women human rights defenders

 

  • ‘Against hopelessness, we need to work not to lose the very small windows of freedom that we can find under this dictatorship’

    CIVICUS speaks to an Iranian woman human rights defender about the causes and significance of the recent protests in Iran, as well as the prospects for change in a country with a closed civic space and a theocratic government that maintains a firm grip on power. She asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

     

  • 36 States stand with Saudi women human rights defenders

    Human Rights Council Stands with Saudi Women Human Rights Defenders

    Since early 2018, tens of women human rights defenders have been detained in Saudi Arabia for their human rights work. Last week, a cross-regional group of 36 States, including all EU Member States, called for the release of detained women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. This statement sent a strong message to the Saudi authorities that the Council will hold it accountable for human rights violations. The joint statement at the Council comes at a critical time as the Saudi Public Prosecution announced last week that some of the defenders will be referred to trial. 

    During the interactive dialogue held last week with the UN High Commissioner at the Human Rights Council, 36 States*, led by Iceland, called on Saudi Arabia to release women human rights defenders who are detained for exercising their fundamental freedoms. States also condemned the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and demanded that those responsible be held accountable.

    International Service for Human Rights, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Women’s March Global, CIVICUS and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain - have been advocating for the immediate and unconditional release of Saudi women human rights defenders. Ahead of the 40th session of the Council, over 50 NGOs called on UN Member States to adopt a resolution at the Council calling explicitly for the immediate and unconditional release of the detained Saudi women human rights defenders and establishing a monitoring mechanism over the human rights violations in the country.

    Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR’s Human Rights Council Advocate welcomed the leadership of Iceland for this landmark statement and criticised other states who didn’t join; and said that “this was the first time ever States at the Council collectively condemned human rights violations committed inside Saudi Arabia, a country that has until now escaped Council scrutiny despite being a Council member with an appalling human rights record. The Saudi authorities, as Council members, now have an opportunity to engage constructively with the Council and immediately release the defenders. States should follow up on the joint statement by presenting a resolution at the June session if inadequate progress has been made.” said El Hosseiny. 

    "We appreciate last week’s joint statement, a one of a kind initiative that followed tireless advocacy efforts by members of the Free Saudi Women Coalition. It's heartening to see this resolution calling for the release of ten prominent women human rights defenders, some of whom were subjected to severe torture and ill-treatment. Yet, we shouldn't forget that there are many more in prison who can't be named out of fear for potential reprisals to them and their families. Some family members have been targeted already. We will continue to work and advocate to ensure that all defenders are free from prison and retaliation and that their perpetrators are held accountable," said Weaam Youssef, WHRDs Programme Coordinator of the GCHR.

     “We welcome this joint statement from members states at the UNHRC,” said Masana Ndinga-Kanga MENA Advocacy Lead at CIVICUS. “We see this as the first step of a much more rigorous process of accountability for complete impunity towards human rights defenders. More needs to be done to protect civil society in Saudi Arabia.” Saudi Arabia is rated closed on the CIVICUS Monitor.

    "This is a very big step for the 36 member states who have come forward to take - yet we are disappointed that more have not followed" said Uma Mishra-Newbery, Executive Director at Women's March Global. "This step shows that while progress is being made and the work of our coalition is making a difference, more work still needs to be done in holding Saudi Arabia accountable. We are concerned with every passing day at the safety of these activists and hope that member states will continue to keep pressure on Saudi Arabia."

    "We welcome the joint statement on Saudi Arabia and calling attention to the country's systematic rights abuses. We remain concerned over the ongoing detentions of women rights defenders, journalists, and other peaceful critics of the government. We call on Saudi Arabia to release all prisoners of conscience to undertake serious and good faith steps to bring its domestic laws into line with international standards, in particular the country's overly broad counter-terror law." Tyler Pry, Advocacy Officer, ADHRB.

    The joint statement called for the release of Loujain Al-Hathloul, Aziza Al-Yousef, Eman Al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Hatoon Al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Nassima Al-Sadah, Mohammed Al-Bajadi, Amal Al-Harbi and Shadan Al-Anezi. Some of the women have been subject to electrocution, flogging, sexual harassment and other forms of torture.

    Saudi Arabia has silenced women human rights defenders for decades and those named above are not the only ones in prison, they are just emblematic cases. The decision by the Saudi government to allow women to drive is only a cosmetic change that fails to address the root causes of discrimination against women: the male guardianship system. 

    * The States who signed the joint statement are: Iceland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Belgium, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Finland, Germany, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Estonia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Norway, Latvia, Montenegro, Malta, Slovakia, Liechtenstein, Italy, Bulgaria, France, Romania, Greece, Cyprus, Hungary, Poland, and Monaco.

    Read the joint statement here.

     

  • Bin the Travel Ban: Lift undue restrictions on Mozn Hassan and Egyptian civil society’s right to freedom of association

    Mozn Hassan is a courageous feminist and a human rights defender who protested with her fellow citizens to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak, calling for a new era of freedom and democracy in Egypt. Her struggle for equal rights for women during and after the Egyptian revolution, through her organisation Nazra for Feminist Studies, earned her the 2016 Right Livelihood Award. But she’s unlikely to receive this prestigious award because of a travel ban imposed on her by the Egyptian authorities.

    Mozn’s travel ban is the latest in a series of measures taken against her and other prominent leaders of Egyptian civil society under the ambit of the infamous Case 173 of 2011, commonly known as the “NGO Foreign Funding case”.

    In March 2016, Mozn Hassan was summoned to appear before a judge investigating the “NGO Foreign Funding” case soon after her participation at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. On June 27, 2016, she was prevented by the airport authorities in Cairo - acting on the instructions of the investigating judge and the Prosecutor General - from participating in the Women Human Rights Defenders Regional Coalition for the Middle East and North Africa meeting held in Lebanon.

     

  • Campaign to Whitewash Saudi Arabia’s Image Does Little for Women in the Kingdom

    By Uma Mishra-Newbery, Interim Executive Director of Women’s March Global, which is a founding member of the Free Saudi Women Coalition & Kristina Stockwood works with the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

    This article was facilitated by CIVICUS as part of a series on the current state of civil society organisations (CSOs)

    Amid a high-profile public relations campaign to convince the world just how much the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is modernising – highlighted in last year’s lifting of the ban on women driving – Saudi authorities continue their relentless persecution of women human rights defenders. A trial that has drawn international condemnation and intensified criticism of the country’s human rights record, features nine women who were arrested in 2018 for campaigning for the right to drive and an end to the Kingdom’s male guardianship system.

