The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Gulf Center for Human Rights, the Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, and the Metro Center for Journalists Rights and Advocacy in Kurdistan in conjunction with Human Rights Watch, Article 19, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the World Organization against Torture (OMCT), International Service for Human Rights, and Civicus organized a discussion panel on the systematic attacks on human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iraq on Thursday, March 12, on the sidelines of the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), which began on March 2 and will end on March 27.
This session, the HRC is reviewing the final reports of several UN Special Rapporteurs, among them Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, who attended the panel and commented on the status of human rights defenders in the Gulf and Iraq. Forst spoke of some of his communications with Arab governments on the situation of human rights defenders in the Gulf region.
The panel, moderated by Jeremie Smith of the CIHRS, addressed a set of reports recently issued on the state of human rights in the Gulf region, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, with interventions by the panel guests.
Maryam Al-Khawaja, co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, focused on the center’s recently issued report on torture in the UAE, citing several cases of torture documented in the report. Al-Khawaja urged states participating in the HRC sessions to address these incidents in their interventions before the council and during their discussions of the status of human rights defenders in the Gulf.
Khalid Ibrahim, also the co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, reviewed the most important points of the center’s annual 2014 report, which examined the growing risks faced by human rights defenders in the Gulf region and the continuing government use of the non-independent judiciary to prosecute activists. Ibrahim also spotlighted the targeting of rights activists for opinions and stances made on social media, among them Bahraini human rights defender Nabeel Rajab.
Melanie Gingell, a human rights lawyer and legal researcher, focused on how human rights defenders are targeted in Kurdistan, Iraq, particularly through judicial means under a politicized, non-independent judicial system. Gingell referred to several examples in which journalists and civil society organizations were targeted.
Fahad Al-Fahad, of the Monitor for Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, emphasized the increasing dangers of rights work in Saudi Arabia, especially the targeting of rights activists due to their cooperation with international bodies, among them the UN HRC, after their return to Saudi soil. Al-Fahad also spoke of the restrictions placed on the establishment of independent associations in Saudi Arabia as well as the court sentences and security harassment faced by Saudi defenders as a form of reprisal for their cooperation with international human rights instruments.
Jeremie Smith closed the panel by stressing the need for member states of the HRC to take serious measures to protect human rights defenders, condemning states’ lackluster response to retaliatory actions taken against several Saudi human rights defenders due to their engagement with the HRC and its instruments. In this context, Smith praised steps taken by countries like Sweden, which suspended weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, urging other states to consider the status and protection of human rights and their defenders in their international dealings.
The panel was well attended by delegations from states participating in the HRC’s 28th session, among them Australia, Sweden, Canada, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.
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