Yemen: a question of immunity

It has been widely reported that the Yemen "transition" agreement signed last week includes immunity for President Saleh and members of his entourage. This led to protests in Yemen at the weekend calling instead for Saleh's prosecution.

If guarantees of immunity have indeed been given, who gave them? What do they say? What is their legal effect? The short answer is that nobody seems to know or, rather, that those who do know are not saying.

The original plan, in early drafts of the GCC-brokered transition deal was that as soon as Saleh had signed it the Yemeni parliament would pass a vote granting immunity to him, his family and his associates. That hasn't happened – at least, not yet.

Adding to the mystery, the text of the signed agreement, as published in Arabic on the ruling party's website, makes no mention of immunity. This has led to suggestions that some parts of the agreement are not being made public.

Saleh has been so insistent on the immunity issue that it's unlikely he would have signed without some kind of guarantee. One possibility is that the six GCC states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – have agreed not to prosecute him if he enters their territory, but that would have no effect elsewhere in the world.

There are rumours that Saleh wants to go to the United States for medical treatment but, according to the Aden Online website (in Arabic), the US is refusing him a visa. Germany and Russia are also said to have refused.

Saleh officially retains the title of "president" for the time being though he has formally ceded his presidential powers to Vice-President Hadi. Hadi's first acts under his new powers have been to set a date for the presidential election (February 21) and to name 78-year-old Mohammed Basindwa as prime minister. Basindwa is a former foreign minister who switched to the opposition.

Saleh, meanwhile, seems to be forgetting that he has signed away his powers. On Sunday, he issued a "decree" granting a general amnesty for those who "committed errors during the crisis" (ie the opposition). 

The Wall Street Journal, citing a senior interior ministry official,adds that Saleh "contacted the interior minister twice over the past 36 hours to give orders on how to run certain matters".

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 28 November 2011