Call for Urgent Debate on the human rights situation in Bahrain at the 16th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council

Press release

As human rights non-governmental organizations we express our deep concern over the grave human rights situation currently occurring in Bahrain, and request the United Nations Human Rights Council (the Council) to hold an Urgent Debate on the situation in Bahrain during the ongoing 16th Session (DATES) of the Council. The Human Rights Council has a solemn duty to react to human rights emergency situations; failure to do so in relation to Bahrain would only encourage other governments to carry out grave and widespread rights violations to suppress similar calls for democratic reform in other countries.

On March 15, in response to peaceful protests, the King of Bahrain declared a three month State of Emergency, giving Bahrain military forces wide powers to suppress protests. On March 16, military and police forces in Bahrain, supported by foreign military forces from the Golf Cooperation Council, began a brutal, wide-scale crackdown on legitimate peaceful protests of Bahraini citizens seeking democratic and constitutional reform within their country. Hundreds of Bahraini riot police and military forces attacked protesters in Manama’s Pearl Square firing buckshot and tear gas canisters and resulting in the deaths of at least two protesters and the injury of hundreds. State media reported that Pearl Square was being “cleansed.” The crackdown was expanded the same day to include five villages. The government of Bahrain appears to be carrying out the crackdown along sectarian lines.

The escalating use of excessive force against peaceful protestors, including from live ammunition, rubber bullets, tear gas and beatings, since the current round of protests began on 14th February, 2011, has resulted in a rapidly increasing number of deaths and injuries. The targeting of medical facilities and attacks on medical personnel by state security forces which began shortly after February 14, has been accelerated as part of the crackdown, hindering the ability of human rights defenders to gather information on the precise numbers of killed and wounded.

On 16 March, Bahrain security forces imposed a blockade on and take-over of major hospitals to prevent them from treating the wounded, surrounding some hospitals with tanks, particularly Al-Sulaymania hospital near Pearl Square. Additionally, there are reports that Al-Sulaymania hospital was attacked with tear gas, and that Bahraini medical staff attempting to some hospitals have been beaten by Bahrain security forces. Electricity has been reportedly cut off to some hospitals. Ambulances are also impeded from transferring the injured. Testimonies from doctors and nurses state that many of the injuries they have treated resulted from the use of live ammunition. On 17 March, a press release issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called these acts “shocking and a blatant violation of international law.”

Also on March 16, at least seven leading human rights defenders and politicians calling for reform were arbitrarily arrested. Human rights defenders have come under increasing attack over the last week. On March 10th, text messages were circulated in Bahrain calling for three prominent human rights defenders to be killed. The message included the addresses and other details of the human rights defenders and copies of their ID cards. It is suspected that internal security agents in Bahrain were involved in this act of incitement.

The grave human rights violations being carried out by the government of Bahrain against unarmed civilians violates fundamental human rights standards and democratic principles, and threatens the stability of the country. It is incumbent on the member states of the Council to fulfill their duty to urgently investigate and address allegations of grave human rights violations being carried out by the government of Bahrain, and take steps to prevent violations from occurring. As such, we call on the Council to take immediate steps to call for an Urgent Debate on the human rights situation in Bahrain.

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