General: On the 70th anniversary of the UDHR, GCHR calls upon governments in the Gulf and neighbouring countries to allow human rights defenders to work freely and safely


In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a milestone in the history of human rights which was enacted by the United Nations on 10 December 1948, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) recalls that our heroic colleagues have faced lengthy prison sentences, torture, threats and death simply for carrying out their human rights activities peacefully, and legitimately. We ask supporters to tweet in support of the UDHR: #STANDUP4HUMANRIGHTS

Human rights defenders and journalists have been murdered with impunity and GCHR calls for full investigations of their deaths, including those who died in targeted killings, such as Abdulkarim Al-Khaiwani and Mohammed Al-Abbsi in Yemen; Suad Al-Ali, Arkan Sharif and Samira Saleh Al-Naimi in Iraq; and Basil Khartabil and Raed Fares in Syria among so many others.

We must also mention the courageous defenders who have raised the banner of the UDHR in recent years particularly after the so-called Arab spring. They worked very hard in an impossibly hostile environment and were treated worse than criminals, ending up in prison on fabricated charges, usually following show trials on charges using anti-terrorism and cyber crimes laws.

We remember on this historic day the detained human rights defenders in Bahrain, including GCHR’s Founding Directors Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, serving a life sentence, and Nabeel Rajab, serving seven years in prison for reporting on human rights violations. Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace and Naji Fateel are also wrongfully imprisoned and have been tortured in Bahrain.

On 10 December, we call for freedom human rights defenders in the United Arab Emirates, including GCHR Advisory Board Member Ahmed Mansoor, as well as Dr. Mohammed Al-Roken, Dr. Mohammed Al-Mansori, Dr. Nasser Bin Ghaith and Osama Al-Najjar.

On 09 December, people around the world remembered Razan Zaitouneh, Samira KhalilNazem Hamadi and Wa’el Hamada, kidnapped in Douma, Syria five years ago.  

In Oman, where independent newspapers have been closed, we call on the authorities to stop detaining online activists and writers. We call for an investigation into the death of human rights defender Hassan Al-Basham in prison while serving his three-year sentence for his writings.

In Iran, many human rights defenders are in prison for defending the rights of women and children, the environment, and minorities, as well as for fighting against the death penalty. Atena DaemiNargess Mohammadi and Nasrin Sotoudeh, are among the many Iranian women persecuted or jailed for long sentences for defending women’s rights. Dr. Farhad Meysami and Reza Khandan remain in prison for defending the rights of women not to wear forced hijab.

Finally, we continue to call for an end to the arbitrary arrests of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, including those calling for women’s rights. Almost 20 women’s rights defenders have been arrested in Saudi Arabia and at least 14 remain in prison: Loujain Al-Hathloul, Dr. Eman Al-NafjanAziza Al-YousefHatoon Al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Nassima Al-Sadah, Ibrahim Al-Modaimeegh, Mohammad Al-Rabea, Abdulaziz Al-Mesha'al, Ibrahim Fahad Al-Nafjan, Mohammed Al-Bajadi, Nouf Abdulaziz, Mayya Al-Zahrani and Amal Harbi. As well, Israa Al-Ghomgam, who was arrested in 2015, is on trial and facing the death penalty for protesting. Naima Al-Matrod is serving a six-year sentence handed down on 10 November 2017 for her activism. Other Saudi defenders remain in prison on lengthy sentences including Raif Badawi, Walid Abu Al-Khair, Abdullah al-Hamid and Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani.

We call on all signatories to the UDHR, and all state parties to the UN, including those who are members of the UN Human Rights Council, to undertake the following:

  • Public recognition, by the highest State authorities, of the importance and legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders, and a commitment that no violence or threats against them will be tolerated, including by non-state actors;
  • Repealing any State legislation or elimination of any measures intended to penalise or obstruct the work of human rights defenders, including through arrests and lengthy prison sentences;
  • Immediately and unconditionally releasing all human rights defenders, journalists and online activists jailed in violation of their rights to free expression, assembly and association;
  • Strengthening of State institutions responsible for safeguarding the work of human rights defenders;
  • Investigating and punishing any form of violence or threat against human rights defenders, including in relation to reprisals for engaging with the UN System, and;
  • Signing on to the UDHR without reservations and committing to uphold all its articles.