Reclaiming Civic Space: Documenting the Action of Fearless Human Rights Defenders & Citizens in 2019



GCHR Annual Report 2019


Since its establishment in 2011, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) has endeavoured to create a safer environment and offer support to human rights defenders (HRDs) – including independent lawyers, academics, journalists and online activists – across the Gulf region and neighbouring countries. In 2019, GCHR issued 107 appeals, statements and updates on the cases of 321 individual HRDs at risk from the countries in which it works - Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and other neighbouring countries. Where required, GCHR also documents attacks on partner HRDs in other countries, such as Egypt, and has highlighted cases of journalists killed with impunity in other countries. In addition, GCHR reported on the violent suppression of mass demonstrations in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, where almost 30,000 people were killed, wounded or arrested; in addition to smaller protests in Kuwait and Syria, as people struggle to make their voices heard.

In 2019, GCHR continued to work in coalition with partner organisations, specifically in relation to campaigns calling for the release of women’s rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, as well as for the release of GCHR’s Board member Ahmed Mansoor, who is currently detained in the UAE. GCHR publishes evidence-based reports and carries out country missions and trial observations. In 2019, GCHR published ten country reports and briefings focusing on themes such as civic space, women’s rights and digital rights, in addition to its annual report. GCHR provides direct support to HRDs in the region. In 2019, the organisation facilitated over a dozen emergency requests for assistance (medical support, security, trial observation, evacuation etc.) GCHR also works with ProtectDefenders.EU on emergency support and relocation. In addition to providing capacity-building workshops on digital security skills, navigating UN Mechanisms and undertaking investigative journalism to over 200 HRDs, GCHR supports HRDs’ access to networking opportunities with partner NGOs, donors and UN experts.

GCHR organised, co-sponsored and contributed to 11 side events with NGO partners and UN experts at UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in February/March, June/July and September 2019 focusing on Bahrain, UAE, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia, as well as issues in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region such as Statelessness (in Kuwait), and hate speech, among other challenges faced by journalists. GCHR also carried out advocacy campaigns and meetings surrounding the Universal Periodic Reviews (UPRs) of Kuwait and Qatar.

GCHR has facilitated dialogue between grassroots and national human rights communities from the region and the international community. This has been achieved by undertaking research and issuing appeals based on information which comes directly from HRDs, as well as coordinating joint actions and facilitating cooperation between local partners in the region and international allies.

GCHR has a respected advocacy and defence network supporting WHRDs in one of the world’s most complex and challenging environments for human rights and feminism. Every day, WHRDs in the region face sexual and gender-based violence (GBV), gendered threats and ill-treatment, judicial and online harassment, arrests, detention, abduction, kidnapping, torture, enforced disappearances and even femicide. GCHR battles for women’s rights in the region, such as in Iran, where WHRDs are jailed for absurdly long periods, as well as in Saudi Arabia where women’s rights defenders remain in prison for calling for the right to drive, self-determination, and freedom from male guardianship. GCHR has also highlighted the brave women at the forefront of protests in Lebanon, Iran and Iraq, among others.

GCHR’s mandate focuses on providing support and protection for at-risk men and women human rights defenders, activists and feminist movements, by enabling their roles in the protection and promotion of human rights, as well as equipping them with the necessary tools to maintain their work and activism. GCHR strives to achieve this by facilitating their contributions to and engagements with various UN and international mechanisms and stakeholders, while working tirelessly to protect them.

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