No immunity for Yemen's Saleh abroad: Human Rights Watch

DUBAI Wed Feb 8, 2012 10:32am EST

Yemen's outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh speaks to a selected group of state media reporters at the Presidential Palace in Sanaa January 22, 2012. REUTERS/Yemen's Presidency/Handout

Yemen's outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh speaks to a selected group of state media reporters at the Presidential Palace in Sanaa January 22, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Yemen's Presidency/Handout

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DUBAI (Reuters) - The United States and Gulf Arab states are not bound by a Yemeni parliament decision to grant President Ali Abdullah Saleh immunity from prosecution over civilian deaths during protests against his rule, Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.

HRW said all countries should impose an asset freeze and travel ban on Saleh, now having medical treatment in the United States, and other Yemeni officials implicated in serious rights violations committed since unrest began early last year.

"The U.S., EU and Gulf states should make loud and clear that the immunity is no good abroad and should be revoked at home," said Letta Tayler, HRW's Yemen researcher, in a report on human rights abuses in the flashpoint city of Taiz.

The New York-based rights group said security forces killed at least 120 people in Taiz last year while suppressing mass demonstrations against Saleh's 33-year rule.

"Saleh is entitled to medical treatment, but he and his aides have no right to immunity from prosecution for international crimes," Tayler said. "No one responsible for grave international crimes should get a free pass."

As head of state, Saleh enjoys diplomatic immunity abroad until he formally leaves office following a February 21 presidential election to choose his successor.

Saleh flew to the United States for medical care last month, but said Tuesday he would return to Yemen before the vote, casting doubt on his commitment to let go of power in line with the transition plan forged by Yemen's wealthy Gulf neighbors.

That plan, which sets Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi up as the sole candidate, has angered many Yemenis who feel cheated by a lack of choice at the ballet box.

Hadi pledged in a speech Tuesday to lead Yemen's political transition using "dialogue and logic, not weapons."

HRW said the new government should authorize investigations into violations of humanitarian law by Saleh and others.

"President Saleh's forces killed and wounded hundreds of civilians, evicted hospital patients and blocked war wounded from reaching care," Tayler said.

The report says security forces shot peaceful demonstrators in Taiz, bulldozed the sites of sit-ins, set fire to protesters' tents and shelled populated areas of the city, the last of which is a direct violation of international laws governing war.

(Reporting By Nour Merza; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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