HRW Demands EU to Shed Light on HR Violations in Gulf

2022-05-19 - 6:11 م

Bahrain Mirror: Human Rights Watch (HRW) sent a letter to the European Union on its new partnership with the Gulf and called on the EU to shed light on the deteriorating human rights situation in the Gulf region.

The organization addressed President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, and High Representative for Foreign Affair, Josep Borrell-Fontelles.

It stressed that it is necessary that the UE  highlights the poor human rights situation among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, and that the EU commits to address those concerns, linking progress in bilateral relations to specific human rights benchmarks, particularly with regards to freedom of expression, freedom of association, human rights defenders, women's rights, children's rights, labor rights, arbitrary detention and torture.

Throughout the region, human rights defenders, activists, and perceived critics continue to suffer severe and pervasive state repression. In Saudi Arabia, human rights activist Mohammed al-Rabea and aid worker Abdulrahman al-Sadhan are currently in prison due to charges that relate to peaceful expression or activism. 

A 2018 US intelligence report concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was killed in Istanbul in October 2018 by Saudi state agents. There has been no meaningful accountability for those who perpetrated and oversaw this crime.

In Bahrain, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, founder of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Hassan Mushaima and Abduljalil al-Singace, leaders of opposition group Al Haq, and many others are serving lengthy prison sentences, often in filthy and life-threatening conditions, for their role in pro-democracy protests in 2011. 

In the United Arab Emirates, leading human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor remains imprisoned in an isolation cell for the fifth year and academic Nasser bin-Ghaith and human rights lawyer Mohammed al-Roken continue to serve 10-year sentences following grossly unfair trials.

Rights groups continue to document unlawful Saudi and UAE-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen. In late January 2022, Human Rights Watch and Mwatana for Human Rights documented at least three attacks in apparent violation of the laws of war, which resulted in at least 80 apparently civilian deaths, including three children, and 156 injuries, including two children.

The death penalty remains a major concern, as highlighted by the mass execution of 81 people in a single day on March 12, 2022, in Saudi Arabia, including 41 people from the Shia community. In Bahrain, 26 people are currently on death row, at imminent risk of execution.

Migrant workers, including migrant domestic workers, face endemic abuse and exploitation. The highly exploitative kafala (visa sponsorship) system gives employers excessive power over their employees.

The organization warned that the EU's engagement with GCC countries could directly and indirectly contribute to more human rights abuses. We are concerned that it could also lead the EU to tone (further) down its response to human rights violations committed by fossil-fuel producing countries, including in the Gulf. 

It urged the EU to keep human rights at the center of its foreign policy and place its political capital on the European Green Deal in order to reduce energy dependency on governments with a poor human rights record.

HRW stressed that these and other serious human rights concerns cannot be ignored or downplayed by the EU, nor can periodic human rights dialogues with the Gulf countries be considered as adequate tools to address them. A much more robust and firm approach is needed, as also repeatedly requested by the European Parliament.

The organization demanded the UE to clearly, publicly, and unequivocally acknowledge the serious human rights concerns in GCC countries, being as specific as possible. 

It also stressed on linking enhanced bilateral cooperation and closer trade and political relations to clear human rights benchmarks, including promoting freedom of expression, releasing human rights defenders and perceived critics detained solely on politically-motivated grounds, repealing discriminatory laws and policies on women, and protecting migrant workers from exploitation.

HRW stressed the importance of stating a commitment to publicly and privately raise human rights concerns at all levels and in international fora, and not exclusively during the Human Rights Dialogues as well as reaffirming the EU's commitment to re-establish accountability measures and redress for victims of international human rights and international humanitarian laws violations in Yemen.

It called on the EU and its member states to request that any upcoming peace negotiations and agreements include a mechanism that ensures accountability for abuses by all parties to the conflict. The EU should commit to do its utmost in its cooperation with GCC countries to ensure that reconstruction projects in Yemen fully respect human rights.

Arabic Version