SANA’A, JAN. 15 – The Yemeni parliament postponed its vote on Ali Abdullah Saleh’s immunity law on Saturday, after being approved by the cabinet for the second time last month.
Sheikh Ali Abdrabu Al-Qadhi, MP of the independent bloc, told the Yemen Times that the discussion was postponed as the ministers of Justice and Legal Affairs were both absent.
“The parliament is demanding that the cabinet be present, when the cabinet has already done their part by approving the law,” said Al-Qadhi.
“The Minister of Legal Affairs is supposed to be present when the discussion on the law is opened, but the Justice Minister has nothing to do with the law so demanding his presence is a waste of time,” he added.
Al-Qadhi suggested on Sunday that the parliament form a committee to handle the proposed law. “We need to decide which issue comes first, is it the elections or the immunity law, as it was not verified in the GCC deal,” he explained.
On Saturday and Sunday protesters marched from Change Square to the parliament calling for the law to be dropped. The march was twice blocked by soldiers, though it was unclear whether they were defected or pro-government troops.
“We chose the day the discussion on the law was supposed to start at the parliament but the soldiers did not allow us to continue – they even prepared their guns to shoot,” said Eman Ali, who participated in the march.
Talks on the immunity law are not new, as it was first suggested back in March when the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initially proposed its power transition deal in Yemen, but is only now coming up for vote.
A source close to negotiations told the Yemen Times that one of the disagreements on a political level stemmed from the fact that Saleh did not want the law to include his opponents Major General Ali Mohsen and the leaders of the Hashid Tribal confederation. Both were accused of the June 3 attack on the presidential compound, which left 12 dead and injured president Saleh and other key government figures.
In December, the Yemeni revolution turned towards institutions as employees of government institutions protested and went on strike, commonly demanding the prosecution of “corrupt” officials and mangers – many of whom are members of the General People’s Congress.
The proposed immunity law goes against their demands if it is approved in its current form. It suggests that seeks to grant immunity not only to Saleh, but also to all who worked with him in state, civil, military and security institutions during his rule.
Law expert Nabeela Al-Mufti, said: “The problem is that the law is too general, giving immunity to all who worked with Saleh for 33 years. This gives it a dangerous dimension.”
Another issue is the proposal that the law be implemented both inside and outside Yemen. “The Yemeni parliament cannot dominate the world parliaments and force them to implement the immunity,” said Al-Mufti.
Many Yemenis wonder whether or not Saleh or his fellows can be prosecuted outside of Yemen. According to Al-Mufti Saleh can be prosecuted outside of Yemen but his crime must have been committed in the prosecuting country. However, the International Criminal Court (ICC) can still receive cases against Saleh for crimes committed in Yemen – but any case must meet the ICC standards as a humanitarian or war crime.
“It is possible that a Yemeni person could raise a suit against Saleh for a crime that was committed in Yemen in any of the 81 countries that signed the Roma Law and became a member of the ICC,” Al-Mufti explained, adding that ICC procedures are complicated and lengthy but still possible.
Issues with the immunity law led to the idea of a Transitional Reconciliation Conference. The brainchild of UN envoy Jamal Benomar, the conference would serve as a way to bring together Yemen’s conflicting parties for a new beginning, forgetting past crimes but also proposing compensation to victims and their families – an idea that worked both in Morocco and South Africa
“The law denies individuals their right to prosecute; the concept of reconcilement should be by satisfaction not by force,” she added. “Any reconcilement should offer something to the victims’ families and whoever was harmed by Saleh’s regime.”