The United Nations human rights chief today warned Yemeni authorities against violent repression of planned mass peaceful protests, and called on the government to protect the rights of demonstrators and journalists under international law.
“People have the legitimate right to express their grievances and demands to their government,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in a press release in which she also denounced previous violence against protestors in Yemen, which is reported to have resulted in a number of deaths and injuries.
Yemen is one of several countries in the region that has experienced protests calling for democratic change, following popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt that led to the ouster of long-time rulers there.
Noting reports that opposition protestors in Yemen have called for a “Day of Anger” on Tuesday, Ms. Pillay urged all parties to exercise restraint and to respect the right to life and the freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.
“We have seen over and over again in the past few weeks that violent responses, in breach of international law, do not make the protestors go away and only serve to exacerbate their frustration and anger,” Ms. Pillay said.
She cited reports of attacks, intimidation and harassment against local and international journalists covering the protests, as well as the arrest and detention of journalists and human rights defenders.
The High Commissioner was particularly concerned about reports of enforced disappearances of political activists and called for immediate clarification on the whereabouts of individuals recently transferred to the capital, Sana’a, from the port city of Aden.
“The authorities must release all individuals arrested for demonstrating peacefully, and human rights defenders and journalists must be protected as they carry out their important work,” she said, noting the importance of those responsible for public security understanding that their actions are governed by international law and they can be held personally accountable for breaches.
“As a general rule, army units with no training or equipment to deal with street protests should not be deployed in cities,” Ms. Pillay said. “If there is no alternative, they should be under the tight control of qualified officers.”
Calling for a “meaningful, broad and inclusive dialogue” in Yemen to chart a way forward that respects the human rights aspirations of the people, she also urged opposition protestors not to resort to violence and expressed concern that medical personnel were allegedly denied access to treat injured protestors during earlier demonstrations.
“Across the Middle East and North Africa, people have been taking their governments to task,” Ms. Pillay said. “The only way forward is to listen to them and grant them their due rights to participate in the decisions that deeply affect their lives.”