Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Violent Crackdown on Protests in Egypt

Four United Nations human rights experts have voiced alarm at the violent crackdown against protesters in Egypt that has led to the deaths of at least 20 people, urging the country’s interim authorities to engage in dialogue ahead of next week’s parliamentary elections.

More than 1,700 others have been injured since Saturday in the clashes between security forces and demonstrators, according to media reports, with Cairo the focus of the violence.  In a statement issued in Geneva the independent UN human rights experts expressed concern both at the degree of violence and the deterioration of the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on summary executions, said the use of lethal force should not be an option when controlling demonstrations. “Dissent must be tolerated and not restrained with excessive force, which can lead to loss of life,” he said. “I strongly urge the security forces to exercise the utmost restraint to avoid the escalation of violence and take immediate measures to protect the right to life of the demonstrators.”

Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, described that right as a “cornerstone of democracy.”  He said it was essential that diverse views, including criticism of authorities, can be expressed peacefully in Egypt, where the long-standing regime headed by Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February after weeks of protests.

Parliamentary elections, originally scheduled to take place in September, are now slated to begin next Monday and continue in a series of stages through January 2012.

“At its current historic juncture, the interim authorities should encourage plural voices to be heard, including through human rights NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and the media, particularly in light of the upcoming parliamentary elections,” said Mr. La Rue.

Human rights defenders are especially important in promoting and consolidating democratic life, according to Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.  She called on Egyptian authorities to “create an enabling environment so that human rights defenders can carry out their activities.”

Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, stressed that the violence must end immediately.  “An independent investigation should be immediately initiated into the cause of death and escalation of violence.”

Earlier this month the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) voiced concern at what it called “a diminishing public space for freedom of expression and association in Egypt.”

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

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