General: GCHR Platform calls for freedom for detained human rights defenders in the Gulf and Neighbouring Countries
At a public event organised by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) in Beirut on 19 January 2019 participants called for dozens of women and men human rights defenders in the Gulf and Neighbouring Countries to be freed.
The event was attended by 30 defenders from the region, as well as international and local NGO partners and Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association.
The event was held at the end of the 5th Gulf & Neighbouring Countries Platform and Training Workshop which provides a unique forum for regional rights defenders to highlight and discuss the challenges that they face as they conduct their legitimate and peaceful human rights work.
Participants discussed the challenges of being a human rights defender in the 12 countries in which GCHR works, and developed strategies to effectively campaign to free colleagues – such as those who are imprisoned or kidnapped in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.
In some countries, there may be only one individual who stands alone, such as GCHR’s Board member Ahmed Mansoor, now serving a 10-year sentence in the United Arab Emirates. Calling him “the last defender”, GCHR Executive Director Khalid Ibrahim noted that Mansoor was an essential source of information to human rights organisations who struggle to report on violations now that every human rights defender is exiled or imprisoned in the country.
During the Platform, Special Rapporteur Voule said, “At the end of the day, what we want is for all citizens to enjoy their basic rights.” He asked, “If civil society doesn’t work together, how are you going to work against climate change, inequality, poverty,” or other issues? “It’s important that States recognised the role of civil society to improve the situation,” he added, which requires freedom of expression, assembly and association to thrive.
In summing up the ways in which freedom of assembly and association are restricted, Voule stressed: “The attack on civil society is one way to ensure that nobody is there to wake up the population to question the government.”
Radhya Almutawakel, Chairperson of Mwatana Organisation for Human Rights in Yemen, and GCHR Board member, stated: “Our work has had an impact. One indicator is when activists are imprisoned.” In order to carry on their work, “human rights defenders need support. It’s not going to take 100 years. I will be hugging Samar Badawi soon,” she concluded, referring to the jailed Saudi woman human rights defender, who is among at least 17 known women’s rights defenders in prison in Saudi Arabia today.
At the event, participants emphasised the importance of celebrating the achievements of human rights defenders, who play an essential role in civil society. Yet, they are sometimes treated as enemies and jailed under national security or anti-terror legislation.
Those in attendance at the event spoke emotionally of the personal connections to many of those in prison, such as GCHR’s Founding Directors Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab in Bahrain. “We will never stop working until they are free. Many of them have kids who need them, and we love them,” said Khalid Ibrahim.
In the Gulf region, there are many more unrecognised legions of defenders, said Antoine Madelin, FIDH International Advocacy Director. They are working towards “a world that is better for everyone. These individuals are agents of change who are confronted by governments.” Illustrating the importance of international solidarity, he added: “Together we will resist.”
The Platform was supported by FIDH, IFEX, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, the Global Fund for Women, CIVICUS and others.