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Press briefing on the Middle East and Côte d’Ivoire by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

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Excerpted from the regular press briefing by the Information Service, UN Office at Geneva

Middle East

Rupert Colville of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the Office had been receiving reports of an escalation in the human rights violations in a number of countries in the Middle East, where the governments appeared to be continuing to deal with protests through increased repression and use of lethal force, rather than through dialogue, negotiation and real reforms.

Syria

Mr. Colville said that OHCHR had been receiving reports from human rights sources about the shelling of the Bab Amr district of Homs on Wednesday. In addition, it had received reports that many Syrian opposition leaders and activists had been arrested throughout the country. Reports of non-governmental organizations suggest that somewhere between 700 and 850 people had been killed since the start of the protests on 15 March and thousands of other people had reportedly been arrested. OHCHR could not verify these numbers for sure, but believed they were likely to be close to reality. These were extremely worrying reports and OHCHR urged the Government to exercise restraint, cease the use of force and of mass arrests to silence opponents.

With regards to the fact-finding mission to Syria, Mr. Colville said OHCHR had been in contact with the Syrian Government, both orally in Geneva and through a written approach to the Government in Damascus, seeking their full cooperation on the Human Rights Council-mandated fact-finding mission to assess the situation in Syria. Meanwhile, OHCHR was preparing for this high-level mission, which would be headed by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Kyung-wha Kang, and should be ready to deploy as soon as it was granted access. The mission planned to go both to Syria itself and to neighbouring countries. The Secretary-General had also called President Assad and urged him to cooperate with the OHCHR mission.

Yemen

Mr. Colville said that OHCHR had been following with great concern the reports of more human rights violations and continued killings in Yemen. While its staff had been working to get independent verification of the precise facts, the situation had been very difficult to assess from a distance. This was why OHCHR has been seeking access into the country, and just on Thursday it had received written confirmation from the Permanent Mission of Yemen in Geneva welcoming OHCHR's visit. They had suggested a visit at the end of June, but OHCHR stood ready to deploy urgently so that its human rights officers could independently assess the situation.

Bahrain

Mr. Colville said that OHCHR continued to receive reports indicating that the hundreds of individuals, including medical professionals, politicians and human rights defenders arrested in connection with the protest movement, were being denied their fundamental legal rights to due process. OHCHR had worrying reports of severe torture and that so far, four detainees had died while in custody.

OHCHR reiterated its call to Bahraini authorities for prompt, impartial and transparent investigations into these allegations of grave human rights violations. It was deeply concerned about the reported scale of arbitrary detention and of the trials of civilians before military courts, leading to life imprisonment and death sentences.

Côte d'Ivoire

Mr. Colville said that the human rights division of the UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire had been visiting detention facilities to monitor the treatment of pro-Gbagbo individuals who were arrested last month along with the former president. They were monitoring the situation of detainees in Pergola, Bouake, Korhogo, Odienne and Bouna. Difficult conditions of detention had been observed during a visit this week to Bouna, where seven individuals (including Mr. Gbagbo’s son and the president of the former ruling party) were being detained. Security was very lax so that FRCI elements had been able to enter the facility and threaten the detainees.

The human rights division of the UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire had so far been granted access only to those who were in detention in Bouake, where the conditions of detention were also of concern, and in Bouna, in the northeast of the country. OHCHR was discussing ways to gain free access to all those arrested in relation to the post-electoral crisis.