    Read on: Inter Press Service

     

  • CIVICUS at the UN Commission on the Status of Women

     

    Together with our members, CIVICUS is participating in the Commission on the Status of Women (11-22 March, UN Headquarters, New York). This is the 63rd session of the global intergovernmental body, which is dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. There are a number of events and advocacy activities taking place during the two week UN meeting. See our programme and learn more about how governments, UN agencies and civil society work together at this annual meeting to advance gender equality,  via our CSW portal

     

  • CIVICUS calls for urgent investigation into death of woman human rights defender in Kenya

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS, has called on authorities in Kenya to urgently investigate the death of a woman rights defender.

    The body of activist Caroline Mwatha Ochieng was discovered almost a week after she had been reported missing on 6 February 2019.

     

  • Emirati Women continue to face Systemic Oppression by Authorities

    Women in the United Arab Emirates continue to face incredible barriers to their rights to civic freedoms by state and non-state actors. Living under the male guardianship system, that grants control over their movement, finances and interactions, these women can face detainment for merely reporting sexual violence in authorities. Because of this already patriarchal system, women human rights defenders face additional barriers in campaigning for their rights – they are frequently targeted and shamed by state and non-state actors (including family, communities and society at large). While imprisoned, women are also subject to torture and violence – but largely erased from the public sphere because of entrenched patriarchy. During CSW63, we highlight the great challenges facing WHRDs in the UAE and ask you to stand with them – calling for greater protections for Emirati women by state actors. The United Arab Emirates is rated ‘closed’ on the CIVICUS Monitor.

    UAE Infographic

     

  • Free Saudi Activists commemorate 2-Year anniversary of the Saudi government's arrest of women's rights defenders

    COALITION TO HOST A WEBINAR ON MAY 15 PROVIDING UPDATES ON PRISONERS, STATE OF WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS IN SAUDI ARABIA AND CAMPAIGN PROGRESS

     

  • Free Saudi Activists commemorating 2-year anniversary of the Saudi government’s arrest & torture of WHRDs

    On 15 May, Free Saudi Activists, a coalition of women human rights defenders and organisations advocating for the release of women’s rights activists from prison, is hosting a webinar to update the public on the status of those who were arrested two years ago for calling for the dismantling of the male guardianship system and defying the government’s ban on women driving. The arrests involved approximately a dozen women human rights defenders (WHRDs), including Loujain Al-Hathloul, who remains in prison along with other activists. Reports suggest that these WHRDs have been subject to multiple human rights violations under Saudi authority, including electric shocks, flogging, and sexual assault, and have been denied due process.

    In addition to updating the public on the prisoners’ status, webinar panelists will address the state of women’s human rights across Saudi Arabia, as well as the coalition’s campaign progress and future advocacy efforts.  

    What:   Representatives from the Free Saudi Activists Coalition will participate in a 1 hour webinar to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the arrest of women human rights defenders. Panelists will provide an update on the human rights violations suffered by those who remain behind bars in Saudi Arabia, as well as a more comprehensive assessment of the state of women’s human rights in the kingdom. Free Saudi Activists Coalition members will also discuss their campaign efforts to date and their future plans to secure the unconditional release of the Saudi prisoners. The webinar will be followed by a Twitter storm to help raise awareness.

    When:     Friday, May 15th from 3:00pm-4:00pm GMT +2

    Who:   The event is organized by the Free Saudi Activists coalition, which includes Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), CIVICUS, Equality Now, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) and Women’s March Global. 

    The event will be moderated by:

    UmaMishra-Newbery - Women’s March Global Executive Director 

    Webinar panelists include: 

    Salma El Hosseiny – Programme manager, Human Rights Council, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

    Suad Abu-Dayyeh - Middle East and North Africa Consultant, Equality Now

    Husain Abdulla - Founder and Executive Director, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain 

    Weaam Youssef- Programme Manager, Women Human Rights Defenders Programme, Gulf Centre for Human Rights 

    Masana Ndinga Kanga - Crisis Response Fund and MENA Advocacy Lead, CIVICUS

    Why:   Saudi Arabia has one of the worst international records when it comes to the protection and advancement of women’s human rights. Now more than ever, during the COVID-19 pandemic, those who are arbitrarily detained and at increased risk, must be released - including Saudi activists While Saudi authorities propagate a message of progress on its human rights record, the unlawful arrest and imprisonment of women’s human rights defenders - for peacefully protesting the ban on women driving and calling for the dismantling of the male guardianship system - shows the inherent disconnect between the government’s actions and their alleged push towards respecting its human rights obligations. Continued advocacy by groups like the Free Saudi Activists and coalition members is vital to putting public pressure on Saudi authorities and the international community to hold the government accountable for its actions. 

    How:   Media is invited to attend at any time during the event. 

    Register HERE

    ABOUT FREE SAUDI ACTIVISTS
    Free Saudi Activists is a coalition of women human rights defenders advocating for the unconditional release of Saudi women’s human rights activists from prison. The coalition includes representatives from the ADHRB, CIVICUS, Equality Now, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), WHRD-MENA and Women’s March Global. 

    Website: freesaudiactivists.org

     

  • Free Saudi Women Coalition Calls for Immediate Release of Saudi Women Activists

    SaudiArabia JointStatement

     

    • Coalition of global human rights groups launch a campaign for release of all Saudi women activists behind bars
    • At least 12 women human rights defenders arrested in past six months and have had their rights violated for their activism
    • Almost a quarter of a million signatures on a petition calling on the UN to hold Saudi Arabia accountable 
    • More than 170 NGOs have called on the UN to suspend Saudi Arabia's membership of the UN Human Rights Council and hold inquiry into human rights abuses
    • The coalition calls for action including ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which has been enabling war in Yemen since 2015  

    On November 29, the world commemorates International Women Human Rights Defenders Day - just 10 days before the 20th Anniversary of the international signing of the Declaration on human rights defenders. On these important milestones, we turn the spotlight on the rights of women human rights defenders and call attention to serious violations of these rights globally but particularly in Saudi Arabia.

