Americans for Democracy and Human Rights submitted nine statements during the 51st session of the Human Rights Council held between 12 September and 7 October 2022. These statements focused on the various human rights violations that have been recorded in the Gulf region and under different items. The HRC entails the discussion of issues pertaining to human rights, organizing its agenda based on different items, with each item corresponding to a certain aspect. The statements presented by ADHRB fall under 4 main items. The first is item 2 which corresponds to the annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General; the second is item 3 which corresponds to the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development; the third is item 4 which corresponds to human rights situations that require the Council’s attention; and finally item 6, which corresponds to Universal Periodic Review.
Political prisoners mistreatment
ADHRB submitted two statements on human rights issues in Bahrain under item 3. In the first statement, ADHRB calls the council’s attention to the mistreatment that political prisoners are receiving from authorities. These abuses constitute a significant violation of international standards and conventions. The government has intensified it repression against activists since 2011 leading to the arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and imprisonment of many opposition figures.
The government has embarked on a policy of criminalizing free speech and expression, showing its disregard for political and civil rights. There are currently around 1500 political prisoners. Bahrain has violated international standards, including the Nelson Mandela Rules on the treatment of prisoners. The abuse these prisoners receive includes medical negligence, religious discrimination, and harassment. The Coronavirus pandemic has only worsened the situation by giving the government a new pretext for inflicting abuse and intensifying the suffering of political prisoners. Even when 1486 prisoners were released due to Covid, only 300 of them were political prisoners.
Cases of Hassan Mushaima and Abduljalil AlSingace
The statement then presents the cases of Hassan Mushaima and Abduljalil AlSingace, two prominent activists who have suffered from immense abuse, including medical negligence. For example, Mushaima, a prominent political activist and leader of one of the major opposition groups, is in cancer remission and suffers from many chronic diseases including high blood pressure and diabetes and has been denied medication and regular checkups for prolonged periods. Additionally, authorities have often provided his medication in an inconsistent manner, and do not adjust them based on his condition. Prison authorities have also quarantined him for 2 months under the pretext of providing care. In May 2022, he suffered new symptoms from diabetes including abnormal swelling of feet with black spots, large swelling in his leg, severe knee pain, limping, and difficulty moving. Only after 2 months, in July 2021, was he moved to Kanoo Medical Center, where he remains and still suffers from extremely high blood sugar, blood pressure levels, undetermined damage to his kidneys and stomach, a cyst on his eye, and a cardiac muscle disorder.
Abduljalil AlSingace, another prominent activist, suffers from numerous chronic medical conditions, including poliomyelitis, which has left him paralyzed since childhood. Authorities have constantly denied him medical care and abused him physically and psychologically. For instance, authorities refused to replace the rubber padding on his crutches, thereby forcing him to use the worn-out ones that are uncomfortable and made him slip repeatedly. As a result of this maltreatment, he started several hunger strikes, with the most recent one starting on 8 July 2021, over 350 days ago. As a result, his health has deteriorated significantly. He was taken to a hospital then transferred to Kanoo medical center. Still, doctors have neglected his situation, visiting him only once per 2 or 3 weeks, and his request for painkillers is frequently delayed.
These cases represent an gross violation to international law, in particular, the Nelson Mandela rules. As a result, the statement calls on Bahrain to immediately drop all charges against human rights defenders targeted for their activism and unconditionally release all political prisoners detained without charge or on the basis of false accusations. Additionally, Bahrain should ensure the provision of adequate and necessary medical care for all prisoners, conduct independent and impartial investigations into allegations of mistreatment and torture, and hold those responsible to account to end the culture of impunity, and end the systematic campaign of reprisals against human rights defenders.
The aforementioned cases of Mushaima and AlSingace highlight how Bahrain has systematically used medical negligence as a weapon against political prisoners. Thus, the second statement in this item addresses the issue of medical negligence. Bahrain has used systematic and willful medical negligence against political prisoners, violating international law, as a form of reprisal for their activism. The sanitary and health conditions in prisons have been extremely inadequate. Cases of death have been reported due to these conditions, including Abbas Malallah who suffered from various chronic diseases but was denied proper care. This negligence has been manifested in the chronic understaffing of medical clinics, the inadequate and improper administering of routine medications, and inadequate and obstructed access to outside medical facilities.
The lack of a timely response to the tuberculosis outbreak in Jau prison in 2022 further demonstrates Bahrain’s disregard for prisoners’ rights. The outbreak started in June 2022 when it was confirmed that Hasan Abdullah Habib contracted tuberculosis. Habib, who suffered from other chronic diseases and was constantly denied medical care, was transferred to a medical complex due to pain caused by sickle cell anemia. There, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Despite his condition, he was moved back to Jau prison without any accommodation for his condition. In response, the Bahraini Ministry of Health released a statement stating that his condition was stable and he was receiving adequate care. However, a recording by Habib contradicts the statement and exposes the extent of medical negligence in Bahrain.
