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UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urges Government restraint and respect for human rights in Egypt

GENEVA (28 January 2011) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Friday urged the Government of Egypt to exercise restraint and protect the rights of its citizens to freedom of expression, information and assembly in line with the country’s legislation and international human rights law.

“It has been brought to my attention that since the street protests erupted, police have confronted protestors with rubber-coated bullets, tear gas, water cannons and batons, and arrested more than 1,000 people, including political opponents,” she said.

“While maintaining rule and order are important, the responsibility of the Government to protect the rights to life, liberty and security is paramount.”

Ms. Pillay also noted reports of blocked Internet access and mobile service interruptions, as well as harassment of journalists and photographers.

“I call on the Government to take concrete measures to guarantee the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, including by restoring free use of mobile phones and social networks,” she said.

The High Commissioner called on the Government to initiate investigations into reports of the use of excessive force, particularly the killing of at least five and possibly more civilians, and to ensure justice, truth and reparations for victims and their relatives.

Drawing attention to the fact that Egypt’s emergency law has been in force for almost 30 years, she called for it to be lifted, stressing the importance of accountability and the rule of law in creating a stable society.

“I believe the lifting of the emergency law is long overdue and it lies at the root of much of the frustration and anger that has now boiled over into the streets,” she said.

She welcomed calls by the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights for an open dialogue including all political parties and social groups to formulate steps to end poverty and fight corruption.

“People must be entitled to express their grievances against violations of their civil and political rights as well as their frustrations at lack of realisation of their economic rights, the right to work and the right to an adequate standard of living,” the High Commissioner added.

“And governments in the region and around the world must take heed. Suppressing citizens’ voices, silencing dissent and stifling criticism will not make the problems go away. Recent events in the region highlight the fact that tackling serious problems by resorting primarily to high-handed security measures only causes them to fester and eventually erupt on a large scale.”

For further information and media requests, please contact OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9310)