General: Gulf Centre for Human Rights Annual Report says human rights defenders are in peril across the region

23.02.16

As wars and conflict rage across the region, human rights defenders are at risk says the fourth Annual Report of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), “Human Rights Defenders in Prison and in Peril throughout the Gulf and Neighbouring Countries”. This report outlines GCHR’s work in 2015 and the main issues faced by human rights defenders in ten countries in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries as they bravely carry out their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities at great personal risk.

According to our research based on documentation, missions and interviews, human rights defenders face increased harassment, intimidation, arrest, detention and torture as a result of their human rights work. Many prominent human right defenders remain in detention and are subjected to inhumane prison conditions as well as ill treatment at the hands of prison authorities. Freedom of expression continues to be seriously curtailed throughout the region and the exercise of this fundamental right has led to hundreds of arrests and judicial harassment throughout 2015.

Rather than protecting human rights defenders and promoting their work at a time when their role in peacebuilding is so desperately needed, the authorities have passed new laws such as cyber-crime laws, and clamped down on on-line expression, curtailing digital rights.

Maryam Al-Khawaja, GCHR Co-Director said, "At a time when there is so much focus on radicalisation and extremism, while reducing support for civil society, it is crucial to understand that grassroots civil society and human rights defenders are at the forefront of fighting these negative tendencies. It is when they are silenced, imprisoned or killed that there is more space for extremism. What the Middle East needs is more support for civil society and for those who are putting their lives on the line for the sake of human rights and fundamental freedoms. That is the main component to fight radicalization and extremism, not more violence and arms sales."

The report notes that despite this challenging environment human rights defenders continue their work tirelessly, refusing to be silenced through intimidation, harassment or detention.

Not only that, human rights defenders sounded a few notes of hope. Upon receiving the International Hrant Dink Award, Saudi human rights defender Samar Badawi said, “What motivates me more to survive is my responsibility, not only for raising my children, but also the responsibility of changing the dark reality in which we live now in order to build a future of justice, freedom and equality for all Saudi citizens. Remember that history does not forget, it will exalt those who have fought for freedom and cast aside the memory of those who succumbed to a life of humiliation and servitude.” Badawi is under a travel ban and has spent time in jail for her human rights activities. 

“Nothing, not even our 100,000 deaths or harsh siege, or betrayal of the international community can ever defeat the will of people who have a dream and faith in the future,” said Razan Zaitouneh, a Syrian human rights defender prior to her abduction in December 2013. She has been enforceably disappeared since then with three colleagues from the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC), Samira Khalil, Nazem Hamadi and Wa’el Hamada, her husband.

“Do not give up. Standstill. Continue the struggle for human rights, justice and the values of freedom. Keep your voices free. Chant everywhere, because your voices are respected by everyone, as long as you chose to fight in the path of freedom to fulfill our dream,” said Hussain Jawad, head of the European-Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR), writing from prison. Jawad was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison on 15 December by a Lower Criminal Court in Manama, based on a confession he says he made while being tortured at the notorious Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID).

2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights and there is an international UN campaign to ensure their ratification and promotion. Let it be an opportunity for the authorities in Gulf and neighbouring countries to improve the human rights situation and ensure a safe environment for human rights defenders.

GCHR Co-Director Khalid Ibrahim concluded, “The GCHR Annual Report for this year shows the need for the international community including the UN system and governments that have influence in the region to take actions that enhance the protection of human rights defenders.”

GCHR, an independent NGO founded by human rights defenders from the Gulf region in 2011, documents the environment in which human rights defenders work in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), as well as Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Syria. See: gc4hr.org

For the full Annual Report Click HERE. It is also available in Arabic.