BEYOND ACCOUNTABILITY [Archives:1999/28/Viewpoint]

July 12 1999

One of the main problems in building a modern state in Yemen is that three blocs of our society perceive themselves as above accountability. The sooner we see this and address it, the easier it will be to build a meaningful government based on law and order, and modern values. 
These three are as follows: 
The judges and judicial process are, of course, independent of the influence of the executive branch of authority. They should carry out their work without the interference of anybody. Unfortunately for Yemen, many judges, prosecutors and other judiciary staff think this means they are beyond reproach or above accountability. This wrong understanding has made the judiciary of Yemen very corrupt. 
A couple of times over the last few weeks, I tried to explain to some judges that they are just as accountable as everybody else. I explained that they were just as much subject to investigation and that they did not have a free hand to decide according to their whim. I was puzzled that they were surprised at what I said. Some judges genuinely believe that they are ‘independent’ meaning nobody can call hold them accountable. We need to educate these people that they are part of the state of Yemen and the world, and that they are judged by the laws of Yemen as well as international law. 
This is another power base that seems to believe that it is accountable to nobody, except probably the president of the republic who is also the supreme commander of the armed forces. This again is wrong. It has allowed this bloc to engage in lawless behavior and in a lack of respect for the human rights of the civilian population. The security forces, whatever their names, technically fall under the Ministry of Interior. The armed forces, whatever their names, technically fall under the Ministry of Defense. Both institutions are part of the government. In other words, the government must reign in the presence of the excesses of these two blocs of armed people. 
Not only that, the government must assure the general public that members of the security and armed forces are subject to the same punishments as civilians when they break the law. The army and security must be subject to government orders. 
The tribal leaders of this country, especially the big sheikhs, literally get away with murder. They have been responsible for a lot of kidnapping and hostage taking. They have created mini-states within the state. They have their own prisons, their own armed forces, their own income-taxing structures, and ‘bureaucracy.’ Not only that, but these sheikhs have their own foreign relations and even have their representation accredited with other governments, notably Saudi Arabia. 
It is imperative that the state reign in this bloc and make them accountable under the laws of Yemen. We need to promote the culture of accountability and the equal enforcement of law and order to all Yemenis. Those three power blocs need to be ‘civilized’ in making Yemen a modern state. Action to reign in these groups will increase the chances of economic prosperity and foreign investment, and it will enhance the credibility and legitimacy of the state in the eyes of Yemenis and foreigners alike. Of course, a gradual approach is called for, but we need to start at once. 
Prof. Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf 
Yemen Times Founder