News Analysis: Rights group urges reinvestigation into upheaval in Yemen as crises persist

2013-02-14 12:58:30 GMT2013-02-14 20:58:30(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

by Fuad Rajeh

SANAA, Feb. 14 (Xinhua) -- A U.S.-based human rights group urged the Yemeni government to reinvestigate the killings of tens of anti-government protesters in 2011, calling the probe into the incident "fraught with political interference and ignoring evidence implicating government officials."

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Tuesday in a report that some 45 anti-government protesters were killed and about 200 others wounded during a rally on March 18, 2011 in downtown Sanaa.

According to the report, Yemen's failed response to the Friday of Dignity Killings, several senior former and current government officials appear to have played a role in the deaths of the protesters but have not been charged.

Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, said the international community including Saudi Arabia and the United States that support a power- transfer deal which ended the uprising in Yemen are concerned that "any disturbance of the immunity provision of the agreement would upset the entire deal."

Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed his resignation deal in exchange for complete immunity for him and his aides including his relatives from prosecution.

"It will be difficult to overcome the immunity roadblock but not impossible," Stork said.

Letta Tayler, a senior researcher at the HRW who prepared the report, said removing immunity is certainly a serious challenge, but "the transition challenges confronting Yemen should not become an excuse to turn a blind eye to injustice."

"Despite the immunity deal was backed by the Gulf Cooperation Council and the United States, both the UN security council and the human rights council have called for accountability for the serious human rights crimes committed during the uprising," she added.

Local activists said the freedom and human rights situation in Yemen is bad for reasons including the absence of state bodies to prevent violations.

Khalid Al-Anesi, CEO at Khalid Law Firm, said Yemen does not have enough organizations to address all human rights crimes.

"The existing organizations are incompetent to do their job... Some are tethered by the agenda of some political parties and financiers," he said.

The HRW report comes amid persistent humanitarian challenges in Yemen where, according to World Food Program (WFP), almost half of the population, about 12 million, are living under the poverty line and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons ( IDPs) are still in dire need of help.

"Both the plight, refugees, IDPs and widespread hunger in Yemen are humanitarian crises that deserve sustained attention from the international community," Tayler said.

"The crises further sap the resources of a fragile government already reeling from al-Qaida, a separatist movement in the south and a rebel movement in the far north," she added.

Late last year, the Yemeni authorities revealed that more than 1 million African refugees have reached the country fleeing deteriorating humanitarian situations in horn of African countries.

In 2011 and 2012, Yemen received about 230,000 Africans, mostly Somalis, including 107,500 people who infiltrated into the country last year, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

On the IDPs, the UNHCR said that "as of September 2012, there were some 507,000 registered internally displaced persons in Yemen. "

Last year, the United Nations rallied more than 500 million U.S. dollars to alleviate the humanitarian crises in Yemen but the growing numbers of refugees require more aid.

The WFP has also said almost half of Yemeni children are malnourished, more than a million of them in an acute condition.

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