ISSN 2330-717X

Bahrain: UN Human Rights Chief Alarmed Security Forces Invade Hospitals

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The United Nations human rights chief today voiced alarm over the escalation of violence by security forces in Bahrain, particularly the reported takeover of hospitals and medical centres in the country, which she said was shocking and a blatant violation of international law.

Bahraini authorities have intensified a crackdown against demonstrators after weeks of mass protests by people calling for political reform in the Middle Eastern kingdom.

“My office has been receiving desperate calls and emails from numerous individuals in Bahrain, terrified about the armed forces’ intentions,” said Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a press release.

“There are reports of arbitrary arrests, killings, beatings of protesters and of medical personnel, and of the takeover of hospitals and medical centres by various security forces. These reportedly include Bahraini police, defence forces and troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Peninsula Shield Force.

“This is shocking and illegal conduct. Police and armed forces must immediately leave health-care facilities and cease their harassment and intimidation of health professionals,” she added.

She noted with concern that the King of Bahrain on Tuesday declared a three-month state of emergency. She reminded the authorities that fundamental rights, such as the rights to life, and to be secure from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, cannot be derogated, even in a public emergency.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also noted with concern that troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council, had reportedly entered Bahrain.

Ms. Pillay said there were reports that electricity at the main hospital in Manama, the capital, was cut on Wednesday and that security personnel were physically attacking medical workers, and preventing staff and patients from entering or leaving.

Medical personnel in Bahrain told staff of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) yesterday that that critically injured patients who were dependent on ventilators might die unless power was quickly restored.

“Reports that Government forces blocked ambulances from transporting injured civilians to medical facilities on 15 and 16 March are very disturbing,” she said. “Governments are obliged to protect the rights to life and health of the people, but we are hearing very credible reports indicating that they are in fact obstructing access to such rights,” said Ms. Pillay.

Bahraini police reportedly attacked a number of villages, including Sitra, Ma’amer, Ali, Buri, Salmabad, Nuwaidrat, Bani Jamra and Duraz on 15 March, and the protest camp on Pearl Roundabout on 16 March, using tear gas, rubber bullets and shotguns.

There have been allegations that automatic weapons may also have been used to shoot live ammunition at protesters and passers-by. Plainclothes security personnel have also reportedly been using clubs, knives, swords and rocks to attack protesters, according to Ms. Pillay’s statement.

“As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Bahrain must remain aware of its obligations – a state of emergency is no justification for arbitrary deprivation of human rights, including the means to sustain life,” said Ms. Pillay.

She warned all members of security and armed forces currently in Bahrain that their actions are governed by international law, which provides for individual criminal responsibility for violations committed even under superior orders.

“I urge the Government not to use force against unarmed protesters, to facilitate medical treatment for the injured, to disarm the vigilante groups, including security officials wearing plain clothes, and I also urge the protesters and the Government to engage in immediate dialogue for meaningful reforms and an end to violence,” said the High Commissioner.

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