Channel: Bahrain Center for Human Rights
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GCHR: Reprisals against human rights defenders must end and stronger action should be taken to protect them


Human rights defenders undertake legitimate and peaceful human rights work under continuous threats to their safety and security and often that of their families. Attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders in the Gulf Region are rising as a result of their cooperation with the International human rights community and organisations including the United Nations as they strive to promote human rights, and to expose and ensure accountability for human rights violations. Such reprisals ‘take many forms, ranging from smear campaigns, threats, travel bans, harassment, fines, the closing of organisations, sexual violence, arbitrary arrests, prosecutions and lengthy prison sentences through to torture, ill-treatment and even death.


In Bahrain many human rights defenders have suffered reprisals as a result of engaging with the International community and human rights organisations including the UN. Examples include co-founders of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab both of whom have been targeted as a direct consequence of their human rights work and communication with International
human rights organisations and the UN.

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja was sentenced to life in prison in June 2011. His sentence was handed down by a military court together with other human rights activists and political leaders known as the Bahrain 13. He remains in detention and has been subject to torture on many occasions, a fact which has been acknowledged and condemned by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) 2 . In
September 2012 the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that his arrest was due to his exercise of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. According to the Working Group, the charges against Mr. Al-Khawaja—including membership in a terrorist organization— were “vague” and “raise doubts as to the actual purpose of detention.”
(For further information see http://gc4hr.org/news/view/631)

Nabeel Rajab, President of the BCHR and General Secretary of GCHR, has been arrested and detained on many occasions on baseless charges. Despite numerous applications for early release for which he is legally eligible, he remains in detention but is scheduled for release on 24 May 2014. He has been subject to discrimination and ill-treatment in prison, including being placed in solitary confinement with a dead animal, being isolated from other political detainees for his entire detention period and being prevented from contacting his family after he reported violations that he had witnessed in prison. (For further information see http://gc4hr.org/news/view/578, and http://gc4hr.org/news/view/537)

Co-founder and president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR) Mohamed Al-Maskati has also been a victim of reprisals including acts of judicial harassment. Most recently in October 2013 he was summoned and interrogated on charges of “inciting hatred against the regime”. He has actively cooperated with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in recent years
and has visited the Special Rapporteurs affiliated with it in August 2013. He also met several diplomatic missions in Geneva in coordination with many regional and international Human Rights organisations. (For further information see http://gc4hr.org/news/view/510)

Conclusion and recommendations

While the GCHR acknowledges that there have been attempts at an International level to address the issue of reprisals, for example by the reports of the Secretary General and the adoption of a resolution on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, at the 22nd Session of the Human Rights Council[3], the situation is worsening.

It is clear from the reprisals suffered by human rights defenders in the Gulf Region that their engagement with the International community and human rights mechanisms places them in significant danger of being further targeted. Such engagement is however, essential to ensure awareness of human rights violations, and to ensure that they are not met with impunity. Furthermore, reprisals, often go unreported which increases the likelihood that those responsible are never held accountable for such injustices and breaches of human rights law.

The GCHR urges all UN human rights bodies, including the Human Rights Council, and UN member states to investigate thoroughly and take immediate and decisive action to combat reprisals and to ensure that human rights defenders and all those engaging with the UN can do so without fear of such reprisals. The GCHR believes that the membership of and participation in the Human Rights Council of a member state, should be seriously examined following reprisals at the hand of state authorities.

The GCHR recalls the recommendations set out by the Secretary General of the need to ensure that persecution and intimidation are systematically condemned, and that legal action is taken by those responsible. As well as that action should be taken at the national level, including through the adoption of appropriate legislation, by publicly condemning acts of reprisal and intimidation, ensuring accountability in relation to the majority of reported cases of reprisals, conducting effective and impartial investigations and bringing perpetrators to justice, and providing victims with remedies.

The GCHR urges state authorities in the Gulf Region to ensure that all human rights defenders, and all citizens, are free to avail of and engage with the UN and the International human rights community. The GCHR urges all Gulf States to ensure that human rights defenders are free to carry out their legitimate and peaceful human rights work without fear of reprisals and free from all restrictions including judicial harassment. The GCHR respectfully reminds state authorities that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to We would particularly draw your attention to Article 5 (c): "For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: (c) To communicate with non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations."

Read the full report on: http://gc4hr.org/news/view/662

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