The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] on Tuesday expressed concern [UN News Centre report] over violence against protesters in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen [BBC backgrounders]. Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the OHCHR, held a press briefing [text] detailing human rights violations in the three nations. Speaking on Bahrain, but summarizing the UN's feelings on alleged abuses in all three nations, he said:
It is vital that the authorities scrupulously abide by international standards. People should not be arbitrarily arrested and should not be detained without clear evidence that they have committed a recognized crime. We stress again that demonstrating peacefully is not a crime. Giving an interview to a journalist is not by any stretch of the imagination a crime, nor is reporting human rights abuses.The OHCHR voiced similar concerns [UN News Centre report] last week toward all three nations. The UN has received reports in Bahrain of arbitrary arrests of political activists, human rights defenders, doctors and nurses; 50100 people missing; and allegations that protesters are orchestrating such events to smear the government. A report [text] was also released stating that UN human rights experts question the Bahraini government's commitment to human rights. In Syria, reports revolve around security forces responding aggressively and in some cases killing protesters. The UN's concerns in Yemen surround the same issues, with the addition of the deportation of two Al Jazeera [media website] reporters. Also on Tuesday, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh [official website] offered to resign from office [Al Jazeera report] by the end of the year.
There have been varied protests and government reactions in all three nations throughout March. Opposition leaders were arrested in Bahrain [JURIST report] after the government, backed by foreign troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) [official website], violently dispersed protesters in the capital of Manana last week. Days before, Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa [official website] declared [JURIST report] a three-month state of emergency [decree text, in Arabic] in response to growing unrest in the island nation. The state of emergency came just days after a group of 22 Bahraini lawmakers, part of an independent pro-government bloc, called on the King to impose martial law under articles 36 and 123 of the Bahraini Constitution [text, PDF]. A military court in Syria [JURIST report] sentenced a human rights activist accused of harming the country's relations with Iran to 18 months in prison. Ali Abdullah's sentence was based on allegations that he made critical comments against Iran [AP report], thereby harming Syria's relations with a foreign country. In an interview last month, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad indicated he would push for political reforms including municipal elections and a new media law [Guardian report]. Saleh recently declared [JURIST report] a state of emergency [text, in Arabic] in Yemen. The state of emergency will last 30 days and gives security forces greater powers to maintain order and also includes a ban on citizens carrying arms in public. This followed a promise the week before to create a new constitution [JURIST report] guaranteeing parliamentary and judiciary freedoms. Protests, largely organized by the Joint Meeting Party (JMP), have been ongoing in Yemen since February, calling for Saleh to step down.