General: GCHR highlights use of torture to suppress dissidents, supports resolutions on Syria and migrants during UNHRC 47th Session


At the 47th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) held between 21 June to 14 July 2021, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and partners organised a side event on torture, and contributed to discussions about resolutions on Syria and migrants.  

On 21 June 2021, GCHR and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) organised an online side event (available on YouTube) on “The Use of Torture: Suppression of Dissidents” addressing the lack of accountability and prevalence of impunity in the region. The event, attended by stakeholders and partners, highlighted the reports by GCHR and partners on torture in Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Yemen.

GCHR’s WHRDs Programme Manager Weaam Youssef, the co-moderator, said “Torture become systematic in the MENA region as governments have intensified the use of force and increased the crackdown on any voices that would speak against them or be critical of their policies. Accountability is important for crimes of torture in the MENA region.”

The event started with a moment of silence in memory of Alaa Al-Siddiq, Executive Director of ALQST for Human Rights and a Senior Researcher at Wejha Centre for Studies, who died tragically in a car accident in the United Kingdom on 19 June 2021. Her work was invaluable to amplify violations such as torture in the region, from the UAE to Saudi and beyond. See the report by Wejha in cooperation with GCHR: Torture in the UAE: The Tolerance Charade.

Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment spoke of the importance of having such an event days before the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. He said reports such as the ones produced by GCHR and the six partners are very valuable and important for his work. He highlighted the absolute prohibition of torture and the discrepancy between the commitment and the actual practice of torture, especially in the Gulf region.

Melzer also noted that he has not been able to visit any of the six countries, despite submitting written communications to all of them. However, after 14 communications with Iraq, in March 2021 he was finally invited to visit.

He has made three visit requests and 20 communications to Bahrain with no response; two visit requests and 25 communications to Saudi Arabia with no response; and two visit requests and 13 communications to the UAE with no response. With on-going conflict in Syria and Yemen, Melzer believes he will face difficulties accessing detention facilities, thus his report will not reflect the full reality, and will be harmful to victims and their families.

Alaa Affash, Research & Studies Department Coordinator at the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), talked about their report entitled “Invisible Scars: Torture in Syria and its Legal and Socio-Economic Implications”, where SCM interviewed 15 torture survivors and six medical and legal experts. In this report SCM focused on the enhancement of the social and health integration of torture survivors.

Mustafa Saadoon, Director of the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR), talked about their report entitled “Torture in Iraqi Prisons: The Systematic Methods Used by Security Personnel”, and gave a historical background about Iraq, the government’s systematic use of torture, and the violations committed by officials with a great lack of accountability.

Asma Darwish, Advocacy Officer at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), talked about their report entitled “Bahrain: Torture is the Policy and Impunity is the Norm”. In this report, BCHR included the cases of 24 opposition figures and civil society activists in addition to dozens of cases of convicted political prisoners.

Julia Legner, Head of Advocacy at ALQST for Human Rights, sent a written contribution about ALQST’s report “Torture in Saudi Arabia - Impunity Reigns”, in which ALQST has documented new trends of torture since the accession of the current Crown Prince. Impunity prevails for perpetrators of torture, as there are no independent monitoring and complaint mechanisms in places of detention.

While closing the event, Gerald Staberock from OMCT talked about the importance of such work to improve the situation on the ground, to achieve justice for victims and survivors, and to realise human rights in the region.

Human Rights Council Resolutions

The priorities were the resolution on Syria G2117504.pdf (, which focused on enforced disappearances and the missing, and the resolution on the Human Rights of Migrants, which focused on the impact of Covid-19. GCHR followed the process, including informal meetings with states to share its priorities and concerns. GCHR is particularly concerned about the power imbalances that allow for abuses of immigrant workers with little or no opportunity for accountability.

Universal Periodic Review (UPR)

On 28 June 2021, ALQST for Human Rights, the Martin Ennals Foundation and GCHR made a joint NGO Submission to the Mid-Term UPR report for Saudi Arabia, given Saudi Arabia's high-profile abuses. The document is also intended as an advocacy tool to prompt states to take action at the council. On 15 July, SCM, GCHR, FIDH and OMCT made a joint NGO Submission for the Syria UPR process. This will be used as the basis of advocacy with States.