U.N. rights boss urges Bahrain to rein in forces

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 21, 2011 11:22 AM
U.N. rights boss urges Bahrain to rein in forces

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - Bahrain must rein in its security forces after allegations they had killed protesters and attacked medical workers, the top U.N. human rights official said on Thursday.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay voiced alarm at what she called the illegal "military takeover of hospitals" in the kingdom, where Bahraini forces used tanks and helicopters on Wednesday to drive protesters off the streets.

"There are reports of arbitrary arrests, killings, beatings of protesters and of medical personnel, and of the takeover of hospitals and medical centers by various security forces," she said in a statement. "This is shocking and illegal conduct."

Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge, said those who carried out these alleged acts, even under the orders of a superior, could be held criminally liable.

The reported violations against pro-democracy activists related to Bahraini police, defense forces and troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council's Peninsula Shield Force, she said.

Some 1,000 Saudi soldiers and 500 United Arab Emirates police officers entered Bahrain this week.

"I urge the government not to use force against unarmed protesters, to facilitate medical treatment for the injured, to disarm the vigilante groups, including security officials wearing plain clothes, and I also urge the protesters and the government to engage in immediate dialogue for meaningful reforms and an end to violence," Pillay declared.

Bahrain arrested at least six opposition leaders on Thursday, a day after its crackdown on protests by the Shi'ite Muslim majority drew rare U.S. criticism and raised fears of a regional conflict.

Pillay said her office had received allegations that "automatic weapons may also have been used to shoot live ammunition at protesters and passers-by."

Plainclothes security personnel had also been seen using "clubs, knives, swords and rocks to attack protesters."

She had reports that security personnel had physically attacked medical workers at Manama's main hospital and were "preventing staff and patients from entering or leaving."

There were fears that critically injured patients dependent on ventilators might die unless power was quickly restored at the hospital, she said, citing reports that electricity had been cut there on Wednesday.

Bahraini forces had blocked ambulances from transporting injured civilians to medical facilities and attacked a number of villages, according to allegations received by her staff.

Pillay also voiced concern at a three-month state of emergency declared by Bahrain's king this week and said that it was "no justification" for killings, torture or other abuses.

(Editing by Robert Woodward)