U.N. council condemns violence in Yemen, urges Saleh to cede power

October 21, 2011

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Friday to condemn Yemen’s bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters and endorsed a regional political initiative aimed at securing President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s commitment to leave office.

The passage of the resolution marks the first time the 15-nation council has weighed in on the political crisis, which has played out over more than nine months. It placed the United Nations squarely behind a proposal by the Gulf Cooperation Council that would grant immunity to Saleh and his inner circle if they agree to step aside.

The amnesty provision was sharply criticized by Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman, who won the Nobel Peace Prize this month. She told reporters outside the council after the vote that she would press for Saleh to be tried by the International Criminal Court.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights also opposed an amnesty for serious crimes. “International law prohibits the use of amnesties that prevent the prosecution of individuals for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity or gross violation of human rights,” said Rupert Colville, the spokesman for the commissioner. “That would apply in this situation as in any other.”

British and German officials defended Friday’s resolution, noting that while it endorsed the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, it also included a provision stressing “that all those responsible for violence, human rights violations and abuses should be held accountable.”

The United States, which has cooperated closely with Saleh on counterterrorism efforts, has been pressing him to cede power for several months. Washington’s support for the resolution reflects growing frustration with Saleh’s refusal to step down despite repeated pledges he would do so. He fled to Saudi Arabia in June after he was burned severely in an attack but returned to Yemen last month.

After the Security Council vote, the White House issued a statement saying, “Today the international community sent a united and unambiguous signal to President Saleh that he must respond to the aspirations of the Yemeni people by transferring power immediately.”

The resolution “strongly condemns the continued human rights violation by the Yemeni authorities” and “expresses profound regret at the deaths of hundreds of civilians, including women and children.” It demands that all opposition movements refrain from violence and provocation “for perpetrating human rights abuses.”

The resolution calls on the United Nations to report back to the council in 30 days to revisit the matter.

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