U.N. rights body urged to act on Syria, Bahrain, Yemen

By Robert Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) – Violent repression in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen must be addressed urgently by the United Nations Human Rights Council, a coalition of global advocacy groups said on Wednesday.

“The situation is deteriorating fast as the Bahraini, Syrian and Yemeni authorities use violence to try to stem the wave of popular protests in the Middle East and North Africa,” said Julie de Rivero of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The 19-member coalition, which also includes Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists, said only quick action by the council could put an end to what they called widescale violations of rights by governments and security forces in all three countries.

“It is the responsibility of the Human Rights Council to remind all states that fierce repression of generally peaceful protests is contrary to the human rights obligations of these governments,” said statement from the coalition.

A majority bloc of developing countries in the 47-nation council normally prevents any criticism of its members and allies, but the forum surprisingly agreed at the end of February to suspend the membership of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya.

Rivero and Jeremie Smith of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said the main barrier to getting the rights body into session was the failure of the European Union and the United States to decide on their stance.

“If the Europeans and the Americans supported the move, we think there would be enough other council members going along to get a session called,” Smith told a news conference. At least 16 countries on the body would need to back the move.

Bahrain is currently a member of the council, and Syria is bidding strongly to join in May.

SHIFTS

After its suspension of Libya, the council narrowly voted at its spring session in March to appoint a special investigator on the rights situation in Iran, while setting aside a controversial annual resolution condemning “defamation of religion.”

“This shows there are shifts in the council,” said Smith. “If it could take a firm stand on Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, it would certainly cause all three to think again about what they are doing.”

The government of Bahrain says the island state is calm after it broke up a permanent protest in the center of the capital, Manama, last month. It is currently firing hundreds of workers who took part in the protests.

Gulf Arab states are seeking to draw the administration of Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose 32-year rule protesters want to end, into talks with the opposition. More than 100 people have died in violence over the past month.

In Syria, the government of President Bashar al-Assad, on Wednesday announced reforms aimed at placating conservative Muslims in a bid to end weeks of unrest across the country during which dozens of people have died.

(Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Jeffrey Heller)

U.N. rights body urged to act on Syria, Bahrain, Yemen