Yemen: Amnesty International Warns Against Political Deals to Give Yemeni President Immunity for Brutality Against Protesters in Exchange for Handing Over Power

Press Release
April 5, 2011

Yemen: Amnesty International Warns Against Political Deals to Give Yemeni President Immunity for Brutality Against Protesters in Exchange for Handing Over Power

Amnesty International Press Release
For Release Tuesday,
April 5, 2011

Amnesty International Warns Against Political Deals to Give Yemeni President Immunity for Brutality Against Protesters in Exchange for Handing Over Power

New Report Documents Wave of Killings by Security Forces and Government’s Failure to Hold Anyone Accountable

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, strimel@aiusa.org

(New York) – Amnesty International warned today against any possible political deals to give Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh or his close relatives immunity for the brutal repression of protesters in return for handing over power. In a new report, Moment of Truth for Yemen, the organization said the world must insist that authorities be held accountable for the crackdown, which has left 94 people dead.

“The strongmen at the top cannot be allowed to just shift quietly into the sidelines when the Yemeni people are so vocally calling for accountability,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Amnesty International said while the government has pledged an investigation into the worst violence on March 18, “Bloody Friday,” when 52 people died and hundreds were wounded, there is no evidence that any members of the security forces are being investigated for deaths and other abuses.

“The Yemeni government has an abysmal record of failing to investigate or prosecute those responsible for unlawful killings and torture or other ill-treatment,” said Luther.

Luther said governments including the United States have stepped up to give Yemen aid and security assistance, when asked. “It is now time to step in and help deliver justice for the families of those who have lost their lives during this turbulent period,” he said.

Amnesty International also called on governments to immediately suspend weapons transfers to Yemen’s security forces, if they could be used for excessive force in the policing of protests. The United States and Britain are the largest suppliers to Yemen.

Amnesty International’s report documents attacks by security forces when protesters were at their most vulnerable, late at night and during prayer. On March 12, security forces opened fire on a protest camp near Sana’a University during early morning prayer and attacked ambulances trying to attend to the wounded.

A student eyewitness told Amnesty International: “We started chanting ‘It’s peaceful, it’s peaceful,’ but later they attacked us while we were praying.”

The protests are fuelled by frustration at corruption, unemployment and repression of freedoms.

The worst violence took place on March 18, since labelled “Bloody Friday” by protesters, when an apparently co-ordinated sniper attack on a protest camp in Sana’a reportedly left 52 people dead and hundreds injured.

An eyewitness told Amnesty International that most of those killed were shot in the head, chest or neck, many of them dying at the scene.

The organization called on the Yemeni authorities to acknowledge that they need the help of the international community to carry out investigations that can uncover the full truth about the protest deaths.

“The inquiry needs real teeth, with powers to compel officials to testify and to ensure that anyone identified as having committed or ordered unlawful killings or excessive use of force is brought to justice,” said Luther.

Large demonstrations have continued to take place across Yemen and in some cases have been violently repressed. Over the weekend, thousands took to the streets in Ta’izz where security forces reportedly used excessive force killing an unknown number of people and injuring hundreds.

The report also details Amnesty International’s grave concerns at continuing human rights violations, including unlawful killings, torture and prolonged detention without charge, related to the Yemeni government’s response to growing calls for secession in the south, attacks by al-Qa’ida and an intermittent conflict with Huthi rebels in the north.

A commission of inquiry into protest deaths since February should be the springboard for a much wider process of dealing with patterns of violations in recent years, the organization said.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org