General: GCHR activities during UN Human Rights Council’s 45th session

20.10.20

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) was involved in various activities during the 45th session of the United Nation’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, which ran from 14 September to 07 October 2020. The activities involved three online side events and meetings to carry out advocacy to enhance the protection of human rights defenders and defend public freedoms in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  

The human rights movement in the MENA region is facing many challenges, such as restrictions on public freedoms including freedom of expression. Therefore, our joint online side events are often disrupted by agents acting on behalf of some oppressive governments in the region who are interested only in disrupting human rights events by making loud noises instead of talking about the massive human rights violations facing citizens.

During an online side event on Digital Rights in Saudi Arabia held on 14 September 2020 (main picture), GCHR’s Executive Director Khalid Ibrahim, the moderator, “called for a coalition to be set up to end surveillance of Internet activists and enhance their protection.” The event was organised by Access Now, GCHR, ARTICLE 19 and the Saudi Diaspora Party. Another speaker, human rights activist Areej Al-Sadhan, spoke about the situation of her brother, Internet activist Abdulrahman Al-Sadhan. After a massive Twitter breach, he was forcibly disappeared and tortured by Saudi officials on 12 March 2018. She noted that NSO spyware has been used on activists, NGOs and journalists, including Jamal Khashoggi. “We need to provide tools to Saudi activists to overcome Saudi spying and hacking,” said human rights defender Abdulaziz Al-Moayyad, who added that “tech companies must work together to fight back with a code of conduct to make Internet and social media safer.”

On 13 October 2020, during the 16th plenary meeting of the 75th session of UN General Assembly (GA), Saudi Arabia was the only candidate not selected for membership of the UN Human Rights Council, among 16 candidates. GCHR criticised Saudi Arabia’s ambition to hold prestigious human rights positions internationally while being widely condemned for its human rights situation nationally.

On 22 September, GCHR and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) co-hosted an online event entitled Bahrain must immediately release the detained HRDs and other activists to highlight reprisals faced by human rights defenders. Panelists talked about the work of Bahraini CSOs and human rights defenders, highlighting the work of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and the history of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR).  Speakers were Husain Abdulla and Emilie Marietta of ADHRB, Khalid Ibrahim of GCHR, Devin Kenney from Amnesty international, and Sue Willman, a prominent UK human rights lawyer. The event was moderated by Antoine Madelin from FIDH. Video of the event is at  https://youtu.be/cA4AnORCyW844

On 05 October, GCHR organised an online side event: In light of the second wave of COVID-19, Ahmed Mansoor and all detained HRDs in UAE must be freed; The international mechanisms including the UN system need to take action now to call on the UAE to free all HRDs. Speakers included human rights activist Alaa Al-Siddiq of Wejha Centre For Studies, who said, “The UAE94 trial was the centrepiece of the authorities’ crackdown. At one stroke the authorities removed all people involved in the reform movement and signaled they wouldn't tolerate plurality of opinion.” Other speakers were Sima Watling of Amnesty International, Sofia Kaltenbrunner of the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) and Manu Luksch, a film director who is making a documentary about Ahmed Mansoor, whom she met before his arrest. The moderator, GCHR’s Khalid Ibrahim, said, “We are the voice of the voiceless. We're going to continue our work to release all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience. They're treated worse than criminals.”

Work by a large coalition of NGOs, including GCHR, contributed to the successful strengthening of the mandate renewal for the Group of Eminent Experts (GEE) working on Yemen. The coalition had written to the Core Group of UN member states asking them to add language and resources to “Collect and Preserve” evidence, and to report on options for accountability for the war crimes committed in Yemen. GCHR participated in engagement with the Core group (Missions of Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, Luxembourg, Ireland) as well as Chile and Mexico to mobilise the members of the Group of Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC). The initial draft of the resolution contained all this language and was maintained until the vote passed.