End Violence and Free Those Detained, UN Rights chief Tells Egypt

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–4 February 2011 – The United Nations human rights chief today called for an end to the “shocking” violence in Egypt and the immediate release of detained journalists and rights advocates, attributing much of the chaos to the security and intelligence services.

“Egypt must implement its international human rights obligations and prevent further violence,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, told a news conference in Geneva, following two days of violence between supporters of President Hosni Mubarak and hundreds of thousands of protestors demanding his immediate resignation.

“Protestors must be properly protected, including from each other. The security and intelligence forces must be held accountable. Change is coming to Egypt, as it came to Tunisia, but the violence and bloodshed must stop now,” she said, referring to protests which last month led to the flight of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

In her comments, Ms. Pillay referred to the “shocking scenes” of opposing groups hurling Molotov cocktails, fire bombs and barrages of large stones at each other. “There was a noticeable absence of police, and the army failed to separate the two groups, with tragic consequences,” she noted.

“In the last two days we have seen chaos in central Cairo, and one of the prime drivers of this chaos seems to have been the actions of Egypt’s security and intelligence services,” the human rights chief said, calling on the authorities to ensure that the security and intelligence forces stop undermining security.

Ms. Pillay also called for an impartial investigation into whether the violence was planned and if so by whom. She cited assaults, intimidation and the arbitrary detention of journalists and human rights defenders – actions which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday called “outrageous.”

“All journalists and human rights defenders who were arrested for practicing their professions must be released immediately and unconditionally. The authorities must order their security and intelligence forces to cease this extreme harassment at once,” she said, calling on the authorities to keep communications and internet services open and protect media premises.

They must “halt all activities aimed at restricting or manipulating the free flow of information, such as the extraordinary hijacking of Vodaphone’s system in order to send propaganda text messages,” she added.

The UN agency entrusted with defending press freedom also condemned the attacks on journalists.

“Silencing the media or attempting to intimidate them is an unacceptable assault on the right of citizens to be informed,” the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, said in a statement. “I call on all in Egypt to respect the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of information.”

Ms. Pillay stressed that governments should listen to their people and address human rights failings at once.

“Waiting until unrest actually happens is, as we have seen in Tunisia and are now seeing in Egypt, not only perpetuating systems that to a greater or lesser degree transgress international laws and standards, it is also a classic case of acting too little, too late,” she said, adding that the world now sees that there is an intense hunger for human rights in the Middle East and North Africa, and elsewhere.

“Governments who ignore these extremely loud and clear warning signals, are doing so at their own peril,” she said.