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Broken promises in Bahrain – UN experts question Government’s human rights commitments

GENEVA (22 March 2011) – “From security to the freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression, the Government of Bahrain has ignored key human rights commitments made a month ago,” warned Tuesday a group of UN independent experts*. “These promises have been broken, and the authorities have embarked on a path of multiple human rights violations amidst a dramatic deterioration of peace and security in the country.”

“In light of the discrepancies between reality and expectations, the Government’s commitments are in question,” the experts said recalling two official statements in response to condemnations by the UN human rights chief and experts in relation to the crackdown against peaceful protestors: ‘The Government of Bahrain’s immediate priority is to keep peace and security’ and ‘The people are now able to demonstrate freely on the Pearl Roundabout and can continue to do so.’

The Special Rapporteur on arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, condemned the persistent use, on an even more intensive scale than one month ago, of the brutal tactics to quash non-violent protests. “This is happening despite the Government’s promises and in clear violation of the right to life and international principles on the use of force,” he stressed. “Public order cannot be sustained by attacking peaceful crowds and unarmed civilians with shotguns, rubber bullets, clubs, tear gas and knives.”

Since February 2011, the Government has promised to have an open dialogue with opposition members, noted the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, “but how is it possible to have any genuine exchange of views when people have guns directed at them?”

“By crushing the voices of peaceful protesters with brute force, rather than addressing their legitimate concerns, the Government is only aggravating the situation,” he said, a position also supported by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya.

In the past week, human rights organizations and the media have documented increased incidents of serious human rights violations in the capital, Manama. The Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Méndez, demanded an immediate stop to the violations and described “the appalling killing and ill-treatment of protestors, including those in hospitals, and the targeting of medical personnel and journalists” as “completely unacceptable.” He called on the Government to take immediate action to start an investigation and prosecution of those responsible, in line with Bahrain’s international obligations.

“The reports of takeovers of hospitals and medical centres by security forces, blocking access to life-saving medical treatment, and the targeting of medical workers is deeply distressing,” affirmed the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Anand Grover. “The Government of Bahrain must respect the right to health by not interfering with the provision of medical treatment or denying or limiting access to health facilities.”

On his part, the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, El Hadji Malick Sow, called on the authorities “to immediately release all those detained in relation to their peaceful activities in the context of the protests.”

The independent experts recalled that, while the imposition of a state of emergency permits temporary derogation of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, it must not be used as a means to prevent the exercise of this right. The task of the new mandate established by the Human Rights Council on the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association will be to report on violations of these fundamental rights and make recommendations on means to ensure their protection. “The full support of the international community will be needed to carryout this important function,” said the experts.

The experts will continue to scrutinize the situation.

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

For earlier statements by UN human rights experts, see:

Bahrain / Libya: UN experts urge authorities to guarantee right to protest without fear of being injured or killed:
http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10737&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

Human Rights Council resolution 15/21 establishing a new mandate on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association:
http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/RES/15/21

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

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