INFO-SHEETS:  Organisational Discrepancies and the Fight for Universal Human Rights

Organisational Discrepancies and the Fight for Universal Human

By Mitchell Belfer

The protection of universal human rights must remain a key priority for the inter-
national community. Yet, given the ever-evolving international environment, it has
become difficult – if not impossible – for key institutions and decision-makers to ex-
amine breaches of human rights independently. Instead, increased reliance is being
placed on specialised organisations, or bodies within organisations, to publically and
fairly investigate issues related to human rights and their abuse. While a wide assort-
ment of human rights NGOs fulfil their mandates with professionalism, honesty and
a genuine ideological belief in human rights protection, others have been formed for
political reasons and with a political agenda in mind. Nowhere is this clearer than in
the proliferation of human rights organisations that deal with the Arabian Gulf and
the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members. It is essential that the right organisa-
tions are selected to inform decision makers otherwise the risk of taking sides – in
often complex socio-political relationships – runs high.
The EGIC recognises that some GCC members still have a long way to go before
reaching European models of human rights though highlights that great strides have
been taken in what is referred to as the Reform and Reflect (R+R) formula to reform
governance structures to better reflect the population and its multifaceted interests.
The EGIC also recognises that the GCC needs support in order to fully and compre-
hensively integrate European approaches of human rights into daily discourses. To
do so however, it is vital for European and international decision-makers to select the
most appropriate organs to report to them about the human rights situation facing
the members of the GCC. It is time to end organisational discrepancies in relation to
human rights in the Gulf and wider Middle East, and to identify those human rights
groups that have been formed with a political agenda.
The following is an annotated sample of human rights NGOs that peddle political
agendas – often based on sectarian lines – and deliberately distort information relat-
ed to their target countries. This sample has been selected due to the ambiguity in
the organisational name which lends greater and wider credibility than the content
of their focus would warrant.

1.     The Gulf Centre for Human Right (—brands itself as a
multi-vector human rights organisation that provides safe environments for
human rights activists reporting on the Gulf countries, Yemen and Syria. On
inspection however, the organisation only superficially treats the Gulf countries
and pays attention only to Bahrain. For instance, there are 25 full pages of arti-
cles that detail alleged human rights violations in Bahrain and only 2 pages that
do the same for Iran, 3 for Iraq and 10 for Syria. Iran is one of the worst human
rights violators in the world and has among the highest execution rates while
both Syria and Iraq are in the throes of civil war. It is shocking that Bahrain is
regarded as a worse human rights offender than Iran, Iraq and Syria combined.
2.     The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (http://www.ecdhr.
org/)—is a complete misnomer, dealing neither with democracy nor human
rights. Instead, it is a sectarian platform. If one enters ‘Yemen,’ ‘Iran,’ ‘Iraq,’ or
‘Syria’ (for instance) into the webpage’s search engine, stories about Saudi Ara-
bia and Bahrain – exclusively – appear. This site appears to be a selected web-
feed that reproduces information from its four main partners:
a.     Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain,
b.     Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy,
c.     Bahrain Centre for Human Rights
d.     Defenders for Medical Impartiality
each of which maintains a sectarian programme. The only main difference be-
tween the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights and its partners
is its location, Brussels, since the ECDHR targets MEPs in order to promote its
3.     Institute for Gulf Affairs (—is almost entirely fo-
cused on Saudi Arabia and reinforces many of the narratives of Saudi Arabia as
a regional and international spoiler. Much of the IGA’s recent work is sectarian
and depicts Saudi Arabia as reacting to the new ‘Iran-friendly’ international en-
vironment through violence. The IGA also wrongly suggests that Saudi Arabia
was connected to the Paris violence with the deployment of very superficial
evidence (see:
lence-against-france/). While the IGA does produce alternative narratives and
explorations of other GCC and Gulf states, these are eclipsed by its sectarian
Please note that comprehensive research into human rights organisations that deal
with the Gulf will be freely available by mid-2016.

Human rights protection must remain a firm priority for all GCC countries. At the
same time, greater awareness of the abuse of human rights discourses by some
NGOs must be made public. The EGIC calls on human rights activists to be held to
greater account for their actions and for international decision-makers to adequately
vet those human rights groups they rely on to inform them in their policy choices.
The failure to do so increases the risk of feeding into the unfolding sectarianism in
the Arabian Gulf rather than anchoring good practices and dialogue from the Euro-
pean experience.