    Since May 2018, at least a dozen women’s rights defenders have been arrested and subject to human rights violations for their activism in Saudi Arabia. Recent reports have emerged that some of the detained women activists have been subject to electrocution, flogging, sexual harassment and other forms of torture. Testimonies recount that this abuse has left some of the women unable to walk or stand properly with uncontrolled shaking and marks on their bodies. One of them has attempted suicide multiple times.

    “Since May we have been advocating for the unconditional release of Saudi Women’s Rights Defenders - and to learn of the torture WHRDs are subject to fuels our work even further,” said Uma Mishra-Newbery,Director of Global Community from Women’s March Global.

    A campaign launched by members of the Free Saudi Women Coalition including Women’s March Global and Coalition partners, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), CIVICUS and Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB), has been advocating for the immediate and unconditional release of Saudi women human rights defenders.

    More than 240,000 signatures have been collected on Women’s March Global’s Change.org petition calling on the United Nations to hold Saudi Arabia accountable. More than 170 NGOs have called on the United Nations to suspend Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council and to hold an inquiry into human rights abuses in the country.

    “Among the women’s rights defenders jailed this year in Saudi Arabia are partners and friends. One young woman was kidnapped and brought to Saudi Arabia against her will – just as the authorities had planned with prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October,” said Khalid Ibrahim, GCHR Executive Director.

    “We can’t forget the brave women’s rights defenders who are at risk of torture and abuse in prison, and we fear greatly for their well-being.”

    Notably, Saudi Arabia has silenced women human rights defenders for decades, and those recently arrested are not the only ones in prison, where other women are serving prison sentences or even facing execution for protesting.

    “Authorities continuously violate rights to peaceful assembly, curb the formation of independent civil society organisations, and restrict freedom of expression for Saudi activists” said Masana Ndinga-Kanga, MENA Advocacy Lead from CIVICUS.

    “The very women at the forefront of campaigning for the right to drive, which was recently granted, have been detained for their calls for an end to the male guardianship system over women,” said Ndinga-Kanga.

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in all countries around the globe, has rated civic space – the space for civil society – in Saudi Arabia as “closed”.

    “Women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, in the absence of any independent NGOs, provide a vital lifeline of support for equality and protection from violence for women of their country who are left with blocked access, inadequate resources or ineffective protection from violence of all forms," said a Saudi human rights defender who can’t be named for their own protection.

    The coalition partners have called for international action, including ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which is enabling the war in Yemen since 2015. Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR's Human Rights Council Advocate said that UN Human Rights Council members should call for a Special Session on the increasing internal repression by the Saudi authorities against human rights defenders, journalists and other peaceful critics.

    "Silence by the world's top UN human rights body on these egregious violations would only embolden the Saudi authorities to escalate their internal repression and continue to torture defenders, with complete impunity,” said El Hosseiny.

    “Action by the international community will put Saudi Arabia on notice not only that domestic repression is unacceptable, but that its actions in Yemen are unacceptable,” said Husain Abdulla, ADHRBExecutive Director.

    “We call for accountability for those responsible, not only for the arrests of women’s rights defenders, but the millions facing famine in Yemen, and for the kingdom to meet its international treaty obligations.”

    Women’s March Global, GCHR, ISHR, CIVICUS and ADHRB reiterate calls for Saudi Arabia to immediately release all human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists, and end the abuse and torture of women human rights defenders in prison. The Saudi claims that torture is not taking place in prison are not credible and the international community must act immediately to protect these detainees, especially the women who are reportedly being subjected to torture.

    To arrange interviews or for further information or media assistance, please contact:

    For the CIVICUS Press Centre, click here.
    CIVICUS facebook page
    CIVICUS twitter account

    About CIVICUS:

    CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. Established in 1993 and headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, CIVICUS has hubs across the globe and more than 4,000 members in more than 175 countries.

    Photo credit: ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Ayene

     

  • In Defence of Humanity: Women Human Rights Defenders and the struggle against silencing

    WHRDs PolicyBriefIn recent years, combined with existing threats, the rise of right-wing and nationalist populism across the world has led to an increasing number of governments implementing repressive measures against the space for civil society (civic space), particularly affecting women human rights defenders (WHRDs). The increasingly restricted space for WHRDs presents an urgent threat, not only to women-led organisations, but to all efforts campaigning for women’s rights, gender equality and the rights of all people. In spite of these restrictions, WHRDs have campaigned boldly in the face of mounting opposition: movements such as #MeToo #MenAreTrash, #FreeSaudiWomen, #NiUnaMenos, #NotYourAsianSideKick and #AbortoLegalYa show how countless women are working to advance systemic change for equality and justice. More WHRDs across the world are working collectively to challenge structural injustices and promote the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Their power has been in the collective, despite constant attempts at silencing them. Furthermore, there have been WHRDs recognized for their invaluable contributions to opening civic space and protecting human rights in India, Poland, and Ireland. In the United States, WHRDs have won awards for the environmental activism, and in Iraq for their work in calling for greater accountability for sexual violence during war time.

    This policy brief responds to this context and highlights how the participation of WHRDs in defending and strengthening the protection of human rights is critical for transforming traditional gender roles, embedded social norms and patriarchal power structures. WHRDs are leading actions to advance sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), socioeconomic justice, labour rights and environmental rights. Moreover, WHRDs work to ensure that women are included in political and economic decision-making processes, making clear the disproportionate effects that socioeconomic inequalities have on women and gender non-conforming people.

    Download the Report

     

  • India: Two more women activists arrested as crackdown on protesters continue

    Human Rights Defenders Alert – India and global civil society alliance CIVICUS call for the immediate release of two women activists who were arrested last week for their involvement in mass protests against the discriminatory citizenship law. These arrests highlight the escalating crackdown on dissent by the Indian authorities.

     

  • Ladies European Tour community should #StandWithSaudiHeroes

    In December 2019, the Ladies European Tour announced that it would hold a tournament in Saudi Arabia from the 19th to the 22nd March 2020 in collaboration with Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation.

    While this announcement can be seen as an embedment of Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030” economic reform plan, it also contributes to “sports-washing”—hosting major events that seek to gloss over serious human rights violations committed by the Saudi authorities in recent years.

    Since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Saudi Arabia has faced increased international criticism over its human rights record; particularly its lack of a transparent investigation into the prominent journalist’s murder, the torture and detention of women’s rights activists and its role in war crimes committed during its military operations in Yemen.