This statement concluded by calling on Bahrain to unconditionally release all political prisoners, in particular those who suffer from diseases, provide necessary and appropriate medical care for all prisoners, comply with international rules and standards regarding prisoner treatment, and allow human rights groups to visit Bahrain. It also calls on officials from the MOH, MOI, and internal human rights institutions to be transparent about the information related to medical conditions within prisons.
Culture of impunity and lack of accountability
The culture of impunity mentioned in the previous 2 statements is further highlighted in this third statement on Bahrain, in which ADHRB directed the attention of the council towards the lack of accountability in the country. In particular, security officers who often abuse their power and mistreat prisoners are left free from consequence. These officers who execute the repressive laws imposed by the government, evade all punishment in what is a plain violation of international law.
Bahrain is one of the most heavily policed countries in the world with approximately 46 security personnel per 1,000 civilians. This security apparatus has often been responsible for immense human rights violations, including arbitrary detention and warrantless home raids; enforced disappearance; torture; due process interference; substandard detention conditions; denial of healthcare; excessive force and police brutality; and religious discrimination. For instance, 6 children were detained from the Sitra village in December 2021, and are still being denied their basic rights despite the laws pertaining to the detention of children.
Use of torture:
Furthermore, the security apparatus has used torture as a tool for iterrogating political prisoners. The extent of their brutality has been notorious. Members of the royal family have also been accused of torturing political prisoners. The most common method of torture is beating with fists, weapons, or blunt objects. Other methods include forced standing, hanging, or stress, electric shock, and sexual assault, including rape. Torture is not only used during the interrogation peroid in order to extract testimonies, but also during imprisonment.
Officials who torture political prisoners evade punishment and instead are promoted. The country has continuously refused the UN Special Procedures entering the country and conducting investigations.
For these reasons ADHRB calls on Bahrain in the statement to fully implement all recommendations it has received from UN mandate holders. These recommendations include the release of all political prisoners, ending impunity, and reforming the judiciary and the existing accountability mechanisms. It also calls on the international community to impose sanctions on key perpetrators across all MOI agencies and within the Bahraini government.
Preventing Free and Fair Elections in Bahrain
The statement under item 4 reinforces how Bahrain has failed to reform its conduct toward civil and political society and improve access to freedoms in those spaces. As such, ADHRB pointed the attention of the council towards Bahrain’s prevention of free and fair elections. As such, Bahrainis are not represented and denied their right of self-determination.
The laws in Bahrain enable the government to disempower people to practice these rights. The government imposes “serious restrictions” and continues to violate the rights of freedom of expression and assembly, the freedom of press, and the freedom of association. Democracy includes the process of creating an environment where people are allowed to freely exchange opinions as well as gather together in order to have conversations in this free exchange. But the government has still failed to deliver on this. It also relies on legal prerogatives to maintain the status quo. For instance, terrorism laws are extremely vague and are used against polticial opposition and acitivsts. The cyber laws also complement this policy of silencing opposition. Moreover, Bahraini authorities have repressed the freedom of association by banning political and civil society groups either through forceful dissolution or requirements that all groups “register with the Ministry of Labor and Social Development.” Moreover, formal political parties are illegal as outlined in The Law of Associations. This prohibits civil society groups from “engaging in politics” and allows authorities a wide latitude to interfere in the activities of its civil society groups and determine if an organization should be dissolved.
Since the 2011 pro-democracy protests, the government has imposed a blanket ban on all demonstrations, marches, sit-ins, religious gatherings, and funeral processions.
Democracy in institutions:
In terms of legislative authority, the upper house members are appointed by the king and not elected. As such, they do not effectively check the king’s powers. The lower house is elected, but the laws imposed by the regime makes it nearly impossible for political movements or parties to run for elections. As such, Bahrain has scored very low when it comes to democracy and political rights indices. Members of the government are also chosen by the king, and 7 of the cabinet members are members of the royal family.
For these reasons, the statement calls on Bahrain to remove abusive restrictions on freedom of expression, amend the press law to bring its provisions into compliance with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, reinstate the operating license of the independent media outlet Al-Wasat, allow independent political societies to operate in Bahrain, and accept the requested visits of the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
The death penalty in KSA
In another statement under item 2, ADHRB addresses the issue of capital punishment in Saudi Arabia. Inmates have shared concerns regarding the fairness of the trial and disclosed due process rights violations.
