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UN human rights chief alarmed by military takeover of hospitals in Bahrain

GENEVA (17 March 2011) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Thursday she was deeply alarmed by the escalation of violence by security forces in Bahrain, in particular the reported takeover of hospitals and medical centres in the country, which she called shocking and a blatant violation of international law.

“My office has been receiving desperate calls and emails from numerous individuals in Bahrain, terrified about the armed forces’ intentions,” she said. “There are reports of arbitrary arrests, killings, beatings of protesters and of medical personnel, and of the takeover of hospitals and medical centres by various security forces. These reportedly include Bahraini police, defence forces and troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Peninsula Shield Force. This is shocking and illegal conduct. Police and armed forces must immediately leave health-care facilities and cease their harassment and intimidation of health professionals.”

Pillay cited worrisome reports that electricity at the main hospital in Manama was cut on Wednesday and that security personnel were physically attacking medical workers, and preventing staff and patients from entering or leaving. Medical workers in Bahrain told Pillay's staff on Wednesday afternoon that critically injured patients dependent on ventilators might die unless power was quickly restored.

“Reports that Government forces blocked ambulances from transporting injured civilians to medical facilities on 15 and 16 March are very disturbing,” she said. “Governments are obliged to protect the rights to life and health of the people, but we are hearing very credible reports indicating that they are in fact obstructing access to such rights.”

Bahraini police reportedly attacked a number of villages, including Sitra, Ma'amer, Ali, Buri, Salmabad, Nuwaidrat, Bani Jamra and Duraz on 15 March, and the protest camp on Pearl Roundabout on 16 March, using tear gas, rubber bullets and shotguns. It is alleged that automatic weapons may also have been used to shoot live ammunition at protesters and passers-by. Plainclothes security personnel have also reportedly been using clubs, knives, swords and rocks to attack protesters.

The High Commissioner noted with concern that the King of Bahrain on Tuesday introduced a three-month state of emergency. She reminded the authorities that fundamental rights, such as the rights to life, and to be secure from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, cannot be derogated, even in a public emergency.

“As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Bahrain must remain aware of its obligations – a state of emergency is no justification for arbitrary deprivation of human rights, including the means to sustain life,” Pillay said.

She warned all members of security and armed forces currently in Bahrain that their actions are governed by international law, which provides for individual criminal responsibility for violations committed even under superior orders.

“I urge the Government not to use force against unarmed protesters, to facilitate medical treatment for the injured, to disarm the vigilante groups, including security officials wearing plain clothes, and I also urge the protesters and the Government to engage in immediate dialogue for meaningful reforms and an end to violence,” Pillay said.

END

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

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 )