Activists urge U.N. rights council to meet on Yemen

By Robert Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) – A coalition of global campaign groups on Monday urged the U.N. Human Rights Council to call a special session on what they called a rights crisis in Yemen.

The coalition, including non-government organisations (NGOs) from sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt, spoke out as Syria, also currently the scene of violent suppression of protesters, set out its case for election to the 47-nation council.

The NGOs said Yemeni authorities were responsible for “grave human rights violations, including the right to life” in seeking to quell mass demonstrations against the 32-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The situation in the country “is representative of a pattern of wide-scale violations of fundamental rights and freedoms…. which need to be dealt with urgently by the international community,” they declared.

New York-based Human Rights Watch and London-based Amnesty International were among signatories of the appeal. Last Friday the council ended a four-week sitting with no discussion of Yemen, Bahrain or Syria despite the violence in all three.

But just before the sitting, a special session requested mainly by European and Latin American countries suspended the council membership of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, the first time it had taken such an action since being set up in 2006.

Bahrain is currently a member of the rights body, which is effectively controlled by a bloc of developing countries who usually combine to protect each other and their non-member allies from criticism. Yemen is not in the council.

But Syria, where 61 people have been killed in the last 10 days of anti-government protests, is campaigning hard to be elected a member by the U.N. General Assembly in June when several countries’ memberships run out.

In a note circulating among diplomatic missions in Geneva, Syria argues that it has “worked consistently on advancing the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms” as an integral part of domestic and foreign policy.

To get a special session of the council, at least 16 member countries have to make a formal request, and there was no immediate indication whether such a move on Yemen — or Bahrain or Syria — would have enough backers.

All three have strong supporters there including Saudi Arabia and other members of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) — which abandoned Gaddafi last month even though Libya is in the grouping.

Last Thursday the council set up a special investigation into rights in Iran, another OIC state that has tense relations with many Arab states, in a U.S-backed move seen — along with Libya’s ejection — as signaling a diplomatic shift in the body.

Activists urge U.N. rights council to meet on Yemen