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Press briefing note on Yemen, Syria and Bahrain

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
27 May 2011

The dangerous escalation of violence in Yemen over the past few days is very alarming, especially given that the Government and opposition were so close to an agreement. We have received reports of dozens of civilian casualties, including women and children, in the fighting over the past few days and are working to confirm this information as best we can. There are also reports of shelling by Government troops in residential areas. We are deeply concerned that such violence may be pushing the country to the brink of a civil war. We call on the Government to stop the excessive and disproportionate use of force, to stop targeting activists, human rights defenders and journalists, and to seriously investigate all allegations of crimes committed by security forces.

As we mentioned before, the Government has extended an invitation to OHCHR to conduct a mission at the end of June but we are seeking access earlier than that. We are in discussions with the Government on the terms of reference of the mission.

(2) Syria
We have still not had a response from Damascus to our official request for access sent on 6 May, but remain in dialogue with the Syrian Permanent Mission here. We sent a second official letter on 20 May informing the Government of the composition of the mission, including the fact that it would be headed by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Kyung-wha Kang. We also informed them of our intention to first visit neighbouring countries as well, and that we planned to begin the mission to Syria itself on 6 June.

Meanwhile, we remain deeply concerned about the situation on the ground. Reports keep coming in of excessive use of force against demonstrators, and we have seen videos of beatings and sniping in the streets, reports of a campaign of detention of opposition and human rights activists , and incidents of torture and ill-treatment of those detained. There are also allegations of killings by armed groups sponsored either by alleged external forces, or by operatives close to the regime. There is much conflicting information out there, and we urge the Government to grant us early access into the country to help clarify the issues.

(3) Bahrain
The Government of Bahrain has agreed in principle for us to deploy an assessment mission to the country and we welcome this. We have been seeking access into Bahrain for quite some time, precisely so we can assess the situation independently. As we prepare for this mission, we continue to receive reports about ongoing dismissals of people from their jobs, as well as trials of individuals, for their political views and for participating in the demonstrations earlier this year. According to NGO reports, the total number of detainees stood at more than 1,000, including 40 women, as of 18 May 2011. Some 59 people, including one woman, remain unaccounted for. We hope to be able to further investigate these reports once our delegation is in the country.

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)