Sana’a, Asharq Al-Awsat—In exclusive comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Yemeni Legal Affairs Minister Mohammed Al-Mekhlafi affirmed that the legal immunity granted to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his aides as part of the Gulf Initiative to secure a peaceful handover of power could be revoked if they continued to get involved in the political process.
In a broad-ranging interview, Mekhlafi spoke with Asharq Al-Awsat about the draft transitional justice law, the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference, and the political crisis currently engulfing the country.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Is the immunity from prosecution granted to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and other prominent members of his regime indefinite, or will it expire after a certain time?
Mohammed Al-Mekhlafi: The law granting this immunity remains in effect. However, the delay in [adopting] the transitional justice law and the former regime’s continued involvement in politics has raised questions about the validity of the legal immunity and amnesty granted to Saleh. As you know, this issue was raised and discussed during the National Dialogue Conference. The conference agreed to reject the idea that Saleh can practice politics and enjoy legal immunity at the same time. Therefore, Saleh’s legal immunity depends on his own involvement in the political process.
Q: Have you noticed any direct or indirect violations of this immunity on the part of the former president or any of his aides?
Originally, immunity was granted in exchange for the former regime handing over power without entering into confrontations and wars. In return, the issue of transitional justice was raised, namely granting the former regime amnesty on the one hand and ensuring justice for the victims on the other. In other words, the transitional justice measures will grant those who were formerly in power either amnesty or immunity. Regardless of whether there were signs of serious violations of human rights or not, Yemen’s future will not be peaceful so long as the former regime continues to exercise power. However, the victims will not accept these measures when they see that those who have been granted amnesty remain in power and are carrying out more human rights violations.
Q: Do you think that the report issued by the Transitional Justice Working Group at the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference will address many of these issues?
There can be no doubt that this report will be critical to the issuance of the Transitional Justice and National Reconciliation Law. If we consider the report, we will notice that it went from being highly ambitious to being less ambitious and then to a level that was closer to the transitional justice draft law that was ultimately referred to President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. Moreover, if we compare the key points discussed by the report with the draft law, we will notice several points of division. For example, we will see that the law is now called the Transitional Justice and National Reconciliation Law. Transitional justice is a mechanism for securing justice for the victims, compensating them for damage, and providing the conditions that will prevent more violations in the future. As for national reconciliation, this is what this mechanism is aiming to achieve.
Q: Some people have suggested that there is pressure in Yemen to put Saleh on trial. Would this be legally possible?
We have always said that accepting an amnesty for Saleh would not be easy, and this is something that still faces opposition and disapproval. Therefore, national consensus over achieving a full transfer of power and transitional justice will strengthen the grounds for amnesty and render it defensible. However, in the event that the former president and other members of the former regime continue to be politically active, influence decision-making, and undermine the transitional justice law, the grounds for amnesty and immunity will be neither acceptable nor defensible. In fact, the Legal Affairs Ministry in particular has been under attack from the former president and his aides, who accuse us of seeking to put them on trial. In fact, we have been seeking to achieve peace through reconciling two things, namely amnesty and justice. There cannot be amnesty without justice. I hope these obstacles vanish and the people of Yemen manage to transfer power so that the victims do not feel the former regime was granted amnesty for free. I also hope that the transitional justice law will be implemented soon, once it is reconsidered in accordance with the results of the National Dialogue Conference.
Q: The security situation in the country is unstable and there are ongoing violent incidents. How do you view the assassinations and the other crimes that have been taking place in post-Saleh Yemen?
In my opinion, the transfer of power has not been carried out in full. In other words, the former regime has adopted a strategy aimed at undermining all aspects of the transfer of power, the entire political process, the government, security and public services. This is simply because power has not been transferred and the former regime is still active in state institutions and the government.
Q: As a minister, do you think the national consensus government is able to achieve the tasks it has been given?
The tasks entrusted to this government are not limited to the government in Sana’a, but are also linked to the political parties in the Yemeni political arena. These tasks do not just fall under the purview of the government or president, but also under that of the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference. This includes finalizing the National Dialogue Conference, drawing up a draft constitution and conducting a public referendum on it, as well as securing transitional justice. This is a significant and key condition for a peaceful transfer of power in Yemen. Other issues include resolving the security situation and restructuring the military and security forces. The armed forces and security command have been unified. More importantly, we are adopting a new form of government, and thus the elections should meet the conditions of the new federal government. This may take more than two years—not months, as has been suggested.
Q: Some parties have argued that the appointments made by Hadi over the past two years were aimed at weakening the Southern political powers that disagree with him. What do you think?
There are two different issues. First, administrations must be renewed and a system of job rotation must be applied in order to end the state of monopoly that emerged following the 1994 civil war in Yemen. The other point is related to the policy of exclusion, which has been practiced following the war against thousands of civilians and members of the military who come from the South and some parts of the North.