    In June 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions presented to the Council her investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, which found the State of Saudi Arabia responsible and highlighted that the killing reflected a broader crackdown against activists, journalists and dissenters, as well as a culture of impunity at the highest levels. The Special Rapporteur called on corporations to “establish explicit policies to avoid entering into business deals with business, businesspeople, and organs of the State that have had a direct or indirect role with Khashoggi’s execution or other grave human rights violations”.[1]

    The Saudi government has created a hostile environment for human rights defenders— applying a counter-terrorism framework to arbitrarily detain, torture and put on trial dozens of them for their peaceful advocacy. Among those who remain detained are notable Saudi women’s rights activists Loujain al-Hathloul,Nouf Abdulaziz, Maya al-Zahrani, Nassima Al Saddah and Samar Badawi, who advocated for women’s right to drive and an end to the country’s discriminatory male guardianship system.

    These women were among a dozen women’s rights defenders arrested in 2018 in retaliation for peacefully campaigning for the protection and promotion of women’s rights throughout the kingdom. It was reported that they were subjected to electric shocks, flogging, sexual threats and other forms of torture during interrogation. These women, who remain detained, along with other women’s rights activists temporarily released, are on trial on charges solely related to their activism. We remain concerned that they will not be able to exercise their right to a fair trial in accordance with the international human rights standards, which Saudi Arabia is obliged to adhere to.

    While Saudi Arabia adopted some positive measures, including permitting women to drive andremoving travel restrictions for women over 21,the authorities have yet to fully dismantle the male guardianship system, tackle severe lack of gender inequality, and end the arbitrary detention and prosecution of women’s rights activists and human rights defenders.

    The world’s top human rights body, the United Nations Human Rights Council (the Council) has unprecedentedly scrutinized the human rights record of Saudi Arabia in 2019. In March 2019, Iceland on behalf of 36 States delivered the first-ever joint statement on Saudi Arabia which, expressed serious concern over the continuing arrests and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders and called for the release of ten named women’s rights activists from detention as well as accountability for the extrajudicial killing of Khashoggi. In September 2019, Australia delivered another joint statement that set out a list of measures that the Saudi government should take to improve its human rights record, which to this date the Saudi government failed to comply with.

    Lastly, we also draw your attention to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which provide that businesses should seek to prevent (...) adverse human rights impact that they are directly linked to through their business relationships, even where they do not contribute to those impacts. The ability of civil society to operate where you hold or participate in events is essential to upholding your credibility.

    Take Action:

    In light of Saudi Arabia’s numerous and ongoing violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, the undersigned NGOs have called on Ladies European Tour organizers, players, and official broadcasters to urge the Saudi authorities to drop all charges against Saudi women’s rights activists and immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for their peaceful and legitimate human rights activism.

    Because you can genuinely make a difference in these activists’ lives and their struggle for freedom and gender equality, we are asking Ladies European Tour fans to help increase awareness and show solidarity by sharing on social media messages of support and solidarity with #StandWithSaudiHeroes.

    While official Ladies European Tour voices and players are important in pressuring Saudi authorities to act, it is important that fans of the sport around the world speak up, too. You too can help the activists get their freedom and continue their human rights struggle. In the lead up to the tournament, please add your voice to the campaign by sharing support on social media channels using the hashtag #StandWithSaudiHeroes, follow campaign developments online, and reach out to competitors representing your home country to participate.

    Signatories:

    1. ALQST
    2. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
    3. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    4. Equality Now!
    5. Gulf Center for Human Rights
    6. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    7. MENA Rights Group
    8. Women’s March Global

    [1] See full recommendations to corporations on page 98- Section K: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session41/Documents/A_HRC_41_CRP.1.docx

     

  • Omani human rights activist silenced and pushed into exile

    CIVICUS interviews Habiba Al Hinai a human rights defender from Oman who had to leave the country for her own safety. She also elaborates the situation for human rights defenders in the country. She is currently living in Germany with her son after she felt that had become difficult for her to live in her home country due to her human rights activities.

    1. What are the restrictions you and other human rights defenders in Oman have faced after being active in the uprising in 2011?
    In 2011, and like in many suppressed Arab countries, Oman witnessed wide spread human rights demonstrations that triggered an extremely violent government reaction attempting to suppress such unusual public actions. Demands of Omani demonstrators were not something new to the authorities, especially with rampant corruption, unemployment, poverty, limited education, suppression of press freedom and freedom of expression, ignoring women and children's rights, conducting of false elections and enforced restrictions and monitoring of civic society associations. The protests resulted in the death of two innocent civilians, in addition to tens wounded by rubber bullets and hundreds detained from different parts of the country.

    As expected, the government responded with an iron fist to human rights movements such as teachers, doctors and workers strikes by imprisoning demonstration organisers along with many human rights defenders, activists, writers, bloggers and the educated elite. As a result of this oppression, many activists had to run away to other countries such as the United Kingdom, Spain and Australia and ask for political asylum, as it has been made impossible for them, facing all kinds of threats of detention and imprisonment, to conduct human rights activities within Oman.

    In 2012, I was arrested along with two of my colleagues during our coverage of a strike by more than 4 000 workers in the desert oilfield. In 2016. I had to pay a fine as I was convicted of two charges for “insulting the Omani people” and “disturbing the general order set by the government”. These charges arose over a post I wrote on my Facebook page. Because of this statement, I had to sign a statement written by the top security service stating that I will not continue with my human rights activities or otherwise I would be sent to prison. Our organisation’s website, Facebook account and Twitter account were hacked and I was kicked out of the Facebook group so that I cannot edit it anymore. The account is still running and all that’s being said on the site is that we are very happy and have no human rights complaints anymore. For this reason, it would not be safe to start another website, Facebook or Twitter account without having high levels of digital security as it can be hacked again.

    A lot of human rights activists in Oman have been sent to courts and faced long and costly trials over fake accusations. Many have served prison sentences of one to three years in prison for “defaming the Sultan” following Facebook and Twitter posts that criticised Sultan Qabos bin Sa’eed Al Sa’eed. This is part of a punishment method for activists who refuse to stop their work. The security services are using different kinds of tools as punishment, including judicial, religious or social pressure. Sadly many activists end up in prison, unable to work or are banned from travelling. Luckily, I was able to leave Oman before I could have been banned from travelling. The political situation in Oman is dire now since the Sultan is of advanced age and is quite sick, which has led to all the different political factions fighting over who will take over power. Unfortunately, the government is using this time to punish activists through prison sentences and other restrictions.