The death penalty is increasingly being used in the KSA following a slight decrease in 2020. In 2019, the country recorded its highest number of inmates executed with 184 prisoners. On 12 March 2022, 81 men were executed, the largest mass execution in years, despite recent commitments made by the government to limit its use of the death penalty. The majority of these prisoners were Shia, highlighting the country’s bias and flawed criminal justice system. In most cases, the prisoners are tortured for coerced confessions. These prisoners are sentenced for allegedly committing crimes such as associating with foreign terrorist groups or for the vaguely worded offense of “monitoring and targeting officials and expatriates”. While in some cases the death penalty has been commuted to imprisonments, as in the cases of Ali al-Nimr and Abdullah al-Zaher, many activists are still awaiting execution.
Cases at risk of execution
The statement then introduces two cases of prisoners awaiting execution. The first is the case of Jaafar Mohamed Sultan and Sadeq Majeed Thamer, two Bahraini citizens, who were warrantlessly arrested in 2015. They were then taken to the General Investigation Prison, placed in solitary confinement, and subjected to enforced disappearance for 115 days. They were severely physically and psychologically tortured and denied access to legal counsel. They were charged with joining a terrorist cell, smuggling explosive materials, misleading the Saudi investigation authorities, and sentenced to die. This sentence was upheld despite international intervention by the UN which sought to annul the sentence due to the violations of international conventions. Both Jaafar and Sadeq are still currently at imminent risk of execution.
The second case is that of Abdullah al-Huwaiti who was arrested in 2017 at the age of 14 in relation to an armed robbery and the murder of a security officer. He was held in solitary confinement, denied access to a lawyer, and forced to “confess” under duress. Despite the presence of an alibi, he was sentenced to death in 2017 and was resentenced in 2022 after the supreme court ordered a retrial.
Due to the violations of international conventions, including the CAT and CRC, ADHRB calls on the government of Saudi Arabia to institute a moratorium on the death penalty, with a view toward ultimate abolition, commuting all capital punishment sentences against all individuals on death row, with a particular focus on individuals whose trials were marred by due process violations and allegations of torture, ensure that any subsequent trial follows international fair trial standards, and investigate all allegations of torture by government officials with a view of holding perpetrators accountable.
The truce and violations of Saudi-led coalition
In a statement on the situation in Yemen under item 4, ADHRB directs the council’s attention to the violations that the Saudi-led coalition have committed in Yemen. While a truce was made, the statement considers the terms of the truce to involve inherent rights that should not be negotiated, such as rights to life, security, food, health, education, development, and mobility. The blockade imposed by the coalition on Yemen has jeopardized all these rights. Unfortunately, because of the ongoing crisis, the revenues from oil resources have been mismanaged and are deposited in foreign banks, exacerbating the Yemeinis’ suffering.
Blockade on Yemen
Described as one of the worst humanitarian crises of the century, it started in March 2015, after the coalition imposed a comprehensive aerial and naval blockade on food, medicine and fuel entering Yemen. By the end of 2016, about a 50% decline in food, medicine and fuel imports was recorded. Despite the establishment of the U.N. Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) in order to verify goods entering, it has yet failed to fix the situation. Despite having agreed to a complete ceasefire, violations continued to occur throughout the truce period and although the ceasefire remains in place, it is extremely fragile.
For these reasons, ADHRB calls for the lifting of the blockade on Yemen’s seaports and airports as a first step towards a comprehensive political solution and ceasefire where all foreign troops exit Yemen and halt their military operations. ADHRB also calls on the Council to make a recommendation to the Security Council to consider a new resolution demanding an end to the war and its accompanying rights violations.
The situation of Human Rights defenders and activists
In its written statement under item 3, ADHRB directs the council’s attention to the ongoing violations committed by the United Arab Emirates regarding opposition and political activists. Since the 2011 Arab Spring, the UAE has arbitrarily detained and abused activists for expressing their opinion. Since 2013, the government has resorted to imposing stricter laws to expand its legal prerogatives against dissent. The Emirate’s vague national security legislation has also permitted the security apparatus to target activists under the pretext of the threat they pose to national security. A vague anti-terror law has also been used against activists. More recently, in January 2022, a new Cybercrime Law went into effect which further restricts civic space and free speech.
These prisoners are subjected to various violations which include the lack of independent investigations; the use of coerced confessions as evidence in trial proceedings; the denial of access to a lawyer; incommunicado detention; prolonged solitary confinement; overcrowded and unhygienic detention centers; the denial of adequate medical care; torture; and ill-treatment. Human rights defenders are commonly detained in prison after the completion of their prison sentence without any legal justification.
