General: Systematic Repression: Attacks Against Human Rights Defenders in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iraq



Geneva, 13 March 2015- The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) held a well-attended meeting entitled, Systematic Repression: Attacks Against Human Rights Defenders in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iraq during the 28th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on 12th March 2015. The meeting was chaired by Jeremie Smith, Director of the Geneva office of the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies.

The meeting was co-sponsored by the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Human Rights Watch (HRW), the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), the Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia (MHRSA), the Metro Centre to Defend Journalists in Kurdistan, CIVICUS and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

Michel Forst , the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, who attended the meeting in order to show solidarity with Human Rights Defenders in the Gulf Region and nighbouring countries, drew attention to his report for the 28th session of the HRC detailing his recent work. He highlighted that on taking up his mandate in June 2014 he had as a matter of urgency started a series of consultations with Human Rights Defenders across the Gulf Region and in Syria.

Khalid Ibrahim, the Co director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, described the shocking treatment of Human Rights Defenders across the region and in launching the Annual Report, Hear their Voices: Alarming Times for Human Rights Defenders in the Gulf Region & Neighbouring Countries, showed how 350 defenders had been trained in digital security and other important topics in recent years, many missions had been conducted, and defenders given strong and ongoing support in accessing United Nations human rights mechanisms.

Melanie Gingell, Barrister from the United Kingdom, discussed the situation for Human Rights Defenders in the Iraqi Kurdistan, following her recent mission to the autonomous region. The report, Iraqi Kurdistan: No Safe Haven for Human Rights Defenders and Independent Journalists, found that despite the appropriate laws in force in the region on freedom of expression and despite the common perception that the region constituted an oasis of calm and tolerance, the reality was that independent journalists were severely restricted in their work. Hundreds of attacks against were documented against them every year. Three journalists who had written articles about corruption or about the leading political families had been shot and killed.  She called for more solidarity and international attention for defenders in the Iraqi Kurdish region.

Fahad Al-Fahad member of the Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia addressed the meeting. The chair thanked Al-Fahad for his courage in attending to speak at the meeting. He described the abysmal record of Saudi Arabia in attacking defenders who engage with UN procedures and urged attendees to be vigilant in following news of Al-Fahad after he returns to Saudi Arabia.

Al-Fahad said that as he was talking about the challenges faced in being a Human Rights Defender in Saudi Arabia the president of the Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, Waleed Abu Al-khair, was behind bars.  He described the aggressive response of the authorities to peaceful human rights defenders in the Kingdom who were demanding greater civil and political rights. He talked about how anti-terror legislation is used against activists, with Waleed Abu Al-Khair being the first victim of this. He said those activists who have been imprisoned and whose names are now starting to become well-known represent just the tip of the ice berg as many others are working behind the scenes to support them.

He called for solidarity with Waleed Abu Al-Khair, Mohammed Al-Bajadi, Raif Badawi, Souad Al-Shammari, Fadel Al-Manasef, Dr. Sulaiman Al-Rashudi, Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid, Dr. Mohammad Al-Qahtani and many others.

The meeting was concluded by Maryam AlKawaja, co-director of the Gulf Centre who launched a new report entitled, Torture and Abuse in the prisons of the United Arab Emirates. The report focuses on the treatment of the defendants known as the UAE 94  who were tried and convicted in 2013 following a trial that was deeply flawed and widely condemned by human rights organisations as failing to meet international standards of fair trial. She called for accountability for UAE, particularly at the Human Rights Council, for these serious allegations of human rights violations. She concluded by saying that for too long that there has been silence surrounding these matters for powerful GCC countries within the human rights organisations of the UN and that change to this state of affairs was long overdue.