    2. What is the situation in general for civil society in Oman?
    The situation is that all independent civil society organisations (CSOs) are banned from carrying out their activities and CSO workers have been threatened to not even work online or even form WhatsApp groups. Making calls on Skype, Signal, Messenger and WhatsApp is also banned. All independent magazines and newspaper have been closed down and reports indicate that three journalists from the Al Zaman newspaper have been sentenced to three years in prison for publishing articles critical of the state. Six activists have fled to the United Kingdom where they have been granted asylum, which is a new phenomenon for us. Many of those human rights defenders who are not in prison right now in Oman are waiting for their cases to be finalised by the courts.

    The result of this is fear of doing any human rights work. We don’t know who will rule Oman after the Sultan and many people in Oman are in general very afraid because they don’t know what will happen in the future. Additionally there is a lot of corruption and the unemployment rate is very high. 70% of the population are youth under the age of 30, meaning youth unemployment is very high. Omanis feel that the Sultan cannot solve these problems because of his age and illness and are unsure as to who will rule the country in the future.

    The crackdown on civil society has resulted in very little reporting on the human rights situation in Oman and most human rights defenders have completely stopped making posts online. The state security has managed to control and push the society back and to make civil society afraid. This has resulted in nobody recording the human rights violations publicly from inside Oman and only space left is for Omani human rights defenders who are abroad to publicly report about the situation.

    3. What specific restrictions have you faced as a woman human rights defender?
    In general, the environment for women human rights defenders in Oman is very unhealthy. The government uses its political power and pressures religious entities and our families to pressure us with the aim of breaking us down. Methods used to shame women human rights defenders include defamation and spreading bad news about women activists. This has resulted in many women human rights defenders being silenced.

    Almost all the women human rights defenders in Oman stopped their activism because they couldn’t take the pressure. The government has contacted over and over the families of women activists to pressure them to stop their female family member from activism. This and the other restrictions became too much for most women human rights defenders to handle. I worked on women’s rights, children’s rights and other human rights issues in Oman and I was punished for it. Besides the detention and paying a fine, I also underwent interrogations by the security forces and was told by the government that I didn’t have a permit to do any work on women and children’s rights.

    In my situation, the government sent my own family members to break me down. The government used them and some of our personal differences to come and detain me when I attended a protest in 2011. This creates terrible cracks in the family and I suffered a lot. Now some of my family members chose to abandon me or don’t talk to me. If they even support me financially, they will face a backlash from the government. The restrictions I faced are still causing me great problems. After I was imprisoned in the middle of the dessert in temperatures that could sometimes reach 50 degrees with my hands ties and with no air conditioning, I have a phobia of indoor spaces and this is still very stressful for me today. Currently I am seeing a psychiatrist in Germany for a treatment.

    4. What support is needed from international civil society and international actors?
    The international community must be aware of the human rights situation in Oman. Many people and governments around the world don’t think there is an issue with human rights in Oman including the European Union. This has a lot to do with us not being able to report on the situation from Oman. The government in Oman managed to scare us quickly before the international community knew what was happening.

    It is important to pressure the embassies of Oman around the world. Just recently, I saw that the Omani embassy in London had invited a big INGO for an event at the embassy. This is a sign of how good the Omani government is at networking and putting on a certain face to the outside world including human rights organisations worldwide. It is important that international human rights organisations do not accept invitations to events by the Omani embassies. If they do attend, they must pressure the government officials while at the events.

    The United States of America had previously started a Female Genital Mutilation campaign in Oman but when the US-Iran deal came into place with Oman being a key actor in the deal the US started being friendlier to the Omani government. In the United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Oman in March 2015, the United States was very gentle concerning the human rights situation in Oman. But the international community can do a lot through diplomacy. When UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to association and assembly, Maina Kiai, came to Oman, he met with activists. Luckily, international organisations supported Maina Kiai’s critical reports but this report must be collected and used as part of diplomacy at an international level. Unfortunately, the Omani government does very good diplomacy so governments need to be persistent.

    • Follow Habiba Al Hinai on Twitter @HabibaAlHinai
    • Oman is rated as ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • Saudi Arabia: Over 160 groups call for accountability following murder of journalist and widespread arrest of women’s rights defenders

    Francais | Espanol | العربية

    Saudi Arabia: Kingdom must be held to account for suppression of dissent, following murder of journalist and widespread arrest of women’s rights defenders

    Recognising the fundamental right to express our views, free from repression, we the undersigned civil society organisations call on the international community, including the United Nations, multilateral and regional institutions as well as democratic governments committed to the freedom of expression, to take immediate steps to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for grave human rights violations. The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on 2 October is only one of many gross and systematic violations committed by the Saudi authorities inside and outside the country. As the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists approaches on 2 November, we strongly echo calls for an independent investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, in order to hold those responsible to account.

    This case, coupled with the rampant arrests of human rights defenders, including journalists, scholars and women’s rights activists; internal repression; the potential imposition of the death penalty on demonstrators; and the findings of the UN Group of Eminent Experts report which concluded that the Coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, have committed acts that may amount to international crimes in Yemen, all demonstrate Saudi Arabia’s record of gross and systematic human rights violations. Therefore, our organisations further urge the UN General Assembly to suspend Saudi Arabia from the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), in accordance with operative paragraph 8 of the General Assembly resolution 60/251.

    Saudi Arabia has never had a reputation for tolerance and respect for human rights, but there were hopes that as Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman rolled out his economic plan (Vision 2030), and finally allowed women to drive, there would be a loosening of restrictions on women’s rights, and freedom of expression and assembly. However, prior to the driving ban being lifted in June, women human rights defenders received phone calls warning them to remain silent. The Saudi authorities then arrested dozens of women’s rights defenders (both female and male) who had been campaigning against the driving ban. The Saudi authorities’ crackdown against all forms of dissent has continued to this day.

    Khashoggi criticised the arrests of human rights defenders and the reform plans of the Crown Prince, and was living in self-imposed exile in the US. On 2 October 2018, Khashoggi went to the Consulate in Istanbul with his fiancée to complete some paperwork, but never came out. Turkish officials soon claimed there was evidence that he was murdered in the Consulate, but Saudi officials did not admit he had been murdered until more than two weeks later.

