CIHRS addresses reprisals against activists in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia for cooperating with the UN

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Yesterday, Thursday September 13, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) delivered an oral statement before the 21st session of the UN Human Rights Council, currently convening in Geneva. The intervention was delivered in response to the Secretary General’s report addressing cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, which was presented during a panel discussion on the issue of intimidation or reprisals against individuals and groups who cooperate with the UN rights mechanisms.

The panel was inaugurated by opening statements from Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General, and Ms. Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Panelists included Mr. Szabolc Takacs, Deputy state secretary of Global Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, Mr. Michel Forst, Chair of the Coordination Committee of UN Special Procedures, Mr. Claudio Grossman, Chair of the UN Committee against Torture an Mr. Hassan Shire Sheikhahmed, Executive Director of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project. Various state representatives then took the floor, followed by NGOs interventions.

The Secretary General’s report, which covers the period from June 2011 to June 2012, highlights cases of intimidation and reprisals, which at times constituted killings and alleged torture, against human rights defenders for communication/cooperation with the UN human rights mechanisms. It further provides follow-up for other reprisal cases previously mentioned by the Secretary General in other reports to the Council. The report  include cases from Algeria, Bahrain, Belarus, China, Colombia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Lebanon, Malawi, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Venzuela.

Commenting on the report, Madam Pillay stated that a common thread in relation to the majority of reported cases of reprisals is lack of accountability.

Delivering CIHRS oral intervention was Mr. Mohamed Al-Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR), who addressed the Council saying that he as well has been subjected to threats after having tweeted that he was in Geneva, attending the Council’s session. Mr. Al Maskati said: “I have received more than a dozen anonymous phone calls threatening my life and the safety of my family for my engagement here.  None-the-less, I have chosen to speak today because my case is not unique.”

Over the last year, the government of Bahrain has increasingly attacked and intimidated any rights defender who attempts to engage with the United Nations human rights system.  The Secretary General’s report cites the government led intimidation and smear campaign that a number of human rights defenders were subjected to following their participation in Bahrain’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva last May (par 18- 21). The report additional site’s the now unprecedented crackdown, imprisonment, and judicial harassment against prominent human rights defenders in Bahrain (par 51- 54).

CIHRS statement shed additional light on the situation of human rights defenders in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, also highlighted in the Secretary General’s report. The case of Dr. Mohamed Fahad Al Qahtani, founding member of  the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), included in the Secretary General’s report (par 35- 37), is a clear example.  After submitting numerous communications to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Dr. Al Qahtani is currently being tried in a Saudi court for providing “false information as evidence to official international apparatuses” and ”provoking international organizations to adopt stances against the Kingdom”.   He faces up to 5 years in prison and 800,000 dollar fine.  On 8 September, the judge in his case ruled that his trial should not be public and did not set a date for the next hearing, with fears that his summary imprisonment will soon follow.

On 29 June 2012, CIHRS had delivered an oral intervention before the 20th session of the UN Human Rights Council during a discussion on reprisals, regarding Dr. Al Qahtani’s case (par 37).

Several members of ACPRA are also facing prosecution at the moment. Another case highlighted in the report is that of Mr. Fadel Al Manasef (par 63, 64), who remains in solitary confinement since his arrest four months ago, awaiting for the exceptional court that is viewing his case to set a date for his next hearing.

Finally, CIHRS asked that the Council takes strong and concrete steps against governments who continue to target activists and NGOs for cooperating with its mechanisms saying “Committing a pattern of such acts, as in the case of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, should automatically trigger reconsideration of a states membership within this Council, and strongly inform future elections for membership to this body.

Oral Intervention

Link to the video of the Panel discussion on intimidation and reprisals: http://webtv.un.org/watch/full-video-panel-discussion-on-intimidation-reprisals-9th-meeting/1838590108001#full-text

Link to the Secretary General’s report addressing cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session21/A-HRC-21-18_en.pdf

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