February 21, 2012, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) requested that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) open an immediate criminal investigation into claims of torture committed under former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule. Mr. Saleh has been in the United States since January 28, 2012, reportedly staying at the Ritz Carlton in New York while undergoing medical treatment. In a public letter to the Human Rights and Special Prosecution Section of the DOJ, CCR details a number of grave human rights violations that occurred in Yemen over the past year, including the killing of hundreds of peaceful protesters by Saleh’s forces, and sets forth why there is no immunity for Mr. Saleh from criminal prosecution for torture.
“By opening an investigation into credible claims of torture arising out of acts by Saleh’s forces against peaceful protesters in Yemen, the United States will send a powerful message that the days of crimes without consequences and free-passes for those who wield power are giving way to a new era of true justice and accountability,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Staff Attorney Katherine Gallagher. “The U.S. must not provide a safe-haven for a man who has caused so much pain and suffering to his people.”
Since last year, Yemeni security forces, operating under the command and direction of Mr. Saleh, have killed or wounded hundreds of civilians who have taken to the streets to demand their human rights and an end to Saleh’s 33-year dictatorship. As the letter details, “the denial of these human rights was carried out with force: batons, rifles, tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition from snipers and mortars were used against unarmed protestors.” Prior to entering the United States the Yemeni Parliament granted Mr. Saleh and his aides amnesty from prosecution within Yemen for these violations. However, under the Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a signatory, there can be no immunity for acts of torture.
Ibraham Qatabi, a legal worker at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a member of the Yemeni American Coalition for Change said, “As a Yemeni American, I call upon the Department of Justice to carry out its moral and legal obligations, and investigate Saleh for serious crimes committed against peaceful protesters in Yemen. Saleh must be held accountable.”
The letter emphasizes that “[the] United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has confirmed reports that Saleh’s administration has used all armed units and security forces at its disposal in responding to demonstrations, including the two official intelligence agencies which ‘report directly to the President and operate with minimal parliamentary or judicial oversight.’” To date, there has been no accountability for the widespread and systematic human rights violations that have occurred in Yemen over the past year. Moreover, despite a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an investigation into the brutal and repressive tactics used by Yemeni Security forces against peaceful protesters, the only legal action taken by the United States to date was an assertion of diplomatic immunity on Mr. Saleh’s behalf. This claim of immunity was given in opposition to a subpoena request for Mr. Saleh to appear as a witness in another matter.
In addition to the human rights violations documented in the various cited reports, the letter also includes the case of two brothers from Michigan, both permanent U.S. residents, who were seriously injured last year when the Yemeni army stopped their car, along with approximately 40 other vehicles, and held them until a plane attacked the group with rockets. The brothers, Hakim Salem and Amin Salem, relayed their account of the incident, which killed their cousin and left both men with serious physical injuries, to CCR Cooperating Counsel Bill Goodman.
Said Hakim Salem, “We are plain simple working people and with one cold-blooded flick of a switch, President Saleh almost destroyed our lives and our family.”
Given these reports, the letter concludes, the Department of Justice should investigate Mr. Saleh for crimes that fall within its mandate under the Torture Statute, as well as whether these acts have triggered jurisdiction under the U.S. War Crimes Statute. As Yemeni presidential elections take place today, any residual head-of-state immunities Mr. Saleh might seek to claim, will cease to exist as of this date.
To read the letter in full, click this PDF link
CCR is a member organization of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). See FIDH's Yemen: Impunity granted, transition at risk
, for background on the various human rights violations committed during the repression of the protest movement in Yemen. FIDH, and its partners in Yemen, the Human Rights Information and Training Center (HRITC) and the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedom (HOOD), issued the following statement
calling on the U.S. government to fulfill its duty to bring Mr. Saleh to justice.
To read the press release and the letter in Arabic click here