    It was not until two days later, on 20 October, that the Saudi public prosecution’s investigation released findings confirming that Khashoggi was deceased. Their reports suggested that he died after a “fist fight” in the Consulate, and that 18 Saudi nationals have been detained. King Salman also issued royal decrees terminating the jobs of high-level officials, including Saud Al-Qahtani, an advisor to the royal court, and Ahmed Assiri, deputy head of the General Intelligence Presidency. The public prosecution continues its investigation, but the body has not been found.

    Given the contradictory reports from Saudi authorities, it is essential that an independent international investigation is undertaken.

    On 18 October, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on Turkey to request that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres establish a UN investigation into the extrajudicial execution of Khashoggi.

    On 15 October 2018, David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, and Dr. Agnès Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions, called for “an independent investigation that could produce credible findings and provide the basis for clear punitive actions, including the possible expulsion of diplomatic personnel, removal from UN bodies (such as the Human Rights Council), travel bans, economic consequences, reparations and the possibility of trials in third states.”

    We note that on 27 September, Saudi Arabia joined consensus at the UN HRC as it adopted a new resolution on the safety of journalists (A/HRC/Res/39/6). We note the calls in this resolution for “impartial, thorough, independent and effective investigations into all alleged violence, threats and attacks against journalists and media workers falling within their jurisdiction, to bring perpetrators, including those who command, conspire to commit, aid and abet or cover up such crimes to justice.” It also “[u]rges the immediate and unconditional release of journalists and media workers who have been arbitrarily arrested or arbitrarily detained.”

    Khashoggi had contributed to the Washington Post and Al-Watan newspaper, and was editor-in-chief of the short-lived Al-Arab News Channel in 2015. He left Saudi Arabia in 2017 as arrests of journalists, writers, human rights defenders and activists began to escalate. In his last column published in the Washington Post, he criticised the sentencing of journalist Saleh Al-Shehi to five years in prison in February 2018. Al-Shehi is one of more than 15 journalists and bloggers who have been arrested in Saudi Arabia since September 2017, bringing the total of those in prison to 29, according to RSF, while up to 100 human rights defenders and possibly thousands of activists are also in detention according to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) and Saudi partners including ALQST. Many of those detained in the past year had publicly criticised reform plans related to Vision 2030, noting that women would not achieve economic equality merely by driving.

    Another recent target of the crackdown on dissent is prominent economist Essam Al-Zamel, an entrepreneur known for his writing about the need for economic reform. On 1 October 2018, the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) held a secret session during which the Public Prosecution charged Al-Zamel with violating the Anti Cyber Crime Law by “mobilising his followers on social media.” Al-Zamel criticised Vision 2030 on social media, where he had one million followers. Al-Zamel was arrested on 12 September 2017 at the same time as many other rights defenders and reformists.

    The current unprecedented targeting of women human rights defenders started in January 2018 with the arrest of Noha Al-Balawi due to her online activism in support of social media campaigns for women’s rights such as (#Right2Drive) or against the male guardianship system (#IAmMyOwnGuardian). Even before that, on 10 November 2017, the SCC in Riyadh sentenced Naimah Al-Matrod to six years in jail for her online activism.

    The wave of arrests continued after the March session of the HRC and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) published its recommendations on Saudi Arabia. Loujain Al-Hathloul, was abducted in the Emirates and brought to Saudi Arabia against her will on 15 May 2018; followed by the arrest of Dr. Eman Al-Nafjan, founder and author of the Saudiwoman's Weblog, who had previously protested the driving ban; and Aziza Al-Yousef, a prominent campaigner for women’s rights.

    Four other women’s human rights defenders who were arrested in May 2018 include Dr. Aisha Al-Manae, Dr. Hessa Al-Sheikh and Dr. Madeha Al-Ajroush, who took part in the first women’s protest movement demanding the right to drive in 1990; and Walaa Al-Shubbar, a young activist well-known for her campaigning against the male guardianship system. They are all academics and professionals who supported women’s rights and provided assistance to survivors of gender-based violence. While they have since been released, all four women are believed to be still facing charges.

    On 6 June 2018, journalist, editor, TV producer and woman human rights defender Nouf Abdulaziz was arrested after a raid on her home. Following her arrest, Mayya Al-Zahrani published a letter from Abdulaziz, and was then arrested herself on 9 June 2018, for publishing the letter.

    On 27 June 2018, Hatoon Al-Fassi, a renowned scholar, and associate professor of women's history at King Saud University, was arrested. She has long been advocating for the right of women to participate in municipal elections and to drive, and was one of the first women to drive the day the ban was lifted on 24 June 2018.

    Twice in June, UN special procedures called for the release of women’s rights defenders. On 27 June 2018, nine independent UN experts stated, “In stark contrast with this celebrated moment of liberation for Saudi women, women's human rights defenders have been arrested and detained on a wide scale across the country, which is truly worrying and perhaps a better indication of the Government's approach to women's human rights.” They emphasised that women human rights defenders “face compounded stigma, not only because of their work as human rights defenders, but also because of discrimination on gender grounds.”

    Nevertheless, the arrests of women human rights defenders continued with Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah on 30 July 2018. They are being held in solitary confinement in a prison that is controlled by the Presidency of State Security, an apparatus established by order of King Salman on 20 July 2017. Badawi’s brother Raif Badawi is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for his online advocacy, and her former husband Waleed Abu Al-Khair, is serving a 15-year sentence. Abu Al-Khair, Abdullah Al-Hamid, and Mohammad Fahad Al-Qahtani (the latter two are founding members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association - ACPRA) were jointly awarded the Right Livelihood Award in September 2018. Yet all of them remain behind bars.

    Relatives of other human rights defenders have also been arrested. Amal Al-Harbi, the wife of prominent activist Fowzan Al-Harbi, was arrested by State Security on 30 July 2018 while on the seaside with her children in Jeddah. Her husband is another jailed member of ACPRA. Alarmingly, in October 2018, travel bans were imposed against the families of several women’s rights defenders, such as Aziza Al-Yousef, Loujain Al-Hathloul and Eman Al-Nafjan.

    In another alarming development, at a trial before the SCC on 6 August 2018, the Public Prosecutor called for the death penalty for Israa Al-Ghomgam who was arrested with her husband Mousa Al-Hashim on 6 December 2015 after they participated in peaceful protests in Al-Qatif. Al-Ghomgam was charged under Article 6 of the Cybercrime Act of 2007 in connection with social media activity, as well as other charges related to the protests. If sentenced to death, she would be the first woman facing the death penalty on charges related to her activism. The next hearing is scheduled for 28 October 2018.

