Human Rights Council: 25th Session
Oral Intervention- Item 4 General Debate
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
18 March, 2014
Delivered by: Ms. Maryam Al Khawaja
Thank you Mr. President,
This statement is made on behalf of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. My name is Mariam Al-Khawaja and I am the Acting President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and Co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights.
Within the Gulf region human rights defenders are increasingly subject to harassment, imprisonment, torture, incarceration and reprisals. In this context a new Gulf Cooperation Council Security Agreement was signed on the 13th of November 2013 which infringes on the basic rights and liberties of the citizens of these six countries and creates the framework for regional repression of rights defenders.
For example, Article (2) of the agreement states: “State Parties shall cooperate to pursue system outlaws, or those wanted by State Parties, regardless of their nationality, and take necessary action against them.”
In most Gulf countries almost any form of dissent against official policy including human rights work has been criminalized thorough laws that fundamentally contradict with international human rights standards. In this context the vague term ‘system outlaws’ is likely to be used in an arbitrary manner to restrict liberties and pursue political activists, dissidents and human rights activists throughout the region. In effect, we are witnessing the regionalization of totalitarian repression. And yet here in this Council silence on these issues continues to be the norm.
In several of these countries, notably Saudi Arabia, the mere act of sending information to the United Nations, in whatever form or for whatever purpose, has been criminalized and rights defenders have been systematically prosecuted for any and all interaction with international bodies. And yet this Council on these matters remains silent. The lack of action by this Council on these matters is a stain on the moral conscious of the international community, and mocks the dignity of this institution.
In Bahrain, the authorities have time and time again used “prevention of terrorism” as grounds to target and silence rights defenders and political dissent. In 2013 alone, 328 defendants were tried for alleged terrorism crimes in 38 separate cases. According to a report by the BCHR, the majority of these cases lacked adequate evidence, and convictions were based mainly, or entirely, on the defendants’ confessions obtained under reported torture or secret sources that were never revealed. In a sample of twenty cases, the sentences handed down for the 231 defendants totaled more than 2500 years in prison. The government in Bahrain, like other governments in the region, is in the process of consolidating a system in which almost any form of dissent is classified as terrorism. It is an approach that will only deepen social division and further entrench repression.