Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for an immediate end to violence against peaceful protesters in Bahrain and said he would be contacting leaders in the Middle East and North Africa to urge them to institute bold reforms, not repression.
“I am disturbed by all these violent means of trying to disperse demonstrators, the freedom of expression, freedom of access to information, particularly the journalists,” he told reporters at United Nations Headquarters in New York.
“Here as elsewhere, violence should not be used against peaceful demonstrators and against journalists. It must stop. Those responsible must be brought to justice. In responding to peaceful protests, authorities have an obligation to respect human rights. There should be no violence from any quarter. I urge all parties to exercise restraint.”
According to media reports from Bahrain, riot police swinging clubs and firing tear gas smashed into demonstrators, many of them sleeping, in a pre-dawn assault in the main square of Manama, the capital.
In the latest of many statements he has made in the past month, which has seen the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt ousted by popular protests and similar largely peaceful demonstrations erupt against long-term leaders in half a dozen other countries, Mr. Ban reiterated UN calls to regional rulers to listen attentively to their people and respond to their legitimate aspirations.
“I will be reaching out again in the days ahead to leaders in the region to reiterate that message. I will say it once again: the situation calls for bold reforms, not repression,” he said. “Sustainable progress can take root in places where people are empowered, where governments are responsive, where growth is inclusive.”
Calling the recent developments in North Africa and the Middle East “extraordinary,” with people standing up to voice their legitimate aspirations and civil society and young people leading the way, he stressed that while each country is unique and each situation is different, there are common challenges and important principles to uphold.
“Throughout this period, the United Nations has been clear and consistent in supporting basic human rights and freedoms,” he said. “Above all, we have insisted on respect for the rights of peaceful protest and assembly, freedom of the press and access to information.”
Noting that transitions have been initiated or reforms promised in a number of countries, Mr. Ban underscored the crucial need that leaders deliver on those pledges. He welcomed public commitments made in Egypt, where long-term President Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down last week, to hold free and transparent elections and enact measures enabling them, all as part of a transition to democratic, civilian rule.
“Those commitments must be fulfilled,” he said. “There must be no turning back. For many years, the United Nations has pointed to the problems which have now come so forcefully to the surface. Both the leadership and the citizens of each country have a responsibility to work together, starting now. The United Nations not only stands ready to help, but we are actively preparing to provide any assistance that may be requested.”
Meanwhile, a group of UN experts warned today that the transition process in Egypt should not distract from punishing human rights violations that occurred during the protests, noting that up to 365 people, including 32 police officers, were killed and some 5,500 injured, 1,000 of them police.
“Accountability efforts to ensure justice for violations committed should form part of the long- term democratic reforms to fulfil the aspirations of the Egyptian people,” they said in a news release. “We urge the authorities to investigate the extent and incidents of violence including as a result of excessive use of force by security officials, officials who ordered use of live ammunition and acts of violence between the pro- and anti-government protesters.”
The experts were: Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns; Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue; Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment Juan Méndez; and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.