    The SCC, which was set up to try terrorism cases in 2008, has mostly been used to prosecute human rights defenders and critics of the government in order to keep a tight rein on civil society.

    On 12 October 2018, UN experts again called for the release of all detained women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. They expressed particular concern about Al-Ghomgam’s trial before the SCC, saying, “Measures aimed at countering terrorism should never be used to suppress or curtail human rights work.” It is clear that the Saudi authorities have not acted on the concerns raised by the special procedures – this non-cooperation further brings their membership on the HRC into disrepute.

    Many of the human rights defenders arrested this year have been held in incommunicado detention with no access to families or lawyers. Some of them have been labelled traitors and subjected to smear campaigns in the state media, escalating the possibility they will be sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Rather than guaranteeing a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders at a time of planned economic reform, the Saudi authorities have chosen to escalate their repression against any dissenting voices.

    Our organisations reiterate our calls to the international community to hold Saudi Arabia accountable and not allow impunity for human rights violations to prevail.

    We call on the international community, and in particular the UN, to:

    1. Take action to ensure there is an international, impartial, prompt, thorough, independent and effective investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi;
    2. Ensure Saudi Arabia be held accountable for the murder of Khashoggi and for its systematic violations of human rights;
    3. Call a Special Session of the Human Rights Council on the recent wave of arrests and attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and other dissenting voices in Saudi Arabia;
    4. Take action at the UN General Assembly to suspend Saudi Arabia’s membership of the Human Rights Council; and
    5. Urge the government of Saudi Arabia to implement the below recommendations.

    We call on the authorities in Saudi Arabia to:

    1. Produce the body of Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi and invite independent international experts to oversee investigations into his murder; cooperate with all UN mechanisms; and ensure that those responsible for his death, including those who hold command responsibility, are brought to justice;
    2. Immediately quash the convictions of all human rights defenders, including women and men advocating for gender equality, and drop all charges against them;
    3. Immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders, writers, journalists and prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia whose detention is a result of their peaceful and legitimate work in the promotion and protection of human rights including women’s rights;
    4. Institute a moratorium on the death penalty; including as punishment for crimes related to the exercise of rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and peaceful assembly;
    5. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders and journalists in Saudi Arabia are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities and public interest reporting without fear of reprisal;
    6. Immediately implement the recommendations made by the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen; and
    7. Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and bring all national laws limiting the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association into compliance with international human rights standards.

    Signed,

    Access Now
    Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) - France
    Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) - Germany
    Al-Marsad - Syria
    ALQST for Human Rights
    ALTSEAN-Burma
    Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
    Amman Center for Human Rights Studies (ACHRS) - Jordan
    Amman Forum for Human Rights
    Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
    Armanshahr/OPEN ASIA
    ARTICLE 19
    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
    Asociación Libre de Abogadas y Abogados (ALA)
    Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
    Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
    Association malienne des droits de l’Homme (AMDH)
    Association mauritanienne des droits de l’Homme (AMDH)
    Association nigérienne pour la défense des droits de l’Homme (ANDDH)
    Association of Tunisian Women for Research on Development
    Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID)
    Awan Awareness and Capacity Development Organization
    Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
    Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law - Tajikistan
    Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
    Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
    Canadian Center for International Justice
    Caucasus Civil Initiatives Center (CCIC)
    Center for Civil Liberties - Ukraine
    Center for Prisoners’ Rights
    Center for the Protection of Human Rights “Kylym Shamy” - Kazakhstan
    Centre oecuménique des droits de l’Homme (CEDH) - Haïti
    Centro de Políticas Públicas y Derechos Humanos (EQUIDAD) - Perú
    Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos (CALDH) - Guatemala
    Citizen Center for Press Freedom
    Citizens’ Watch - Russia
    CIVICUS
    Civil Society Institute (CSI) - Armenia
    Code Pink
    Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic
    Comité de acción jurídica (CAJ) - Argentina
    Comisión Ecuménica de Derechos Humanos (CEDHU) - Ecuador
    Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos - Dominican Republic
    Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) -Northern Ireland
    Committee to Protect Journalists
    Committee for Respect of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia
    Damascus Center for Human Rights in Syria
    Danish PEN
    DITSHWANELO - The Botswana Center for Human Rights
    Dutch League for Human Rights (LvRM)
    Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center - Azerbaijan
    English PEN
    European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR)
    European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights (ESOHR)
    FIDH within the framework of the Observatory for the protection of human rights defenders
    Finnish League for Human Rights
    Freedom Now
    Front Line Defenders
    Fundación regional de asesoría en derechos humanos (INREDH) - Ecuador
    Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) - Uganda
    Groupe LOTUS (RDC)
    Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
    Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR)
    Human Rights Association (IHD) - Turkey
    Human Rights Center (HRCIDC) - Georgia
    Human Rights Center “Viasna” - Belarus
    Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
    Human Rights Concern (HRCE) - Eritrea
    Human Rights in China
    Human Rights Movement “Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan”
    Human Rights Center Memorial
    Human Rights Sentinel
    IFEX
    Index on Censorship
    Initiative for Freedom of Expression (IFoX) - Turkey
    Institut Alternatives et Initiatives citoyennes pour la Gouvernance démocratique (I-AICGD) - DR Congo
    International Center for Supporting Rights and Freedoms (ICSRF) - Switzerland
    Internationale Liga für Menscherechte
    International Human Rights Organisation “Fiery Hearts Club” - Uzbekistan
    International Legal Initiative (ILI) - Kazakhstan
    International Media Support (IMS)
    International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR)
    International Press Institute
    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
    Internet Law Reform and Dialogue (iLaw)
    Iraqi Association for the Defense of Journalists' Rights
    Iraqi Hope Association
    Italian Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    Justice for Iran
    Karapatan - Philippines
    Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law
    Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture
    KontraS
    Latvian Human Rights Committee
    Lao Movement for Human Rights
    Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada
    League for the Defense of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI)
    Legal Clinic “Adilet” - Kyrgyzstan
    Ligue algérienne de défense des droits de l’Homme (LADDH)
    Ligue centrafricaine des droits de l’Homme
    Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH) Belgium
    Ligue des Electeurs (LE) - DRC
    Ligue ivoirienne des droits de l’Homme (LIDHO)
    Ligue sénégalaise des droits humains (LSDH)
    Ligue tchadienne des droits de l’Homme (LTDH)
    Maison des droits de l’Homme (MDHC) - Cameroon
    Maharat Foundation
    MARUAH - Singapore
    Middle East and North Africa Media Monitoring Observatory
    Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers, International Association of People's Lawyers (IAPL)
    Movimento Nacional de Direitos Humanos (MNDH) - Brasil
    Muslims for Progressive Values
    Mwatana Organization for Human Rights
    National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists
    No Peace Without Justice
    Norwegian PEN
    Odhikar
    Open Azerbaijan Initiative
    Organisation marocaine des droits humains (OMDH)
    People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD)
    People’s Watch
    PEN America
    PEN Canada
    PEN International
    PEN Lebanon
    PEN Québec
    Promo-LEX - Moldova
    Public Foundation - Human Rights Center “Kylym Shamy” - Kyrgyzstan
    Rafto Foundation for Human Rights
    RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in War)
    Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
    Right Livelihood Award Foundation
    Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
    Sahrawi Media Observatory to document human rights violations
    SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights (SALAM DHR)
    Scholars at Risk (SAR)
    Sham Center for Democratic Studies and Human Rights in Syria
    Sisters’ Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF) - Yemen
    Solicitors International Human Rights Group
    Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research
    Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
    Tanmiea - Iraq
    Tunisian Association to Defend Academic Values
    Tunisian Association to Defend Individual Rights
    Tunisian Association of Democratic Women
    Tunis Center for Press Freedom
    Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights
    Tunisian League to Defend Human Rights
    Tunisian Organization against Torture
    Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights (UAF)
    Urnammu
    Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
    Vigdis Freedom Foundation
    Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
    Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition
    Women’s Center for Culture & Art - United Kingdom
    World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)
    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) within the framework of the Observatory for the protection of human rights defenders
    Yemen Center for Human Rights
    Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights)
    17Shubat For Human Rights

