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Yemen loses a dictator, but not his shadow

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Yemen exemplifies the political usefulness of amnesty. After mass protests against his rule began early last year, Saleh engaged in several rounds of negotiations for his extradition. In October, he agreed to leave office under a framework designed by the regional Gulf Cooperation Council, a key component of which was a wide-ranging immunity provision.

Parliament’s recent passage of the law was linked to the nomination of Vice President Hadi for the presidency – Saleh’s supporters refused to approve the nomination until the amnesty was in place. The amnesty has thus served to facilitate the final political bargain that enables a transition in Yemen.

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.

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