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Joint NGO Letter: Call for Urgent Debate on the Human Rights Situation in Bahrain

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Letter from Civil Society Organizations to State Representatives

18 March 2011


As human rights non-governmental organizations we express our deep concern over the current  human rights emergency in Bahrain and request the United Nations Human Rights Council (the Council) to hold an Urgent Debate on that situation during the Council’s current 16th regular session (28 February – 25 March 2011). The systematic use of excessive force by Bahraini security forces constitutes a human rights emergency, and the Council has a solemn duty to react promptly to it.

In mid-February 2011, Bahraini security forces used excessive force, including lethal force, against peaceful protesters calling for political reforms. Seven protesters died as a result and scores were injured. Clearly identified medical workers were targeted by police while trying to help protesters wounded by the security forces. After a respite in the use of violence against peaceful protesters by the authorities, on March 15, in response to continuing largely peaceful protests and following the arrival in Bahrain of Saudi Arabian troops and Emirati police to bolster the government, the King of Bahrain declared a three-month State of Emergency, thereby giving Bahrain military forces wide powers to suppress protests.

The same day, security forces used excessive force against protestors in Sitra using shotguns, tear gas and rubber bullets, killing two protestors and wounding scores of others, some of whom were then barred from accessing medical treatment at Sitra’s medical centre. Ambulance and medical staff were also again subjected to attack and assault by security forces and prevented in some cases from assisting the wounded.

On 16 March, military and police forces launched a further operation to clear protestors who had set up camp in Manama’s Pearl Roundabout area again using excessive, including lethal force. A further six people were killed on 16 March, including protestors and members of the security forces as what had started out as peaceful protests became violent clashes between security forces and protestors and spread to predominantly Shi’a neighborhoods and villages in and around Manama. The security forces used shotguns, tear gas and are reported to have fired at peaceful protestors using live ammunition.  State media reported that Pearl Square was being “cleansed.”

On 16 March, Bahrain security forces also blockaded Manama’s main al-Sulaymania hospital preventing access by the wounded and are alleged to have fired tear gas into the hospital, prevented the entry or exit of medical staff, and cut off the hospital’s electricity supply. Ambulances were impeded from transferring the injured. Doctors and nurses report that many of the injuries they have treated resulted from the use of live ammunition. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called these acts “shocking and a blatant violation of international law” in her press release issued on 17 March 2011.

The escalating use of excessive and lethal force against largely peaceful protestors, including the use of live ammunition, rubber bullets, tear gas and beatings, since the current round of protests began on 14 February 2011, has resulted in at least a dozen deaths and hundreds of injured. The targeting of medical facilities and attacks on medical personnel by state security forces which began shortly after 14 February, has intensified as part of the current crackdown, hindering the ability of the wounded to obtain treatment. It has also made it difficult for journalists and human rights defenders to gather information on the precise numbers of killed and wounded.

Human rights defenders have come under increasing attack over the last week. On 10 March, 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. On 17 March, seven leading political opposition activists calling for political reform were arrested and have been arbitrarily detained; their whereabouts are currently unknown.

The grave human rights violations being carried out by the government of Bahrain against pro-democracy protestors violates contravenes many universal human rights standards and Bahrain’s obligations under the ICCPR and the ICESR, including the right to life, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of movement, and the right to health. It is incumbent on the members of the Council to ensure that the Council fulfil its duty to respond promptly to this human rights emergency by urgently examining the allegations of grave human rights violations being carried out by the government of Bahrain, and taking steps to prevent violations from continuing. We urge the Council to hold without delay an Urgent Debate on the human rights situation in Bahrain.


  1. The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
  2. The African Democracy Forum
  3. Amnesty International
  4. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  5. The Asian Legal Resource Centre
  6. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  7. Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, Argentina
  8. CIVICUS-World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  9. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
  10. Conectas Direitos Humanos, Brazil
  11. Corporacion Humanas, Chile
  12. Democracy Coalition Project, United States
  13. East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project
  14. Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights, Egypt
  15. Human Rights Watch
  16. International Commission of Jurists
  17. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  18. International Service for Human Rights
  19. Partnership for Justice and Human Rights Agenda, Nigeria
  20. West African Human Rights Defenders Network