General: Time’s running out for civil society in the Middle East, says GCHR report on closure of civic space


A report by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) prepared for the UN Human Rights Council’s 39th session says, “The emerging constraint on activism and advocacy for human rights in countries across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is the closure and absence of civic space.”

The report - “Time is Running Out: Civic Space Closing Rapidly in the Middle East” - notes, “Civic space constitutes the room for activism and also the grounds on which freedoms are institutionalised and protected by engagement with the public. The lack thereof and imposed restrictions on civic space in the region is a direct factor behind the wider public disengagement with human rights violations and violent government crackdowns on human rights defenders.”

The report is a follow up to discussions about civic space at the Gulf and Neighbouring Countries Platform in January 2018 and during the civic space conference that GCHR convened in August 2017 with key international and regional civil society organisations. During both events, participants surveyed the state of civic space in the region by identifying threats and closure tactics, and presented recommendations to protect civic space.

In 2018, civic space became even more closed in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, although civic space is closed or closing in most countries across the MENA region. In Iraq, there is more freedom but popular protests have been met with violence and demonstrators have been killed and journalist arrested as the authorities struggle to control the outbreaks. The four countries provide some useful examples of the types of repression occurring and are featured in the report.

The report notes that according to CIVICUS Monitor Ratings, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are rated ‘closed’ which indicates that civic space is not sanctioned legally or by practice. Another three countries, Iraq, Qatar and Oman, are ‘repressed’ and this implies that there is a window for activism, however, it is subject to the same highly repressive measures as in ‘closed’ countries. Kuwait, Lebanon and Jordan are ranked as ‘obstructed’, where civil society organisations may operate but civil society faces a combination of legal and practical constraints. GCHR is a partner of the CIVICUS Monitor, reporting on the Gulf and neighbouring countries (see map of the region above.)

For the full report in English click here.

GCHR and partners are holding the following side events during the 39th session of the HRC, taking place at the Palais des Nations, in Geneva:

  • A side event on “Accountability and the need to end impunity for human rights violations in Yemen” organised by CIVICUS, FIDH, GCHR and CIHRS in cooperation with Mwatana for Human Rights on 10 September 2018 at 12:00-13:00 in Room XXIV.
  • A side event on “Saudi Arabia’s 3rd Cycle UPR: A refusal to reform” organised with ADHRB and other partners on 11 September at 12:00-13:00 in Room XXIII
  • A side event on Bahrain which will take place on 12 September 2018 at 10:00-11:00 in Room XXIV.
  • A side event on WHRDs in Saudi Arabia will be held on 14 September 2018 at 14:00-15:00 in Room XXV.