UN Rights Chief Condemns Violence Against Protesters in Middle East, North Africa

NEW YORK–(ENWESPF)–18 February 2011 – The United Nations human rights chief today denounced the violence by security forces against protesters in Libya, Bahrain and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa as illegal and excessively heavy-handed.

“The nature and scope of the human rights violations taking place in several countries in the region in response to those who are largely demonstrating peacefully for their fundamental human rights and freedoms is alarming,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stated in a news release.

Ms. Pillay voiced deep regret for the deaths in recent weeks of protestors in Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, adding that she was particularly troubled by targeted attacks by security forces on certain professions.

In addition to the killings of peaceful protesters, she also cited reports of arbitrary arrests and detention followed by torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary banning of demonstrations, and suppression of freedom of expression by banning, closing down or imposing restrictions on the media and on Internet access.

“Particularly egregious are the targeted attacks on journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders and even, in the case of Bahrain, doctors and medical personnel attending to injured protestors.  The reported use of plainclothes security officials against opposition protestors is very worrying.”

The High Commissioner condemned the use of live ammunition in recent days against peaceful protestors in Libya, the use of electric tasers and batons in Yemen, and the use of military-grade shotguns in Bahrain.

She also expressed serious concern at recent remarks made by some parliamentarians in Iran calling for the execution of opposition leaders.

“The Middle East and North Africa region is boiling with anger,” Ms. Pillay noted. “At the root of this anger is decades of neglect of people’s aspirations to realize not only civil and political rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights… There is an urgent need for legal, economic and political reforms.”

Also speaking out today is a group of independent UN experts who urged the Governments of Bahrain and Libya to immediately halt the use of excessive force and guarantee the right to peaceful protest.

“We are alarmed and shocked by the number of peaceful protesters who have been injured or killed in both countries during the violent crackdown by the authorities,” the experts stated in a news release.

Reports indicate that seven protesters have died in Bahrain in the past few days and at least 24 in Libya, with some sources reporting up to 50 deaths. Beatings and other acts of ill-treatment by security officials causing severe pain and suffering, including long-term physical harm, have also been reported.

“People must be able to express their legitimate grievances through public and peaceful demonstrations without fear of being injured, beaten, or killed,” stressed Frank La Rue, UN expert on freedom of opinion and expression.

“Excessive use of force is never an option and is never justified in controlling peaceful demonstrations,” warned the UN Rapporteur on summary executions, Christof Heyns. “Those responsible must be held accountable.”

Also adding their voices to the statement are the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya; the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Mendez; and the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Anand Grover; and the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, El Hadji Malick Sow.

The demonstrations calling for democratic change in Bahrain, Libya and other countries in the region follow popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt over the past month that led to the ouster of long-time rulers there.