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Yemen loses a dictator, but not his shadow

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It should not be a surprise that the Gulf Council would incorporate amnesty as part of its framework; setting a regional precedent for immunity is in the interest of the six monarchies which make up the council, all with their own skeletons in the closet. Likewise, mindful of former Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak on trial, Saleh and his party leaders predictably insisted on immunity as part of any deal.

Indeed, the recent push for accountability of former dictators around the world – from Chilean Augusto Pinochet and Peruvian Alberto Fujimori to Liberia’s Charles Taylor and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir – may make existing leaders more insistent on amnesty provisions in any future transitions from power.

Yet Yemen also illustrates the increasing limitations of amnesty. The law has received sharp criticism from the UN and human rights organizations. More importantly, tens of thousands of youth protesters in Yemen marched in opposition to the amnesty, vowing to work to have Saleh and his associates put on trial.

These developments forced an eleventh-hour amendment that actually restricted the law’s coverage. Rather than full amnesty for all of Saleh’s civilian and military aides, they only received political immunity and can be held accountable for criminal or terrorist acts, though Saleh himself still goes completely free.

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