01 February 2011

Rights groups speak out on Egyptian protests

Things remain volatile in Egypt, where protesters have been filling the streets for several days calling for President Hosni Mubarak to resign. The military is even involved at this point. It's become violent. Some protesters have been killed. And, so far, Mubarak has shown no intention of leaving.

Human rights groups have been weighing in on the protests, defending the people's right to demonstrate, and condemning what appears to be unnecessary violence against the protesters.

Joe Stork, Deputy Middle East Director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), observed that "[p]olice and plainclothes agents seem to be shooting people without justification, using live bullets or firing teargas canisters straight at protesters." Stork called for those using excessive force be held to account, along with those giving the orders to shoot, "no matter how senior."

Amnesty International (AI) has also condemned Egyptian security forces' "disproportionate and unnecessary use of live rounds and lethal force against protesters." Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, called on the Egyptian authorities to "rein in the security forces to prevent bloodshed."

AI has pointed out that under international law "police may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty. In particular, they must not use firearms against persons except in self-defense or defense of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury."

Some groups are calling on the Obama administration to take a tougher stance on the situation.

HRW has "urged the United States to immediately suspend all assistance to and cooperation with Egyptian law enforcement agencies because of the suspicion they opened fire on peaceful protesters."

According to Neil Hicks, International Policy Advisor for Human Rights First (HRF), "The Obama administration must signal that it has turned the page from the old policy of toleration of oppression by its Egyptian ally in the name of stability. As well as being contrary to principles of universal human rights and democracy which the administration has pledged to uphold everywhere, recent events in Tunisia and now in Egypt have shown that repression does not bring stability."

These are valid expectations indeed. However, we must keep in mind that the Obama administration is itself continuing many of the Bush administration's post-9/11 policies of repression and intimidation here at home, and may appear to be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Talk, as they say, is cheap.

But, in cases like this, it is better than silence.

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