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February 1, 11

NEWS / UN officials urge Egyptian authorities to heed call for democracy, human rights

1 February 2011 – United Nations officials, including its human rights chief, today voiced alarm at the high number of casualties amid the protests in Egypt, while calling on the country’s authorities to heed the demands of the people for democratic reform and respect for human rights.

“The popular movement in Egypt, unprecedented in recent decades, has for the most part been carried out in a courageous and peaceful manner,” said Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“The whole world is watching how the President and the reconfigured Government will react to the continuing protests demanding a radical change to a wide range of civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights,” she said.

Ms. Pillay deplored the rising number of casualties, saying unconfirmed reports suggests that as many as 300 people may have been killed so far, over 3,000 injured and hundreds arrested. She urged authorities to ensure police and other security forces avoid excessive use of force, and warned against arbitrarily detention of people for expressing their political opinion.

The fact that the Egyptian Government has maintained an emergency law for 30 years was an indication of its disregard for human rights, she stated, while speaking out against the withdrawal of the police from the streets at the weekend, a factor she said led to widespread looting.

Ms. Pillay urged governments in the region and around the world to take note of the fact that genuine and lasting stability does not arise from suppression of dissent, but is built on the respect of human rights and democratic principles.

For her part, Irina Bokova, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), called for protecting the freedom of expression as well as Egypt’s cultural heritage.

She expressed concern for the reported inference with the flow of information and freedom of the press in Egypt, citing the blocking of the Internet and reports that a number of journalists have been arrested and their equipment confiscated.

“It is crucial that both national and foreign press be allowed to perform their duty of informing the public from an objective perspective,” the Director-General stressed. “Preventing the media from doing their job will not restore calm or create the conditions necessary for constructive dialogue.”

She also noted that Egyptian cultural heritage, both its monuments and its artefacts, are part of the ancestral heritage of humanity. “The value of the 120,000 pieces in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is inestimable, not only in scientific or financial terms, but because they represent the Egyptian people’s cultural identity,” she added. Over the weekend, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Egypt’s leaders to take some “bold measures” to address the concerns of the scores of thousands of people who have been demonstrating for change, stressing at the same time that the protests must be peaceful.


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