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UN Rights Chief Seeks Investigation of Egypt Clashes

  • Lisa Schlein

Pro-government supporters are restrained by soldiers just outside Cairo's main square, Feb. 3, 2011

Pro-government supporters are restrained by soldiers just outside Cairo's main square, Feb. 3, 2011

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights is calling for an international investigation to determine whether Egypt's security forces instigated violence that disrupted protests in Cairo and other cities in Egypt this week.

U.N. Human Rights chief Navi Pillay says she is alarmed by what took place in Cairo and other Egyptian cities this week. She says police were noticeably absent Wednesday and Thursday, when supporters of President Hosni Mubarak clashed with demonstrators demanding that President Mubarak step down.

Pillay says the army failed to separate the two groups, with "tragic consequences." At least eight people died and nearly 900 were injured in two days of fighting around Tahrir Square in Cairo.

“In the last two days, we have seen chaos in central Cairo, and one of the prime drivers of this chaos seems to have been the actions of Egypt’s security and intelligence services," she said. "I urge the authorities to make a strong, clear and unequivocal call on the security and intelligence forces that have protected the authoritarian regime in Egypt for the past 30 years, to stop undermining the security of the state they are supposed to serve.”

Pillay urged Egyptian authorities to heed the voices of those who are asking for human rights and democracy.

She condemned the physical assaults, intimidation and detention of dozens of journalists, which she called a "blatant attempt to stifle news of what is going on in Egypt."

Some of Egypt’s leading activists were detained, as well as staff of two highly respected organizations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

“All journalists and human-rights defenders who were arrested for practicing their professions must be released immediately and unconditionally," Pillay said. "The authorities must order their security and intelligence forces to cease this extreme harassment at once. I also urge the authorities to maintain open communications and Internet services, protect media premises, and halt all activities aimed at restricting or manipulating the free flow of information.”

In a joint statement in London Friday, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said more than 30 human-rights activists, journalists and lawyers have been missing since they were arrested in a raid Thursday at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center in Cairo. Witnesses said they saw a military unit leading the detainees away.

The U.N. High Commissioner says change is coming to Egypt, as it has come to Tunisia, but the violence and bloodshed must stop now. Pillay urged all governments to listen to their people and practice their human-rights obligations.

Slide show on Egyptian protests

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