General: GCHR’s activities at the UN Human Rights Council support the protection of human rights and their defenders in the MENA
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) was active at the United Nation’s 42nd session of the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva on 09-27 September 2019, carrying out advocacy to support human rights defenders in Yemen, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. GCHR and partners also launched the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Network to Counter Hate Speech. During this session of the UNHRC, the mandate of the Group of Eminent Experts (GEE) on Yemen was renewed, and 25 member states issued a joint statement condemning human rights violations in Saudi Arabia.
GCHR’s advocacy at the UNHRC in Geneva focused on the following:
- Yemen: Support for the renewal and strengthening of the Mandate of the GEE.
- Bedoon in Kuwait: To prepare for Kuwait’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in January 2020, attention was drawn to the plight of its Bedoon (Stateless) community.
- Iraq: The risks faced by human rights defenders in advance of Iraq’s UPR.
- Bahrain: Highlighting the poor treatment of emblematic human rights defenders whose convictions are widely seen as a pretext to stifle freedom of expression
- Countering Hate Speech: Announcement of the MENA Network to Counter Hate Speech.
- Saudi Arabia: In support of a joint statement condemning Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses, the detention of Women Human Rights Defenders was highlighted.
Combined advocacy by dozens of NGOs to help strengthen and renew the mandate of the GEE led to a success when the GEE’s mandate was renewed with 22 states voting yes. On 12 September, GCHR co-sponsored a side event on Yemen: “The need to strengthen international accountability” with Kamel Jendoubi, the head of the GEE and Radhya Al-Mutawakel, head of Mwatana (and GCHR Advisory Board member). The event was organised by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) with co-sponsors Mwatana, GCHR, FIDH, CIVICUS, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. GCHR also signed on to a joint oral submission on Yemen read on 10 September during the Interactive dialogue on the report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Yemen A/HRC/42/17
On 10 September, during the Interactive dialogue on the report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Yemen A/HRC/42/17, Osamah Al-Fakih of Mwatana presented a joint statement organised by CIHRS, which GCHR signed on to.
On 17 September, GCHR Executive Director (ED) Khalid Ibrahim spoke about the plight of the stateless Bedoon community in Kuwait at a side event organised by the Geneva Council for Rights & Liberties addressing Statelessness in the MENA Region. Kuwait’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) will be held in January 2020 and GCHR prepared a submission with CIVICUS, MENA Rights Group and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), which was referenced.
GCHR also co-sponsored a side event organised by Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) on 12 September 2019 entitled "Kuwait’s UPR and Statelessness", which also focused on the Bedoon community.
On 19 September, GCHR held a side event on Protecting Public Freedoms: HRDs at Risk in Iraq, chaired by GCHR’s ED Khalid Ibrahim. Significant concerns were raised by speakers, who included Miriam Puttick of Ceasefire and Moataz El-Fegiery of Front Line Defenders. Unfortunately, the speaker from the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights Mustafa Saadoon was unable to get a visa in time to attend. The Iraqi permanent mission was in attendance and expressed willingness to engage in dialogue. This will be particularly important following the violent reprisals to peaceful protests that occurred across in Iraq in October. The event provided a welcome opportunity to engage with the Iraqi government as this event precedes Iraq’s Universal Periodic Review, to be held on 11 November 2019. This event follows a joint UPR submission by GCHR, the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights, the Metro Centre for Journalist Rights and Advocacy, Front Line Defenders, and the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative at https://www.gc4hr.org/report/view/97
A side event organised by GCHR with the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and ADHRB in Solidarity with Nabeel Rajab, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, and other detained HRDs in Bahrain highlighted the cases of Bahrain human rights defenders who remain in prison in poor conditions. Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace was seen by a doctor in August but has yet to receive the medication prescribed to treat pain, or a new pair of crutches. The event on 20 September, came just three days after an appeals court denied Nabeel Rajab the right to serve the rest of his sentence at home or through community service, so he remains in prison serving seven years for tweets and media interviews about human rights. Al-Khawaja and Al-Singace are serving life sentences for their human rights activities. Others such as Naji Fateel are serving 25 years or more.
GCHR also co-sponsored a side event organised by ADHRB on 11 September 2019 entitled "Breaking the Silence: Bahraini Women Political Prisoners Expose Systemic Abuses".
On 24 September, members of the Free Saudi WHRDs Coalition organised an event on The Continued Silencing and Imprisonment of Saudi WHRDs, featuring the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst and Lina Al-Hathloul, sister of detained women’s rights defender Loujain Al-Hathloul, and GCHR’s Khalid Ibrahim. Participants called for all remaining women’s rights defenders to be freed, including over a dozen arrested in April, and for an end to judicial harassment including ongoing trials. The Free Saudi Women Coalition has been actively advocating for the release of Saudi women’s rights defenders since early 2018. It is comprised of: GCHR, Women’s March Global, ISHR, CIVICUS, the WHRD-MENA Coalition, ADHRB and Equality Now. The event was livestreamed at https://t.co/I178ZzvU83?amp=1
UN Experts issued an appeal to free Loujain Al-Hathloul after joint advocacy by the Coalition featuring Lina Al-Hathloul, who called on the UN Human Rights Council to help hold those who tortured her sister accountable, and secure her immediate and unconditional release.
The joint advocacy continues to gain traction. Led by Australia, 25 states signed on to a cross regional joint statement condemning Saudi Arabia’s ongoing persecution and intimidation of activists, including women human rights defenders. The statement also expresses concern over reports of torture, extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearances, unfair trials, arbitrary detention and impunity. It calls on the Saudi government to end impunity, including for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi one year ago, accept visits by UN experts, end the death penalty and ratify international human rights treaties.
Countering Hate Speech:
GCHR co-organised a side event on 23 September to introduce the MENA Network to Counter Hate Speech, which was moderated by Mousa Rimawi of the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) with Yara Bader from the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), GCHR’s Khalid Ibrahim and Ma'aly Hazzaz from UNESCO. The network, which is made up of the participating organisations as well as Maharat Foundation, will confront hate speech in media and social networking sites in the MENA region. The initiative will cooperate with concerned regional and international institutions to raise awareness of the dangers of hate speech to civil peace in the region, which has witnessed many conflicts and civil wars.