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Bahrain / Libya: UN experts urge authorities to guarantee right to protest without fear of being injured or killed

GENEVA (Friday 18 February 2011) – A group of UN human rights experts* urged Friday the Governments of Bahrain and Libya to guarantee the right to peaceful protest and immediately cease the use of excessive and lethal force.

“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,” stated the experts.

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, as well as hundreds of people injured as a result of disproportionate and lethal force.

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

“When Governments authorise lethal force to suppress the peaceful voice of dissent, such conduct violates their international obligations. The Governments of Bahrain and Libya must honour their commitments to respect the right to life of their people,” Mr. Heyns said.

Beatings and other acts of ill-treatment by security officials causing severe pain and suffering, including long-term physical harm, have also been reported.

Given the number of people who have been injured and are in critical condition, the experts urged authorities to ensure access to immediate medical care to avoid the death toll rising further.

Demonstrators have gathered across the country in Bahrain and Libya since 14 and 15 February respectively, calling for democratic reforms and respect for human rights.

“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. He also called upon the authorities to ensure that journalists can work safely and freely to inform the public locally and globally of what is happening, and that all means of communication, including the internet, remain open and accessible.

In Libya, reports indicate that a number of protesters have been arrested by security officials. “The authorities of Libya and Bahrain must ensure that the demonstrators are not arbitrarily detained,” urged the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, El Hadji Malick Sow.

In light of the recent wave of demonstrations in the region, the group of UN independent experts reiterated their call to the authorities to ensure that the right to demonstrate peacefully is fully guaranteed, and to take concrete steps to address the concerns of the people, rather than suppressing their voices with force.

(*) Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Frank La Rue; Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Christof Heyns; Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms. Margaret Sekaggya; Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Juan Mendez; Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Mr. El Hadji Malick Sow.

For recent statements by UN human rights experts on the situation in Northern Africa and the Middle East, see:

· Egypt: “Transition process should not overshadow accountability”, available at http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10735&LangID=E

· Governments must pay more attention to people’s voices - UN experts: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10703&LangID=E

The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Mr. Christof Heyns (South Africa): http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/executions/index.htm

The Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Frank La Rue (Guatemala): http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/religion/index.htm

The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Juan Méndez (Argentina): http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/torture/rapporteur/index.htm

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms. Margaret Sekaggya (Uganda): http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/defenders/index.htm

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is comprised of five independent experts: the Chair, Mr. El Hadji Malick Sow (Senegal), Mr. Roberto Garreton (Chile), Ms. Shaheen Sardar Ali (Pakistan); Mr. Mads Andenas (Norway) and Mr. Vladimir Tochilovsky (Ukraine): http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/detention/index.htm

For more information and media requests, please contact Momoko Nomura (Tel.: + 41 22 917 9304 / email: mnomura@ohchr.org) or write to freedex@ohchr.org