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Yemen: UN human rights chief warns against use of force

GENEVA (1 March 2011) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Tuesday warned Yemeni authorities against violent repression of planned mass peaceful protests, and called on the Government to protect the rights of demonstrators and journalists under international law.

Noting reports that opposition protestors have called for a “Day of Anger” today, the High Commissioner urged all parties to exercise restraint and to respect the right to life and the freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

“People have the legitimate right to express their grievances and demands to their Government,” she said, denouncing previous violence against protestors in Yemen which is reported to have resulted in a number of deaths and injuries.

“We have seen over and over again in the past few weeks that violent responses, in breach of international law, do not make the protestors go away and only serve to exacerbate their frustration and anger,” Pillay added.

The High Commissioner also cited reports of attacks, intimidation and harassment against local and international journalists covering the protests, as well as the arrest and detention of journalists and human rights defenders. She was particularly concerned about reports of enforced disappearances of political activists and called for immediate clarification on the whereabouts of individuals recently transferred to Sanaa from Aden.

“The authorities must release all individuals arrested for demonstrating peacefully, and human rights defenders and journalists must be protected as they carry out their important work,” she said.

“Those who are responsible for public security must understand that their actions are governed by international law and they can be held personally accountable for breaches. As a general rule, army units with no training or equipment to deal with street protests should not be deployed in cities. If there is no alternative, they should be under the tight control of qualified officers.”

Pillay also called on the opposition protestors not to resort to violence. She further expressed concern that medical personnel were allegedly denied access to treat injured protestors during earlier protests.

She called for a meaningful, broad and inclusive dialogue in Yemen to chart a way forward that respects the human rights aspirations of the people.

“Across the Middle East and North Africa, people have been taking their governments to task. The only way forward is to listen to them and grant them their due rights to participate in the decisions that deeply affect their lives,” she said.

OHCHR Country Page – Yemen: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/MENARegion/Pages/YEIndex.aspx

Log on to OHCHR website: http://www.ohchr.org

For more information or interviews, please contact spokesperson Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 or rcolville@ohchr.org) or press officers: Ravina Shamdasani (+ 41 22 917 9310 or rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9383 or xcelaya@ohchr.org)