GENEVA (29 January 2013) - The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed alarm on Tuesday at the spreading violence and increasing number of deaths in Egypt, and urged all parties to conduct a serious dialogue in order to halt the exasperation and dangerous polarization underlying the current protests.
Pillay also called on the Government “to urgently rethink its responses to the unrest which have ranged from excessive use of force on the one hand, to complete failure to protect people, especially women, on the other.”
“As the tragic events over the past few days have shown, Egypt remains extremely fragile and unstable, and I urge the Government to make a much stronger effort to accommodate opposing points of view, and take concrete actions to address public concerns,” Pillay said. “This is necessary to increase nationwide participation and ownership of the constitutional, institutional, economic and legal reforms. Each missed opportunity to reach national consensus, and each example of excessive use of force by security forces, is aggravating an already frighteningly tense and volatile situation.”
The High Commissioner called on all sides “to refrain from resorting to violence and to resolve their differences peacefully, without compromising the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
The situation in Egypt deteriorated dramatically on January 24, when thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to commemorate the second anniversary of the revolution. According to official sources, at least 10 people were killed, and hundreds injured in Cairo. Two days later, controversy surrounding a court decision led to violence erupting in the three towns of Port Said, Suez and Ismailia, resulting in another 38 deaths. Four more people were killed in Port Said on Sunday and at least one more person was killed on Monday in Cairo, taking the total to at least 53. While at least two policemen are among those killed,preliminary unconfirmed reports suggest that most of the casualties have been caused by live fire and excessive use of tear gas by the authorities.
Some 25 female demonstrators are also reported to have been sexually assaulted in Cairo’s Tahrir square over the past few days, in some cases with extraordinary violence.
“There have a number of well publicized incidents of sexual assault in Tahrir over the past 18 months,” Pillay said. “I deplore the fact that sexual violence is permitted to occur with apparent impunity in a public square, and that the authorities have failed to prevent these attacks or to bring more than a single prosecution against the hundreds of men involved in these vicious attacks. There has also been far too little effort to grapple with the sexual harassment and sexual violence taking place in a number of Egyptian cities.”
“I urge the Government to take urgent measures to ensure that law enforcement personnel never again use disproportionate or excessive force against protestors, firstly because it is illegal to do so, and secondly because it is likely to make the situation even more explosive,” Pillay said. “At the same time, it is unacceptable and a dereliction of duty not to intervene when protestors are being attacked by thugs and when women are being raped and sexually assaulted.”
“I call for immediate investigations into the latest incidents as well as a thorough review of police tactics during the management of demonstrations,” the High Commissioner added.
On January 27, President Morsi declared a state of emergency and a curfew in Ismailia, Suez and Port Said districts for 30 days.
Pillay noted that this state of emergency should be governed by the rule of law, in line with international standards, and underlined the importance of judicial oversight to make sure that it has been lawfully declared and that human rights are protected.
She stressed that under international law, even in times of emergency, no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life or be subject to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Everyone deprived of their liberty must be treated humanely and afforded all the judicial guarantees under international law. A person must be presumed innocent of an offence until proven guilty. Also no advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred should take place. Persons belonging to minorities must be protected.
While welcoming Monday’s call for dialogue by President Morsi, the High Commissioner urged him to “listen to the demonstrators’ demands, tackle grassroots problems, address key issues raised by the opposition with regard to the recently adopted constitution and to take immediate measures to solve the numerous serious problems currently affecting the judicial system.”
She noted that involving all stakeholders in reviewing current draft legislation on demonstrations, associations, and access to public information would be an important first step towards a sustainable democracy.
“These are all matters of fundamental importance if Egypt is to find its way back to stability and national unity,” she said.
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