Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Prosecute them | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The Yemeni President seems to be dancing with the snakes by declining to step down from power, and instead insisting on maneuvering and procrastination, whilst his regime continues to kill demonstrators. In my estimation, President Saleh, in the best of cases, has misunderstood the Gulf Cooperation Council’s mediation effort; he interpreted it as an endeavor to protect him – rather than the nation – from the risk of continual bloody confrontations. In the worst case scenario, President Saleh wanted to maneuver and exploit the initiative to cause a rift between his opponents and undermine the revolution, in order to salvage his ailing regime.

Perhaps the Yemeni President has disproved the theory that granting immunity against prosecution may convince leaders and officials, whose regimes are facing uprisings and revolutions, to accept a safe exit. This is because some leaders may believe that they can experiment by remaining in power through tyranny and the systematic killing of demonstrators, and if this process fails, then they can return to the mediation “boat” and make a safe exit, hence avoiding legal pursuit and prosecution for the killings and corruption crimes they committed. For this particular reason, one can understand the argument of those who say that any crisis resolution strategy should not involve immunity against charges of murder, corruption, and theft of state finance. Without immunity, every official who chooses to go along with the murder, intimidation and corruption would realize that, sooner or later, he will be held accountable for his actions.

What does it mean for someone to be a state official unless he is held accountable for the consequences of his deeds? How can an official enjoy the privileges that come with his position, without having to shoulder the subsequent burden or responsibility? An individual must be held accountable for the consequences of their actions, in accordance with the concept: “You are a shepherd, and thus you are responsible for your flock”. When someone assumes a post he must serve the people whom he was assigned to take care of, and this must be his primary concern. He must be prepared to be held accountable should he fail to do. For example, isn’t it odd that we hear former officials in the Mubarak regime today saying that their role was to follow orders, and therefore they are not responsible for the violations they committed, or the killings that took place when the demonstrations were suppressed? Some of those officials were ministers, yet they decline to admit that they were in positions of power and hence must shoulder the responsibility.

The law considers the act of being complicit to a crime as an offence in itself – a crime for which one should be called to account. Moreover, some officials have in fact been partners in crime, either by giving orders to fire upon demonstrators, or pulling the trigger to kill unarmed protestors. A policeman who fires a deadly bullet at the head or chest of an unarmed demonstrator can by no means disavow the responsibility for the killing, for he did not fire the gun into the air as a warning first. Rather, he pointed the gun at the head and the chest so that the bullet would be fatal, so how can he not be branded a killer?

During the repression that accompanied the Arab uprisings and revolutions, there were officers and soldiers who refused to fire at the demonstrators, based on the ethical principle that the army and the security services should not point their guns at their own people. These soldiers and officers are a fine example of the type of mentality that should prevail. In order for their stance not to be in vain, and in order for the blood of innocent people not to be shed without accountability, as we can see in the continual scenes of oppression and murder in Yemen, Syria and Libya, it may be important to document and record the crimes committed against these citizens. The officials who issued the orders to fire upon civilians, as well as those who obeyed the instructions to kill and torture, should all be named so that they can later be called to account.

The calls for reform, as well as for democracy, freedom of expression, and respect of human rights, cannot be completed unless there is also judicial reform and a restructure of the security apparatus. The law must prevail, and peoples’ trust must be restored in these institutions, the main duty of which is to protect citizens and society. There is an urgent need to foster a new culture amongst the security apparatus, whereby the concepts of assaulting citizens, denying their rights, and acting outside the limits of the law are eliminated. The law must be above everyone, whether citizens or officials, and everyone must be equal in the eyes of the judiciary, regardless of their position or title.

Several Arab regimes established and trained their security apparatuses so that they would offer protection to the regime only, and not to the citizens. Therefore, we saw such security forces prepared to oppress their people and curtail their freedom, as was manifested in the brutal torture of detainees in police stations and security headquarters, in the same manner that we saw violence used against unarmed demonstrators. Yet it was more alarming when we saw armies rushing to the streets with their weapons to crush the demonstrators, whilst forgetting that their duty is to protect these people from foreign forces. It is for this reason that the stance of the Egyptian army, which declined to take part in the repression of demonstrations, was welcomed both locally and internationally, as were the officers and soldiers who chose to side with people in Yemen, Libya and Syria, refusing to obey orders of oppression and murder just to safeguard regimes which refuse to understand their peoples’ message. Such regimes must understand the Egyptian lesson: The Egyptian Ministry of Interior deployed 1.2 million troops in an attempt to suppress the demonstrations, yet the regime was toppled and could not resist the popular revolution.

Any president who kills his own people for the sake of the throne must understand that he will be prosecuted and called to account. This also applies to any official, no matter what rank, who issues orders for torture, oppression, or to fire upon unarmed citizens. This official could be a minister, manager, police commissioner, or even an ordinary solider, yet as long as he chooses to kill citizens rather than protect them, he is responsible.