Qaṭar: Civil Society Curtailed in Saudi Arabia & Qatar


Geneva, 10 March 2016 - The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) in co-operation with CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Human Rights Watch and FIDH held a well-attended side event, entitled “Civil Society Curtailed in Saudi Arabia & Qatar”, during the 31st Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) on 09 March 2016. The side event was chaired by John Fisher, the Geneva Director of Human Rights Watch.

The side event was opened by Fisher, who introduced the two speakers and stressed that the lack of civic space is a global problem, and then welcomed attention to these issues in the Gulf region.

A barrister from the United Kingdom who conducted a GCHR human rights mission to Qatar, spoke about the findings of the report, entitled “Qatar, civil society and human rights: Lack of civil society space hinders work of human rights defenders”. The Barrister stated that “Qatar is a wealthy country with ambitions of playing a leading role in the international affairs of the Gulf region and beyond.” He added that “the best way it could play that role is by being an international leader in human rights. By starting to allow human rights defenders to work safely in an open civil society, Qatar can provide significant leadership by example across the entire region.”

Maryam Al-Khawaja, GCHR Co-Director, described the ongoing legal targeting of human rights defenders, as detailed in the upcoming GCHR report “Silenced Voices: The legal targeting of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia”. Al-Khawaja also talked about the massive human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and the need for the UNHRC to take serious action, while calling on Saudi Arabia’s responsibility to uphold its human rights obligations as a member of the HRC.

The meeting concluded with an informative question and answer session about possible mechanisms for accountability, and clarifications about the situation of human rights defenders and civil society in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Copies of GCHR’s reports were distributed during the event. Visit GCHR’s website at to download and read the reports: