The Use of Torture: Suppression of Dissidents
1. About the Report
This report on torture in Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen has been jointly authored by Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR), ALQST for Human Rights, Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), Wejha Centre for Studies, and a partner in Yemen, in cooperation with the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) through a project funded by the European Union to address torture and accountability in the Gulf region and neighbouring conflict zones. This is a summary of the findings, and full reports on each country can be found linked to this report.
ALQST for Human Rights is an independent NGO established in 2014 for the purpose of defending and promoting human rights in Saudi Arabia. ALQST conducts on-the-ground research, engages in international legal and public advocacy, and campaigns on behalf of victims of human rights abuses. See: https://alqst.org/
The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights is a Bahraini non-profit non-governmental organisation which works to promote human rights in Bahrain. It was founded by a number of Bahraini activists in June 2002. See: http://bahrainrights.net/
The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR) has documented human rights violations across Iraq and issued reports and appeals since 2014. Members of IOHR, including their director, work on a voluntary basis, and they have a network of about 70 volunteer observers. Because they were covering the protests that took place in Iraq in 2019, their website was hacked. Now, they are in the process of creating a new secured website. See: https://twitter.com/iohriraq?s=21
The Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) is an independent non-governmental non-profit organization. Since establishment in 2004, SCM works to defend oppressed individuals due to their beliefs or opinions, as well as promoting human rights and supporting and developing independent, critical and professional media. See: https://scm.bz/en/
Wejha Centre for Studies is a London-based research institution, which includes a group of researchers interested in Gulf affairs. Founded in 2019, it enriches Arab content and provides recommendations to decision-makers in the Gulf regarding political and human rights issues. See: http://wejha.net/
2. Intro and Background
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) was founded in 2011 to challenge emerging threats to freedom of expression and fundamental rights in the Gulf and neighbouring countries. These threats were aggressively exacerbated by escalation of conflict in Iraq, Yemen and Syria and the intensification of authoritarianism in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the wake of these interconnected national crises. The most pernicious of these challenges is the growth of the use of torture against human rights defenders (HRDs), dissidents and political activists. This crime leaves a lasting legacy of pain with survivors and the families of victims and consistently undermines the legitimacy of government.
In 2011, when the Arab uprisings unfolded in most of these countries, the use of torture became systematic by governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The targeted countries intensified the use of force and increased the crackdown on any voices that would speak against their policies.
Although all of the targeted countries in this report have ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) and are state parties to several international treaties that prohibit torture and ill-treatment, there is a blatant disregard for UN recommendations, statements by UN experts and bodies such as the UN Committee against Torture, as well as the Universal Periodice Review (UPR) – or even their own internal inquiries. Furthermore, these countries have also refused visits by UN Special Rapporteurs repeatedly, thus making it difficult for them to investigate the situation of human rights defenders who have reportedly been tortured in prison.
This report aims to hold governments accountable for their illegal use of torture, push them to comply with their national and international obligations, and to stop the climate of impunity where people responsible for torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment are not challenged legally for their actions.
Moreover, currently with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to spread and mutate around the world, most of these countries have not implemented any kind of preventive measures to protect prisoners; prisons usually are overcrowded with many detainees. Also, in many instances prisons authorities prevented prisoners from accessing medical care which makes them highly vulnerable to the virus.