Waging War on Human Rights: Rights defenders from the Gulf region under attack

In United Nations Human Rights Council by CIHRS

Yesterday, Monday 17 September 2012, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and Al Karama organized a side event entitled “Waging War on Human Rights: Ongoing Crackdown in the UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia” as part of the 21st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) taking place in Geneva, Switzerland.

Speakers at this event included Khalid Ibrahim, Deputy Director of the GCHR, Noemi Crottaz, Human Rights Officer at Al Karama, and Ahmed Mansoor, blogger and human rights defender from the UAE, who was unable to travel to Geneva in person, as authorities have been arbitrarily confiscating his travel documents since April 2011  and presented instead a recorded video presentation. The event was moderated by Maryam Al Khawaja, Acting President of the BCHR.

Several individuals who possessed badges from the Bahrain government mission began to harass and attempted to intimidate the speakers on the panel before the event began.   The organizers of the event then asked these representatives of the Bahrain Mission to kindly remove their video camera from the room.

After the event was over, several newspapers known for their affiliation with the government of Bahrain, published false information regarding the event, and defamed the speakers and the hosting human rights organizations.  Additionally, Mr. Mansour was subjected to severe physical attack by an unidentified person while at university in UAE immediately after the event was over. Several twitter messages and threats were directed to Mr. Mansour for his participation at the side event as well.

CIHRS believes that such acts of reprisals, some occurring inside the premises of the UN, should be immediately and seriously examined by the Human Rights Council, with the view of ensuring non-reoccurrence and full protection for the human rights defenders involved. There seems to be a worrying increase in the attempts carried out by governments from the Gulf region to intimidate human rights defenders for cooperating with the UN human rights mechanisms.

Ahmed Mansour’s presentation attempted to provide a brief summary to the current human rights situation in UAE, shedding light on the recent massive crackdown against dissidents. Starting from early April 2012, a wide campaign against activists in the UAE began, with the number of those arrested to date reaching 61, mostly members of the Reform and Social Guidance Association (known as al-Islah). Among the detainees is prominent lawyer and human rights advocate Dr. Mohamed Al-Roken, in addition to at least 12 PHD holders, Medical doctor, judges, prosecutor, writers, 24 academics and teachers, in addition to lawyers and consultants.

Mr. Mansour spoke about the various violations that the detainees were subjected to, which included arbitrary arrests, illegal confiscation and searching of their belonging, lack of access to legal representation, in addition to being kept incommunicado detention for long periods of time. He further expressed concern regarding various reports indicating that the detainees were subjected to torture and ill-treatment, while in detention saying “there are serious concerns about the physical, physiological and mental integrity of the detainees, which really explains why are they kept incommunicado and not allowed to be seen by their families or lawyers.“

Mr. Mansour, a well known rights activist in the UAE and a member of the MENA advisory board of HRW, was also a victim of an unfair trail last year in a case that came to be known as the UAE 5 case. He was found guilty of insulting the political figures in the country, after he, along with other individuals, arranged for and signed a petition calling for greater political participation via an elected parliament with legislative and regulatory powers. He was sentenced for 3 years in prison and was then released on presidential pardon one day following the verdict after spending nearly 8 months in detention.

Khalid Ibrahim focused on the human rights situation in the Sultanate of Oman. He gave a brief background on the dozens of prison sentences issued against activists, writers and protesters in Oman on charges of illegal gathering, insulting the Sultan, harming the reputation of the Sultanate, disrupting traffic and violating information technology law.

Explaining the reasons behind the current politically motivated attacks against dissidents in Oman, Mr. Ibrahim spoke about the initial arrests which were carried out in the end of May 2012 against three rights defenders as they were conducting a field mission to gather information regarding a workers strike. The situation then escalated, with a number of writers and activists who showed support to the detainees getting arrested, following by a wide crackdown on a peaceful protest, where dozens of activists were arrested and later handed down prison sentences.

Noemie Crottaz, focused her presentation on the situation of human rights defenders in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. She stated that among the main human rights concerns in the Kingdom is arbitrary detention, which comes amidst a whole arsenal of other forms of repressive measures.

She cited the cases against Dr. Mohamed Fahad Al Qahtani and other human rights defenders as evidence to a new pattern of charges leveled against activists to imprison them, which include providing information to international bodies; namely the United Nations Human Rights Council and its mechanisms.

Maryam Al-Khawaja attempted to draw similarities between the ways in which different governments in the Gulf region have demonstrated a strong response against human rights in the Gulf countries, hoping to isolate themselves in an impenetrable island from the protest movements of the Arab Spring. She further stated “In the Gulf, if you are active, in any way, whether on the internet, in public spaces, speaking out in media, anything, you will be targeted and harassed.  The Gulf governments want to completely close all spaces for dissent or divergent ideas.”

Additionally, Ms. Al Khawaja further shed light on the double-standards at work in the UN Human Rights Council, the main body that is mandated to protect and promote human rights worldwide, as serious violations to freedom of expression, assembly, and association continue to be committed in a number of Gulf countries with no real steps taken by the Council to address them.

The event was attended by representatives of different NGOs, state delegations, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the media.

CIHRS oral Intervention on the increasing attacks against human rights activists from the Gulf region

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