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Press briefing notes Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Briefing notes on Libya and Bahrain

30 August 2011

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Subjects: Libya and Bahrain

30 August 2011

(1) Libya
We are extremely alarmed by the emerging reports of atrocious human rights violations in Libya, including what appear to be mass summary executions, mostly apparently carried out by the forces of the Gaddafi government during the last few days before they lost Tripoli. We are also deeply concerned about reports that there are still thousands of people unaccounted for who were arrested or taken prisoner by Gaddafi security forces either earlier in the conflict, or before it even started. Given the gruesome discoveries that have taken place over the past few days, there is good reason to be extremely concerned for their safety. We urge any members of the former regime in a position to reveal where prisoners have been held to do so, before more lives are lost.

It is of utmost importance that these crimes - as well as other serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law - are properly documented and investigated, as the first steps towards accountability and justice for the victims and their families. The Commission of Inquiry for Libya, whose mandate continues until March will undoubtedly examine all such reports. During the second phase of its work, the Commission will be supported by a team of OHCHR staff.

We once again urge both sides to exercise restraint and refrain from committing further human rights violations or acts of retaliation.

(2) Bahrain
We continue to receive reports of the repression of small protests in Bahrain, and understand that at least 264 cases involving protestors remain pending before the courts, many of whom may be tried in the Court of National Safety, which is effectively a military court.

We stress that civilians must be tried in civilian courts and that every detained person must be charged with a recognizable criminal offence, with adequate access to a lawyer and enough time to prepare a defence. We are concerned that most of the defendants in these cases may be prisoners of conscience, detained only for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association. All such detainees must be released. We also call on the Government to release the names of all those arrested since March 15, including their places of detention and details on the charges and status of their trials.

Thousands of employees have allegedly lost their jobs because of their alleged participation in anti-government protests. We call on the national authorities to order the immediate reintegration of such individuals and to ensure that they are compensated for their lost income.
In response to a question about the nature and conviction rate of the Court of National Safety:
The Bahraini authorities issued a decree establishing the Court of National Safety in March. The Court is headed by a military judge, along with two civilian judges. All three judges are directly appointed by the Bahraini Defence Force commander-in-chief, while the cases are prosecuted by the military public prosecutor. According to our sources, defendants have had limited access to lawyers, and in most cases, lawyers did not have enough time to prepare their respective client’s defence properly. OHCHR has even received reports of detainees calling their families a day before the hearing asking them to appoint a lawyer.

The Court of National Safety has issued harsh sentences against protesters with charges ranging from participating in an illegal gathering, or expressing hatred of the government, to actual crimes such as murder and destruction of property. The sentences imposed have ranged from one year to life imprisonment. According to our sources, nearly 124 cases brought before that court have received verdicts so far. These include two people who were sentenced to death, 16 who were fully acquitted, and seven others who were acquitted of some charges but convicted of others.

For more information or media requests, please contact spokesperson Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / [email protected]) or press officers Ravina Shamdasani (+ 41 22 917 9310 / [email protected]) and Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected]).

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