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At least 21 more protesters killed by security forces, plainclothes gunmen in past week

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, May 12, 2011 - Negotiators should immediately remove a promise of immunity from any resignation deal for President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen in light of repeated, lethal attacks by his security forces on peaceful protesters, Human Rights Watch said today. In the latest attacks, security forces, along with pro-government gunmen in civilian clothing, have shot dead at least 21 people since May 7, 2011 - at least 15 of them on May 11 and 12 - and wounded hundreds.

After weeks of delay, Saleh agreed on April 23 to a pact brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and backed by the United States and the European Union, in which he would resign within 30 days in exchange for blanket immunity for himself, government officials, and close relatives who include commanders of security forces that have repeatedly fired on protesters. The broad language in the pact appears to set no limits on the immunity terms. But Saleh has stalled on signing, demanding additional changes or concessions, as security forces continue shooting at peaceful protesters.

"These attacks suggest that President Saleh views his promise of immunity as a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card for political murder," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The GCC member states and other governments involved in negotiations for President Saleh's exit should immediately pull immunity from the table."

Yemeni courts and foreign governments will still be obligated to hold Saleh to account for the attacks even if an immunity deal is signed, Human Rights Watch said.

International law rejects impunity for serious crimes, such as crimes against humanity and torture, Human Rights Watch said. International treaties, including the Convention against Torture, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, require states parties to ensure that alleged perpetrators of serious crimes are prosecuted, including those who give the orders for these crimes. Systematic or widespread unlawful killings, carried out as a state policy, are likely to be crimes against humanity.

At least 137 people have died in attacks by security forces and pro-government assailants on anti-Saleh protesters since February.

In the latest attacks, on May 11 and 12, security forces and pro-government gunmen shot dead protesters in the capital, Sanaa, and provincial cities including Taizz, the western port city of al-Hudaida, and the central city of al-Baida'. Many of the protesters were shot as they tried to occupy or blockade government buildings, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. Yemeni officials blamed the opposition for the violence, saying demonstrators were trying to "storm" government buildings, but numerous witnesses said the protesters were not using any form of violence.

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To read the full press release, click here

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