Reprisals against individuals cooperating with the UN continue unabated in the MENA region

20 September 2019

On September 19, 2019, UN Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) Andrew Gilmour presented his annual report on reprisals against individuals who cooperate with the UN before the Human Rights Council. This year marks the 10th anniversary of Human Rights Council resolution 12/2, adopted on October 1, 2009, which invites the UN Secretary-General (UNSG) to publish an annual report on the issue of reprisals against individuals cooperating with UN mechanisms. This mechanism was established 1990 when the former Commission on Human Rights began adopting annually a resolution calling for States to refrain from acts of intimidation and reprisal.

Among the 38 countries where new cases of reprisals were raised in the 2019 report, twelve were in the Middle East and North Africa–namely Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Mauritania, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Palestine, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Yemen. The UNSG also followed up on cases of reprisals in Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

On May 1, 2019, MENA Rights Group submitted a report to the UNSG, providing information on eleven individuals who were subjected to reprisals across the region. Although they represent a small proportion of the actual total number of victims—as many individuals continue to fear reporting on such cases—they are indicative of the alarming deterioration of the human rights situation in the region.

Travel bans

Bahrain

In reference to the Human Rights Committee’s last Concluding Observations on the initial report of Bahrain, the UNSG raised concerns over a large number of reports of reprisals against Bahraini human rights defenders and journalists, particularly when they collaborated with the Treaty Bodies and the Human Rights Council—specifically citing the cases of Sayed Ahmed Al-Wadaei and Ebtesam Abdulhusain Ali-Alsaegh. Numerous civil society representatives in Bahrain remain subjected to travel bans, which prevented them from participating in the Human Rights Council session in March 2019.

Djibouti

The UNSG provided updated information on the case of Kadar Abdi Ibrahim, a human rights defender from Djibouti, who was prevented from attending his country’s last Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in May 2018. In July 2018, three special procedures mandate holders raised concerns about his arrest and the confiscation of his passport upon his return to Djibouti from Geneva in April 2018, where he had conducted advocacy activities ahead of the UPR. MENA Rights Group informed the UNSG that Kadar’s passport was still being retained by the Information and Security Service (SDS) – Djibouti’s secret service – preventing him from leaving the country and impeding his work as a human rights defender.

Mauritania

In Mauritania, several human rights defenders, including Maimouna Alpha Sy, Aissata Anne and Aissata Diallo of Collectif des veuves, Sy Yaya Ousmane of Collectif des orphelins and Baba Traoré of Collectif des rescapés, were prevented from travelling to Geneva to attend the review of the second periodic report of Mauritania by the UN Committee against Torture held on July 24 and 25, 2019.

Egypt

The UNSG addressed the situation of Ebrahim Abdelmonem Metwally Hegazy, who was included in the 2018 report. Hegazy is a lawyer and General Coordinator of the Association of the families of the disappeared in Egypt, who was travelling to Geneva to meet with the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) on September 10, 2017, when he disappeared at Cairo International Airport. In May 2019, Hegazy continued to be held incommunicado in Aqrab prison, where he has been subjected to systematic physical and psychological abuse.

Human rights defenders and journalists vulnerable to reprisals

Algeria

In his 2019 report, the UNSG referred to the last Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee calling on Algeria to “guarantee that individuals who cooperated with the Committee did not suffer reprisal and to drop charges against, release and compensate those prosecuted for cooperating with the Committee.” This recommendation echoes the reprisals against Algerian human rights defender Rafik Belamrania addressed in the UNSG previous report.

Egypt

The UNSG highlighted the ongoing reprisals against Ahmed Shawky Abdelsattar Mohamed Amasha, an Egyptian human rights defender, who was arrested on March 10, 2017. He was then detained, tortured and ill-treated in retaliation for his work documenting cases of enforced disappearances to the Special Procedures. He remains held in pre-trial detention in Tora prison, while his family and lawyer have yet to be allowed to visit him in prison.

Iraq

The UNSG mentioned multiple cases of reprisals against several activists volunteering for Al Wissam Humanitarian Assembly, an NGO that documents cases of enforced disappearances in Iraq in collaboration with MENA Rights Group, including Imad Amara and Imad Al Tamimi, whose cases were already included in past reprisal reports.

Morocco/Western Sahara

On June 4, 2019, Special Procedures mandate holders addressed allegations that Naziha El Khalidi, a Sahrawi journalist, had been interrogated by the National Judicial Police after they transmitted a communication to the government about her arrest, ill-treatment and criminal charges.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi authorities have established a notoriously difficult and dangerous environment for human rights defenders, including for women human rights defenders, to carry out their work. On February 8, 2019, Special Procedures mandate holders renewed concerns about the arbitrary detention and degrading treatment of women human rights defenders Samar Badawi and Loujain Al-Hathloul—as both had cooperated with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Additionally, the UNSG addressed the situation of Fawzan Mohsen Awad Al Harbi’s wife. Al Harbi, a human rights defender and member of ACPRA arrested in 2013, submitted many cases of arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment to the United Nations human rights mechanisms. Later, on July 30, 2018, Al Harbi’s wife Amal was arrested as part of a larger wave of arrests of Saudi female human rights defenders. She had been vocal in campaigning for the release of her husband.

The cases of Mohammad Fahad Al Qahtani, ACPRA’s co-founder, and Issa Al Nukheifi, a human rights defender and anti-corruption activist, were also included in the latest UNSG report.

Tunisia

The UNSG revealed that in January 2019, the National Union of Tunisian Journalists had been subjected to online harassment for promoting the use of the United Nations Special Procedures, in the context of its monitoring of attacks against journalists. A complaint against the security forces representative allegedly responsible was submitted on the basis of the revised Press Code.

United Arab Emirates

The UNSG raised the case of human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor, who was included in the last two reprisals reports. In April 2019, it was reported that Mansoor was on a hunger strike to protest an unfair trial and his conditions of detention. Following an unfair trial, Mansoor was sentenced to 10 years in prison in May 2018 based on his peaceful calls for reform. On May 7, 2019, seven Special Procedures mandate holders expressed grave concern over Mansoor’s physical well-being and the poor conditions of his detention.

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