Beirut - Human rights defenders at imminent risk in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries, says the fifth Annual Report of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). GCHR documents the environment in which human rights defenders work in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), as well as Iran, Iraq, Yemen and Syria.
This report, “See their Struggle, Realise their Rights,” outlines GCHR’s work over the course of 2016 and the main issues faced by human rights defenders in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries as they carry out their peaceful and legitimate work for the promotion and protection of human rights activities. It also provides recommendations to increase their safety.
“GCHR is one of the few independent organisations working on the ground covering violations against human rights defenders in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries,” says GCHR Executive Director Khalid Ibrahim. “We are proud of our reputation to be available all the time when human rights defenders are at serious risk and need our help. It’s important that these brave people know they have someone to turn to, and that we can help connect them with the international community to offer some protection.”
In 2016, human rights defenders in the Gulf region worked in an increasingly hostile and dangerous environment. Conflicts continued in Syria, Iraq and Yemen throughout the year, leaving human rights defenders and civilians facing atrocities by all parties to the conflict.
Restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly remain a serious issue throughout the countries in which GCHR works. Those who report on human rights issues or simply express an opinion, including independent lawyers, academics, journalists, bloggers and online activists, are subjected to intimidation, arrest, detention, lengthy prison sentences and even assassination as a result of their writings.
Legislation too, is increasingly used to curtail this most basic right, in particular anti-cybercrime laws and anti-terrorist legislation. More generally human right defenders continue to be targeted by the authorities through means of threats, judicial harassment, arrest, detention, intimidation tactics, and smear campaigns.
Many human rights defenders remained missing or in detention, often in appalling conditions, at the end of 2016. Despite this difficult backdrop in which they work, human rights defenders continue to bravely promote and protect human rights.
Among the report’s recommendations are for the authorities in the Gulf region and neighbouring countries to take steps to ensure freedom of expression, assembly and association are respected. It also calls for laws that infringe upon the activities of human rights defenders to be modified, and for the governments in the region to respect international laws. GCHR reiterates its calls to free all human rights defenders imprisoned in the region by governments or non-state actors, and to treat them humanely while in captivity.
The report will be launched at a side event at the United Nations Human Rights Council on 22 March 2017.