On 17 September 2021, the UN Secretary-General released his annual report on reprisals and intimidation against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate with the UN on human rights. Once again, the report identifies a high number of threats and attacks aimed at retaliating against defenders and discouraging cooperation with the UN.
(Update – 6 February 2015) – Following concerted advocacy by ISHR, together with diplomatic action on the part of the Human Rights Council President and Bureau, it is understood that Kuwait has not executed the arrest warrant in relation to human rights defender Nawaf Al Hendal, who was permitted to return home without arrest or charge after briefly being investigated at Kuwait International Airport.
(Geneva) – Authorities in Kuwait should immediately cease misusing laws on national security and the status of the emir to criminalise human rights defenders and others exercising the fundamental right to freedom of expression, the International Service for Human Rights said today.
ISHR also called on authorities in Kuwait to desist from any form of intimidation or reprisal against civil society activists who have submitted information in advance of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Kuwait, scheduled at the Human Rights Council in Geneva this Wednesday, 28 January.
The call comes as prominent human rights defender, Nawaf Al Hendal, who is currently in Geneva for the periodic review of Kuwait’s human rights record, was advised that an arrest warrant awaits him on return to Kuwait in connection with allegations of damaging foreign relations and using Twitter to insult late Saudi King Abdullah.
The prosecution of bloggers, opposition activists and human rights defenders under the pretext of ‘undermining the status of the emir of Kuwait’ is widespread in the country. Lese-majeste, national security and ‘national unity’ laws have recently been used to prosecute activists who are critical of the human rights records of heads of state with which Kuwait has diplomatic relations, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Al Hendal is well known in Kuwait for his work defending the rights of stateless persons and organising peaceful protests to highlight their plight. In Kuwait, public assemblies of more than twenty people are considered unlawful without a permit, which is frequently denied, and assemblies on the rights of stateless persons have been met with excessive force.
‘I love my country and I love its people. It is for that reason that I am in Geneva to stand up for our fundamental rights and freedoms. We deserve and have a right to free speech, to gather peacefully, and to advocate for the human rights of others,’ Mr Al Hendal said from Geneva.
‘Rather than seeking to prosecute me for my advocacy at the UPR, Kuwait should use the opportunity of the UPR to commit to substantially reforming the Public Gatherings Law, the Penal Code, national security legislation, press regulations, and lese-majeste and blasphemy laws, all of which are used and abused to criminalise free speech in my country,’ Mr Al Hendal said.
According to ISHR Director Phil Lynch, Kuwait has an obligation under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. ‘The prosecution of human rights defenders and others for allegedly insulting a head of state – and in the case of Nawaf Al Hendal a former head of state – is manifestly incompatible with these rights, which can only be limited on the narrowest and strictest of grounds,’ Mr Lynch said.
‘This prosecution, or even the threat thereof, at a time when Nawaf is in Geneva to shine a spotlight on Kuwait’s human rights record appears intended to intimidate and silence him. Such acts of reprisal are forbidden under international law, which enshrines the right of all persons to safe and unhindered communication with the UN and the duty of States to respect and not interfere with the exercise of this right,’ Mr Lynch said.
‘If Kuwait is serious about its obligations under the ICCPR, it should use the opportunity of the Universal Periodic Review on Wednesday to withdraw all charges against human rights defenders and others in association with their exercise of the right to freedom of expression, repeal the offence of insulting or undermining the status of the emir, and refrain from any act of intimidation or reprisal associated with a person’s cooperation or attempted cooperation with the UN,’ Mr Lynch said.
‘ISHR and others will be closely watching how Kuwait treats human rights defenders and implements its commitments under international law, together with recommendations accepted through the UPR, in the weeks and months ahead,’ Mr Lynch said.
Phil Lynch (English) – Director, International Service for Human Rights on + 41 76 708 4748 or [email protected]
Nawaf Al Hendal (Arabic, English) – Kuwait Watch, on +965 55629911 or [email protected]
Photo: UN Photo / Eskinder Debebe
On 7 September 2021, the International Service for Human Rights facilitated a multi-stakeholder dialogue with United Nations experts, the International Chamber of Commerce and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to discuss about Business, Human Rights and Human Rights Defenders.
This week in an online event, 10 candidate States publicly spoke to an audience of around 200 people on their pledges as incoming Human Rights Council members for 2022 – 2024. They also faced questions on pressing human rights issues from both States and civil society organisations.
ISHR welcomes the Council’s historic consensus decision, led by the Africa Group, to adopt a resolution mandating an independent international expert mechanism to address systemic racism and to promote racial justice and equality for Africans and people of African descent. The adoption of this resolution is testament to the resilience, bravery and commitment of victims, their families, their representatives and anti-racism defenders globally.
At the 47th session of the Human Rights Council, ISHR along with the Informal Sector Service Center presented a joint statement in Nepal’s Universal Periodic Review expressing concern about the situation of human rights defenders in the country.
Faced with the appropriation of their name, Peruvian NGO Madres en Acción is pushing back, filing a legal action to recover it. In an amicus brief in support of the action, ISHR argues that trademark law is being used to attack defenders and this must stop.
A new ISHR report maps China’s presence and influence in the UN economic and social affairs system, highlighting potential risks for civil society participation and the promotion and protection of human rights.
With three more human rights defenders detained arbitrarily in recent days, once again the Human Rights Council was asked to do more to put pressure on Venezuela to allow dissenting voices in the country to be heard. Independent civil society makes a critical contribution to the construction of societies built on the respect of human rights.
In the first case on violence against trans people heard by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Court held Honduras responsible for the transfemicide of human rights defender Vicky Hernández.
Public servants, journalists, and indigenous defenders have suffered targeting and reprisals from an increasingly brazen government, confirming the urgent need to adopt legal mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders.
ISHR joins human rights organisations from across the globe in calling for the unconditional and immediate release of prominent Bahraini human rights defender Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja, who turned 60 on 5 April.
As part of a response to increased human right violations in the Philippines, over 100 NGOs and individuals called on the Supreme Court for enhanced legal protections for human rights defenders.