On Thursday, 21 January 2016, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the priorities of the European Union (EU) at the 2016 United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Sessions.
The EU resolution strongly condemned the continued harassment and detention of human rights defenders and opposition figures by government forces. 2015 experienced pervasive human rights violations as states continued to target human rights defenders and political dissidents. New legal rulings passed in many states, including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, gave authorities long-ranging powers to suppress and criminalize political opposition.
The resolution specifically referenced the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, raising great concern over the Gulf Kingdom’s “systematic violation of human rights.” In 2015, Saudi Arabia executed at least 157 individuals: the highest level of beheadings in the Kingdom in two decades. It “deplored” the mass execution of 47 individuals carried out by Saudi authorities to mark the New Year, which included the execution of prominent Muslim cleric and opposition figure Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr – a move that has further escalated tensions in an already unstable region. The Kingdom’s 2015 human rights record also included plans to behead and then crucify a minor for political dissent. Referencing the highly controversial election of the Kingdom to the 47-member HRC, the resolution stated all HRC Member States should be “elected from among those who uphold human rights, which is currently not the case in Saudi Arabia.”
The European Parliament reaffirmed its “zero tolerance policy,” on the death penalty and supported continued efforts to establish a global moratorium on the practice. It expressed concern over unfair and restrictive legislation used to quell civil society. In Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, legislation has become a political tool used by authoritarian governments to suppress universal freedoms, including the freedoms of expression and assembly. Bahrain currently imprisons approximately 3,500 political prisoners; Saudi Arabia has incarcerated numerous individuals, including prominent human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, under its expansive terror laws. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain both utilize anti-terror legislation used to broadly criminalize free speech.
This resolution is a positive step forward, marking an EU recommitment to human, civil, and political rights. Next month’s HRC session offers the EU the first opportunity to implement its recommitment; the EU must address these growing concerns and call for an end to continued state repression of human rights. The HRC continues to be an ideal forum to raise collective concern and apply political pressure on human rights abusing states like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to reform.
EU states should additionally follow the spirit of this resolution by reassessing their bilateral and multilateral relations with the Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—countries that continue to restrict free expression and violently repress any opposition. Through this resolution, the European Parliament paved the way for each EU member state to take affirmative steps in holding the GCC accountable.
For full text of resolution, click here.