UN human rights office voices concern at recent events in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria

Yemenis protesting against the government in Sana’a

22 March 2011 – The United Nations human rights office today voiced its deep concern at recent events in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, including the excessive use of force and killing of protesters, while stressing the responsibility of Governments to uphold basic freedoms, even in times of instability.

Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), voiced alarm about the situation in Yemen, where there is now a state of emergency and armed clashes.

“We remind the Government that fundamental rights, such as the right to life, and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, cannot be derogated from under any circumstances, even in a public emergency,” he told a news briefing in Geneva.

OHCHR deplored the reported killing of dozens of peaceful protestors last week, including reportedly by snipers shooting from rooftops, Mr. Colville added. He also noted the call for an independent investigation into the killings, particularly during the protests at University of Sana’a on Friday.

“All such violations of human rights must indeed be investigated by independent and impartial mechanisms,” he stressed.

There is also concern about the suppression of the right to freedom of expression in the region, including the Yemeni Government’s decision to deport two Al Jazeera correspondents on 19 March. OHCHR also called for the immediate release of an Al Jazeera crew which is allegedly being held by government forces in Libya.

The situation in Bahrain remains “very worrying,” Mr. Colville stated, noting that between 50 and 100 people have been reported missing over the past week. Two of those who had earlier been missing have now reportedly been found dead.

There are also disturbing reports that people who have spoken on the record to media have been detained and threatened. Those arrested are reported to include political activists, human rights defenders and doctors and nurses from the Salmaniya hospital.

“It is vital that the authorities scrupulously abide by international standards. People should not be arbitrarily arrested and should not be detained without clear evidence that they have committed a recognized crime,” he stated.

“We stress again that demonstrating peacefully is not a crime. Giving an interview to a journalist is not by any stretch of the imagination a crime, nor is reporting human rights abuses.”

Mr. Colville’s concerns about Bahrain were echoed by a group of UN independent human rights experts, who criticized the country’s Government for its “broken promises” on commitment to human rights.

“From security to the freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression, the Government of Bahrain has ignored key human rights commitments made a month ago,” the statement noted.

The statement was issued by: Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on arbitrary executions; Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression; Margaret Sekaggya, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; El Hadji Malick Sow, the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Juan Méndez, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and Anand Grover, the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health.

OHCHR is also greatly concerned by the recent killings of protesters in Syria and reiterated the need to put an immediate halt to the excessive use of force against peaceful protesters, especially the use of live ammunition.

A total of six people have reportedly been killed by security forces in the southern city of Daraa since Friday, when thousands took to the streets following Friday prayers, calling for greater political freedom and an end to corruption. OHCHR called for an independent, transparent and effective investigation into these killings.

Mr. Colville noted that the Government responded “forcefully” and it has been reported that security forces first used teargas and water canon and later used live ammunition against the protesters, killing at least four people and wounding others. Security forces also used similar tactics over the weekend.

“The use of excessive force constitutes a clear violation of international law, which provides for individual criminal responsibility for violations committed,” noted Mr. Colville.

“People have the legitimate right to express their grievances and demands to their Government, and we urge the Syrian Government to enter into a broad, meaningful dialogue with the protesters in an attempt to address those grievances,” he stated.

The protests in the three countries are the latest in a wave of uprisings across the Arab world that has already led to the ouster of long-serving leaders in Tunisia and Egypt. In Libya, the regime of Muammar al-Qadhafi has waged a fierce military offensive against the opposition movement.

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