2pm, Palais des Nations, Room XXVII
On March 1st, 2018, civil society members gathered in Geneva to discuss issues related to citizenship in Bahrain and the GCC. The event, titled : “Human Rights and Citizenship” took place in room XXVII of the Palais des Nations in Geneva, as a side to the 37thsession of the Human Rights Council. Organized by the Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme (RADDHO), it was also co-sponsored by SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, the Institute on Statelessness and Human Rights (ISI), CIVICUS Alliance, the Cairo Institue for Human Rights Studies, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR). On the panel spoke Tara O’Grady on behalf of SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights, Tor Hodenfield from CIVICUS Alliance, Mohamed Sultan from the Bahrain Center for Human Rights as well as Abdelbagi Jibril from the Darfur Relief and Documentation Centre. The event was chaired by Asma Darwish, head of international relations at SALAM DHR. All panelists made valuable contributions on the issues discussed, shedding light on various aspects of citizenship in Arab Gulf States. These aspects included economic benefits on the basis of ancestry, the right to vote, citizenship revocation from dissidents and the right of women to pass citizenship onto their children.
Asma Darwish opened the debate by reminding that the Arab uprising had intensified debates over the meaning of citizenship as well as the rights and responsibilities that go with it. In particular, she stated: “one of the key demands made during the Arab Spring is the transition from being subjects to being citizens with equal rights and dignity”. She also pointed out that in the Gulf, and in Bahrain in particular, the power of the executive to revoke citizenship has been used as part of a larger strategy which aimed to contain post-uprising pressure.
Tor Hodenfied followed by speaking on the political and civil rights of citizens as well as their legitimate civic space within the boundaries of international conventions. Using the CIVICUS Alliance Monitor tool, he stated that detention, attacks on journalists and excessive use of force against protestors were the most common kinds of civic space violations. He concluded by pointing out the need for increased support for human rights activists in the Gulf, stating: “the international community and the United Nations are both vital to supporting human rights defenders on the ground”.
The next speaker, human rights defender Tara O’Grady, reminded that a good majority of Gulf States still have stateless residents, also knownas bidoon jinsiyya (without nationality). This, coupled with the fact that human rights advocacy is still falsely perceived to be anti-state and anti-regime, leads citizenship revocation to be used as a political tool against journalists and human rights defenders, especially in Bahrain.
Abdulbagi Jibril followed by speaking about citizenship, particularly in the case of Sudan where it is only passed through the father. This gendered definition of what it means to be a citizen can also be observed in Bahrain where the same rule applies.
Last speaker on the panel, Mohamed Sultan concluded by calling on the international community to put pressure on Bahrainregarding the use of citizenship revocation as a tool to silence dissent. He recalled that stateless individuals in Bahrain have limited ability to obtain housing, employment, legal representation and medical aid in the country.
Overall, the event was met with success and praise from the audience. Linking it to her own experience as a human rights lawyer in the case of Western Sahara, one speaker from the audience congratulated SALAM DHR and its partners for their efforts and willingness to raise awareness on the issue of statelessness.