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Pillay denounces violence by security forces in Libya, Bahrain and other countries in Middle East and North Africa

GENEVA (18 February 2011) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday condemned as illegal and excessively heavy-handed the response of a number of governments in the Middle East and North Africa to the legitimate demands of their people.

“The use of lethal force by security personnel in Libya has reportedly led to the death of more than 20 protestors,” Navi Pillay said. “This is a country where the human rights situation has generally been very closed to international scrutiny, including by us, but much of the population seems nevertheless to have the same human rights aspirations as people everywhere else.”

Pillay expressed 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.

“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,” she said.

She cited reports of killings of peaceful protesters, 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.”

Pillay 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 expressed serious concern at recent remarks made by some parliamentarians in Iran calling for the execution of opposition leaders. Pillay said dialogue with political opponents is far more effective than their arbitrary detention in creating a stable society.

Pillay cited three core principles drawn from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that must guide the responses to protests in the region: the freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly; the right to life, liberty and security; and that the “will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of the Government.”

“The people of the Middle East and North Africa cannot be denied these basic freedoms. The protestors’ calls for justice, respect for personal freedoms and human rights, for legal and political reforms in this regard, are reasonable and legitimate,” Pillay said. “Governments need to be responsive. By resorting to oppressive security measures, they will only foment more frustration, more anger, more instability, which is certainly not in the national interest.”

Pillay observed that the economic and financial crisis has brought to the surface increasing demands for an accountable and responsive government. With the high number of unemployed youth, many ordinary people have joined the demands for social justice and political freedoms. Government responses comprised of temporary economic and social measures in recent weeks were not enough, she added.

“The Middle East and North Africa region is boiling with anger”, Navi Pillay said.

“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. The resources available in the region must be used to advance the rights of all, without discrimination, and not to benefit only a few. There is an urgent need for legal, economic and political reforms.”

The High Commissioner reiterated her call for all parties to exercise restraint. She called for independent, impartial investigations into the reported violations.

ENDS

For further information and media requests, please contact OHCHR media officers Ravina Shamdasani on +41 22 917 9310 or rshamdasani@ohchr.org or Xabier Celaya on +41 22 917 9383 or xcelaya@ohchr.org