Breaking Boundaries: Survey of human rights activism in the Gulf and Neighbouring Countries in 2018



Executive Summary

The goal of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) is 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 2018, GCHR issued over 200 appeals, statements and updates on the cases of 145 HRDs at risk from Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. While the organisation did not cover cases of HRDs at risk in Lebanon and Jordan, they are included in our training workshops, activities and thematic reports, including on digital rights and civic space. We regularly carry out activities with Lebanese HRDs and journalists. For example, the annual Gulf and Neighbouring Countries Platform was attended by 30 HRDs, donors, NGO partners and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on HRDs, Michel Forst.

GCHR participates in local, European and international platforms including the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to undertake advocacy work and to raise awareness of the issues faced by HRDs in the wider region. GCHR increased its advocacy and support to men and women HRDs from the Gulf region and neighbouring countries, with an emphasis on building their capacity to carry out their own documentation and advocacy, while building a communal space for activism. GCHR tailors innovative strategies and has developed methodologies to sustain a network for HRDs and civil society. For the HRDs, the network provides the tools and skills necessary to fulfil their capacity, to connect them across borders and to support peer-learning. For GCHR, it leverages their protection and allows us to advocate on their behalf when necessary. Networking with other local and international NGOs and coalitions increases the efficacy of GCHR’s advocacy, particularly through UN and European Union advocacy – which are also linked to protection and support for HRDs at risk. In 2018, we build coalitions with partner organisations working on the arrests of women’s rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, and helped form a network of NGOs campaigning to end violations in Oman.

GCHR publishes evidence-based reports and carries out country missions and trial observations. In 2018, GCHR published a dozen reports on countries and themes such as civic space and digital rights, in addition to its annual report.

GCHR provides direct support to HRDs in the region, facilitating emergency requests for assistance (medical support, training, security, trial observation, evacuation etc.) In 2018, GCHR facilitated grants to 18 HRDs from Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen. In addition to providing skills in digital security, UN Mechanisms and investigative journalism, training workshops provide valuable networking opportunities.

As violations mount, GCHR has increased its coverage and support to WHRDs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, through international partnerships, capacity building training, networking, research reports and joint advocacy, as well as emergency medical, legal and evacuation support. We have a vision of connecting social movements, fighting sectarianism/division and creating space to find common ground.

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