The cases of Ahmed Mansoor and Dr. Mohammed al-Roken:
The statement then introduces the cases of two prominent activists, Ahmed Mansoor and Dr. Mohammed al-Roken. Mansoor was arrested in 2017 and held for over a year in pre-trial detention for his criticism of the UAE. He was sentenced in 2018 to 10 years in prison and a fine. After his sentencing, he was held in solitary confinement in a small cell with no bed and no water. He started a hunger strike in 2019 to protest this treatment. These conditions, which violate various international conventions and laws, were even further exposed in a letter that Mansoor wrote in 2021 describing the authorities’ mistreatment.
Dr. Al-Roken faced similar violations. He was arrested twice in 2006 for his role in the human rights organization, al-Islah Association resulting in a signed a pledge to discontinue writing for newspapers and conducting interviews. In 2012, he was arrested for questioning the arrest of his son and son-in-law. He was forcibly disappeared for a year, tortured, and given access to legal counsel only a few weeks before the trial. He was sentenced, along with 68 others, and received a 10-year prison sentence and three years of probation.
ADHRB calls on the Emirati government to release all imprisoned human rights defenders and activists, comply with international standards for prisoners, end the practice of solitary confinement for detained individuals, and free all prisoners who have been denied release after the completion of their sentence.
Freedom of expression and speech in Oman
In the third statement under item 3, ADHRB – jointly with the Iraqi Development Organization – addresses the state of freedom of expression and speech in Oman.
In 2021, the country updated the state Basic Law, allowing for greater freedom of expression and speech by removing the state’s legal ability to monitor private phone calls, social media interactions, and mail correspondence. However, despite this improvement, Omanis are still subject to other strict laws that limit their freedom of expression. The government’s ongoing monitoring of the internet pushes people to self-censor. In its joint statement, ADHRB and IDO present various cases of activists who were arrested for exercising these rights including Khamis al-Hatali, who was arrested for posting a video criticizing the sultan, and Ghaith Al- Shibli who was also arrested for facilitating an online debate on social issues. Environmental and feminist activists were also summoned or arrested for their activism and statements.
The press is also closely monitored, and most are state-run. As a result, the press practices self-censorship to avoid punishment. Journalists also practice self-censorship to avoid punishment, since the government has to approve all publications. Some have been reportedly harassed by the government for expressing criticism. This government interference prevents journalists from performing their job adequately. Moreover, the Ministry of Information also has the power to block or censor any media product, including books, from entering the country.
In 2014, the government passed another restrictive law allowing the Ministry of Interior to strip the citizenship of Omanis who contradict the government. It was amended in 2018 and made even stricter. For instance, journalists who reveal government corruption are subject to long prison sentences. This law allows the government to determine if certain information is harmful to the state or not, and thus restrict it.
As a result of this, ADHRB calls on the Omani government to amend all laws pertaining to freedom of expression, speech, assembly, and association, sign the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and release all people convicted on charges related to the peaceful exercise of freedoms of expression, association, and assembly.
Statelessness in Kuwait and the Ongoing Targeting of the Bidoon
In its statement on Kuwait under item 6, ADHRB directs the attention of the UNHRC to the suffering of the stateless people, known as Bidoon, who represent around 10% of the population. The Government of Kuwait continues to deny stateless persons and non-citizens equal rights, and to erect barriers to full inclusion. Although it is possible for Bidoons to receive their nationality, the process is very long. As such, Kuwait has treated them as illegal immigrants without property rights and without the same access to services which citizens have, including education and healthcare. Their freedom of movement is also restricted and they cannot pass citizenship to their children. The government’s repression against them goes even further by its crackdown on any form of activism. Many have been arrested and arbitrarily detained as a result of this activism. Since 2019, Kuwaiti authorities have intensified their persecution of stateless persons and human rights defenders, subjecting many to arbitrary arrest, including prominent human rights defender Abdulhakim al-Fadhli.
The international community has however remained silent on this issue despite Kuwait violating international law including Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as Article 24 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Kuwait acceded to in 1994.
Since Kuwait has continued to prohibit certain forms of expression and to regularly arrest activists who advocate for reform of the state’s citizenship laws, ADHRB calls on the government to respect its international human rights obligations and accede to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, guarantee the right to the freedoms of peaceful assembly and opinion and expression, fully respect the provisions of Article 44 of the Kuwaiti Constitution which grants the right to demonstrate and peacefully assembly to individuals without the need of prior permission, implement interim measures to guarantee Bidoon’s access to employment, housing, social services, and other rights, and finally, stop the ongoing campaign of arbitrary arrests and to release all members of the Bidoon community who have been arbitrarily detained for their peaceful activism and their defense of the civil and human rights of the Bidoon community.