Liberty at Risk: Reprisals Against Human Rights Defenders in the Gulf Region and Neighbouring Countries
This report by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) aims to set out the cases of human rights defenders in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries who have been subjected to reprisals as a result of their co-operation and engagement with international human rights systems, including United Nations (UN) bodies. In this report, acts of reprisals are documented against human rights defenders from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. These acts are increasing in incidence in the Gulf region and it is paramount to the integrity of the international human rights mechanisms that the issue of reprisals is tackled as a matter of urgency.
Engagement with such mechanisms, including the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and Special Procedures, is essential for attention to be brought to human rights situations and individual cases and to enable appropriate measures to be taken. The very existence of these mechanisms depends on the ability of individuals and organisations to engage with them freely and without fear of reprisals or intimidation.
International Conventions, including UN treaty body conventions, afford protection to human rights defenders against reprisals, however, all too often, human rights defenders are met with unjust targeting by authorities in an attempt to punish and hinder their activities. Many others are unable to engage with human rights mechanisms for fear of such targeting.
According to a July 2013 report to the UN HRC by the Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), reprisals “take many forms, ranging from smear campaigns, threats, travel bans, harassment, fines, the closing of organisations, sexual violence, arbitrary arrests, prosecutions and lengthy prison sentences through to torture, ill-treatment and even death.”
The former UN High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, recognised the importance of protecting human rights defenders from reprisals, saying, “It is natural for people to stand up for their rights and freedoms, resist oppression, and challenge authoritarianism. In these brave efforts they frequently resort to the international community and its human rights mechanisms for support.”
“The United Nations could not do its invaluable work for human rights without those who cooperate with UN representatives, rapporteurs and other mechanisms,” said the Secretary General. “When they are targeted for reprisals, we are all less secure. When their cooperation is stifled, our work for human rights is also a victim.”