemenis have been taking to the streets in huge numbers, calling for Saleh's ouster. Security forces have often responded with deadly force, killing more than 200 demonstrators, spurring calls that Saleh be put on trial for allegedly ordering the killings, as well as for alleged corruption.

In November, Saleh signed a U.S.-backed deal brokered by Yemen's powerful Persian Gulf neighbors to transfer power to his vice president in exchange for immunity. Protesters say the deal doesn't address their demands for wider political reform in the country.

Human rights groups object to the immunity law, saying it stands in the way of justice for a corrupt regime with a long history of rights violations.

German ambassador to Yemen opposes immunity law

January 13, 2012

SANA’A: Amidst debate in Yemen surrounding the drafting by the coalition government of an “immunity law” which would guarantee President Ali Abdullah Saleh and some of his closest aides immunity from future prosecutions, Germany’s ambassador to Yemen declared that such a move was “one of the biggest obstacles to implement the GCC brokered power-transfer deal.”

The General People’s Congress immediately retaliated to the declaration by demanding the immediate expulsion of the Holger Green, arguing that such comments were aimed at igniting further tensions in the already war-torn nation, endangering a peaceful transition of power.

Germany always was critical of a deal allowing Yemeni state officials guilty of blatant violations against human rights to walk free, often threatening President Saleh and his coterie of legal proceedings within its own borders.

In a new bid to remove Saleh from power permanently UN special envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, just announced that the UNSC 5 permanent members were willing to offer Saleh and 600 of his loyalists immunity from prosecution if they’d agreed to immediately leave Yemen.

Saleh and his close family members would be permanently banned from ever returning to Yemen, alongside defected General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar and Sheikh Sadeeq al-Ahmar. All others beneficiaries from immunity would have the possibility to return to their homeland after a 5 year period, given that they refrain from running for public office.

Both the sheikh and the general agreed to such terms.