Detention and disappearance of activists is widespread

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council
-Statement on report of Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

CIVICUS thanks the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for their report. We are concerned that it shows Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia - Human Rights Council member states from the Middle East – as well as Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, and the UAE, all using arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance to silence civil society and shut down dissent with impunity. 

Bahrain arbitrarily detained Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab on 9 April 2011 and 13 June 2016 respectively. They are among dozens of human rights defenders whom the authorities have arbitrarily detained, including Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace and Naji Fateel, both subject to mistreatment by officials. The authorities denied them medical treatment and interfered with their family visits. We are particularly alarmed by the Working Group’s reports of reprisals against those who have been subject of an urgent appeal or opinion in Bahrain. This falls far short of the standards that every state, but particularly members of the Human Rights Council, should uphold.

We condemn Egypt's arbitrary arrest of lawyer Ibrahim Metwally in 2017 en route to attend an HRC session, to present cases of enforced disappearance, and his ill-treatment. His and the cases of 12 others arbitrarily arrested in June 2019 reflect Egypt's closure of civic space.

In Iraq, we condemn the detention of journalists, protesters and civil society activists. During protests in Basra, at least seven Iraqi journalists were assaulted or detained including Reuters photographer Essam al-Sudani.

Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on women’s and other human rights defenders forms its systematic use of arbitrary detention in which thousands have been detained.

Those detained in 2018 included Aziza al-Yousef; Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and other women’s rights advocates who also campaigned to end the driving ban, as well as writers, academics and family members of WHRDs. “Charges” were only brought against them in March 2019. They remain in prison, alongside members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA); Mohammed al-Qahtani, and Abdullah al-Hamid; blogger Raif Badawi and human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair.

Iran systematically arbitrarily detains trade unionists, HRDs, minority rights activists and lawyers like Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi.

Kuwait’s arbitrary arrest in July, of stateless rights activists including Abdulhakim al-Fadhli exemplifies the intersectionality of rights and how guaranteeing civil space bolsters other rights. 

The UAE’s March 2017 arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearance of HRD Ahmed Mansoor continues to tarnish the UAE, showing that its “year of tolerance” does not include human rights.

Mr. President, the report of the Working Group shows that the use of arbitrary detention – often without charge, recourse to access independent legal representation, and in poor conditions of detention – remains an active method to quell dissent across the Middle East. 

CIVICUS joins civil society in calling for full cooperation with the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and we call on states who have instrumentalized arbitrary detention to immediately release those detained and provide justice and remedy to victims and their families. 

We ask the Working Group: what more can be done to ensure implementation of its appeals and opinions in states where arbitrary detention remains so widespread?

 

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