WASHINGTON — The United States on Monday defended a draft amnesty law for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, saying a Gulf Arab deal granted him protection from prosecution in order for him to leave power.
It said the deal brokered last year by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which Saleh eventually signed, contained a provision for an amnesty that has to be implemented by Vice President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi and the opposition.
"That had to be put into law. So that's what they're working on now," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
"This is part and parcel of giving these guys confidence that their era is over and it's time for Yemen to be able to move forward towards a democratic future," Nuland told reporters.
Yemen's interim government agreed Sunday to grant Saleh amnesty from prosecution.
The government issued a draft law by which Saleh and his aides "who worked with him in all government, civil and military departments during the years of his rule, are granted amnesty against legal and judicial prosecution," it said in a statement carried by Saba state news agency.
The national unity cabinet that is led by Saleh's opposition referred the draft law, "which applies to all acts committed before it is issued," to the parliament for ratification, Saba said.
In November, Saleh signed the GCC deal aimed to end the political crisis in the impoverished country. Under the deal, he handed authority to Hadi, and the opposition formed a national unity government.
Saleh serves now as an honorary president until polls are held in February to elect Hadi as his successor.
A bloody crackdown on anti-Saleh demonstrations that erupted in January 2011 has claimed hundreds of lives.
In London, the rights group Amnesty International on Monday called on Yemen's parliament to reject the draft amnesty law, saying it is "a smack in the face for justice," all the more so since protesters have been calling for an end to impunity.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Friday said anyone who had committed abuses during the mass protests in Yemen must not be allowed to evade justice.
Pillay urged decision-makers in Yemen to respect the prohibition in international law against amnesties for gross human rights violations.