Rights groups urge UN action on Mideast 'repression'

6th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Human rights groups on Wednesday stepped up pressure for action by the UN rights council on the popular unrest in the Middle East, warning in particular that a crackdown in Bahrain had reached critical levels.

The groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), called in a statement for a special session by the 47-member council on the situation in Syria, adding to similar calls in recent weeks on Yemen and Bahrain.

They also expressed disappointment at weak Western backing for such moves despite European and US-led action by the council on Libya, Ivory Coast and Iran in recent months with the support of Arab, African or Islamic states.

"It's time to say that the council has to react to these other situations and it has to do so rapidly before we lose another opportunity of putting pressure on these governments to stop the repression," said Julie de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at HRW.

"A large number of critics are under arrest in Bahrain, the climate of fear is extensive and there needs to be an international response," she told journalists.

"And equally we haven't seen a reaction by the Human Rights Council to the continued repression of protestors and critics in Yemen and also in Syria."

HRW researcher Fahraz Sanei said opposition figures, protesters, medical staff, academics and students, or even sympathisers who had been interviewed on Al-Jazeera or CNN, faced arrest in swoops by security forces, travel bans and even sacking from their jobs with Bahraini companies.

"What I want to stress more than anything is that the situation in Bahrain is right now really critical and what we are seeing since March 15 is really an ongoing systematic crackdown and repression against any sort of opposition," added Sanei, who said he returned from the Gulf kingdom two days ago.

The UN's International Labour Organisation also expressed alarm at "widespread discrimination" against leaders and members of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions, including "dismissals of activists and other repressive measures".

The ILO said director general Juan Somavia had written to Bahrain's government urging "immediate and firm actions to ensure that workers and their unions in Bahrain do not face any further form of unfair, unjust and degrading treatment for having expressed their legitimate rights."

The Gulf Cooperation Council grouping Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates on Saturday accused Shiite Iran of "meddling" in Bahrain, plotting against the security of Sunni monarchies and fanning confessional discord.

Rights campaigners rejected claims that discontent was largely down to sectarian influence and insisted that it reflected a genuine mass movement for democratic reform in Arab nations especially among younger people.

Jeremie Smith of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies felt that key European nations were too easily swayed by geopolitical fears.

"They're lagging behind," he explained. "They're still in the old mindset, that it's about security concerns."

© 2011 AFP

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