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OHCHR Press briefing note: Yemen, Bahrain and Syria

Spokesperson: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva

22 March 2011

(1) Yemen

We are alarmed about the situation in Yemen, where there is now a state of emergency and armed clashes. We remind the Government that fundamental rights, such as the right to life, and freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, cannot be derogated from under any circumstances, even in a public emergency.

We deplore the reported killing of dozens of peaceful protestors last week, including reportedly by snipers shooting from rooftops. We note that the killings have been condemned by some members of the Government and some parts of the army in Yemen. We also note the call for an independent investigation into the killings, particularly during the protests at University of Sana’a on Friday. All such violations of human rights must indeed be investigated by independent and impartial mechanisms.

The Government’s decision to deport two Al Jazeera correspondents on Saturday 19 March is also a matter of concern. We have seen a lot of suppression of the right to freedom of expression in the region and remind governments of the need to protect all fundamental rights, even in unstable times. We are also concerned about another Al Jazeera crew which is allegedly being held by government forces in Libya, and urge their immediate release.

(2) Bahrain

The situation in Bahrain remains very worrying with more people reported killed and between 50 and 100 reported missing over the past week. Two of those who had earlier been missing have now reportedly been found dead. There are also disturbing reports that people who have spoken on the record to media have been detained and threatened, and some may be fearing reprisals. Those arrested are reported to include political activists, human rights defenders and doctors and nurses from the Salmaniya hospital. Some, including female nurses, have been released quite quickly, others have not. Many of those who have been reporting on the situation to the outside world have had their communications cut, and in some case the mobile phones of their close relatives have also been cut off. This is making it quite hard to sort out what precisely is going on, especially in the villages outside the capital Manama, mostly inhabited by Shia

Since we issued our press release last Thursday, we have been inundated with emails, telling us we have got it all back to front, and the protestors are the ones who are completely at fault. Many of these emails are very similar in content, suggesting an orchestrated campaign. That said, some or even many of the emails may well be genuine. It is clear that everyone in Bahrain is to a greater or lesser degree concerned about by what has been going on. However, the most traumatized people are those whose colleagues, friends and relatives have been killed, injured, harassed, intimidated, beaten, or have been arrested or gone missing.

It is vital that the authorities scrupulously abide by international standards. People should not be arbitrarily arrested and should not be detained without clear evidence that they have committed a recognized crime. We stress again that demonstrating peacefully is not a crime. Giving an interview to a journalist is not by any stretch of the imagination a crime, nor is reporting human rights abuses.

People should not be beaten or otherwise physically abused by security forces.

Injured people should not be prevented from receiving medical care. Security forces should only use live fire in very circumscribed circumstances laid down in the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials.*

(3) Syria

A total of six people are reported to have been killed by security forces in the southern city of Daraa since Friday, when thousands took to the streets following Friday prayers, calling for greater political freedom and an end to corruption. The government responded forcefully and it has been reported that security forces first used teargas and water canon and later used live ammunition against the protesters, killing at least four people and wounding others.
On Saturday 19 March, Security forces used teargas to disperse mourners who had gathered for the funeral of two of the men killed the previous day.

On Sunday 20 March, thousands of protesters again took to the streets in Daraa. Security forces again responded by using teargas and live ammunition against the protesters, killing at least one person. In addition, a boy injured in one of the incidents over the weekend reportedly died of his wounds yesterday.

We are greatly concerned by the recent killings of protesters in Syria and reiterate the need to put an immediate halt to the excessive use of force against peaceful protesters. Especially the use of live ammunition.

The use of excessive force constitutes a clear violation of international law, which provides for individual criminal responsibility for violations committed.

People have the legitimate right to express their grievances and demands to their Government, and we urge the Syrian Government to enter into a broad, meaningful dialogue with the protesters in an attempt to address those grievances.

The government should carry out an independent, transparent and effective investigation into the killings of the six protesters during the events of 18 and 20 March.

* Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials - Adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, 27 August to 7 September 1990: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/firearms.htm

* Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials - Adopted by General Assembly resolution 34/169 of 17 December 1979: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/codeofconduct.htm