     

  • Syria: We remember Razan, Samira, Nazem and Wa’el five years after their kidnapping

    On 09 December, people around the world remember Razan Zaitouneh, Samira KhalilNazem Hamadi and Wa’el Hamada, kidnapped in Douma, Syria on this day five years ago. We, the undersigned human rights organisations, call on the United Nations, international and regional actors, and all parties to the Syrian conflict to actively facilitate an investigation into what happened to the four human rights defenders. They are among many Syrians who have been kidnapped, jailed, murdered or exiled for their peaceful human rights activities. We ask all friends and supporters to help remember Zaitouneh and her colleagues by sharing her work.

    On 09 December 2013, a group of armed men presumed to be connected to the Army of Islam, a large local rebel faction at the time, broke into the Violations Documentation Centre (VDC) office in Douma city, kidnapped the four human rights defenders and took them to an unknown destination. According to unconfirmed reports, the Army of Islam kept captives, including possibly the VDC staff, at Tawbeh Prison for some time, but it has since been abandoned following the armed group’s departure from Douma in 2017.

    Zaitouneh has published dozens of articles and reports on various websites and in newspapers about human rights including freedom of opinion and expression in Syria since 2004. In order to keep her work in the spotlight, her family has now published a website with a collection of her articles, as well as testimonies from people who admire her and worked with her.

    Zaitouneh is one of the most prominent human rights defenders in Syria and along with other activists established the VDC, among several human rights NGOs that she helped found. She has played a key role in the promotion and protection of human rights through her brave work as a lawyer, human rights defender and journalist.

    She was awarded the 2011 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and the 2011 Anna Politkovskaya Award of Reach All Women in War (RAW in WAR). In 2013, the then-U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama honoured her as an International Woman of Courage. In February 2016, Zaitouneh was named prisoner of the month for the “Their freedom is their right” campaign by Maharat Foundation, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), with support from IFEX and its regional members. Zaitouneh was also a finalist for the 2016 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

    At the beginning of the popular protests that spread across Syria in 2011, Zaitouneh was forced into hiding owing to her media activism and her reporting on what was happening on the ground to various media outlets. Zaitouneh’s home in Damascus was raided in May 2011 by the government’s Air Force Intelligence, which then detained her brother-in-law and her husband Wa’el Hamada for three months. A few months before her abduction in 2013, Zaitouneh wrote about the threats she had been receiving and reported to human rights organisations outside Syria that the threats were from local armed groups in Douma.

    “Creating this website was my way of coping with her kidnapping,” said her sister Rana Zaitouneh, who lives in Canada with other family members. “I felt that there were people who did not understand or were not aware of her important work. Razan has done so much for so many people, and yet never felt it was much at all. Her courage and determination are why we have to make her case a priority in these difficult times.”

    “Razan and Wael and their friends need to be found and released. I know my sister wants the whole world to know what has been happening in Syria and since she cannot currently tell people herself, I have to. My daughter and I decided to collect her articles and translate them to English so that they can be more widely accessible. It is also very important that the information be available to everyone who wishes to read it,” she said.

    Visit: http://www.razanwzaitouneh.com/. Please share her work and help the world remember Razan Zaitouneh, Wa’el Hamada, Samira Khalil and Nazem Hamadi.

    In solidarity,

    Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)

    CIVICUS

    English PEN

    Front Line Defenders

    Global Fund for Women

    Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)

    International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

    Maharat Foundation

    Martin Ennals Foundation

    PEN International

    Reach All Women in War (RAW in WAR)

    Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

    Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)

    Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights

    Women's March Global 

     

  • Women Human Rights Defenders Face Greater Risks Because of their Gender

    By Masana Ndinga-Kanga, Crisis Response Fund Lead with CIVICUS.

    The rallying calls of #SudanUprising, have been led by Sudanese women who are teachers, stay-at-home-mothers, doctors, students and lawyers. And yet, when President Al Bashir stepped down on April 11, the names of the women who spearheaded this political shift, were largely missing from the headlines. This erasure is not uncommon. Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) are often erased or slandered in efforts to intimidate them into quitting continuing their human rights work. In Egypt, Guatemala, Saudi Arabia, Uganda or the Philippines they are often called agents of international interests.

    Read on: Inter Press Service

     

  • Women’s bodies are the battleground for civil liberties

    By Teldah Mawarire and Sara Brandt

    Around the world, civic spaces are shrinking. In many countries, activists are under threat as governments increasingly use the law and violence as tools of oppression, according to a new report. For women human rights defenders, this means their bodies have become the battleground on which the fight for civil liberties is being waged.

    Read on:Mail and Guardian: Bhekisisa