Civil society faces erasure in Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Western Sahara
Right Livelihood delivered a statement about reprisals against human rights defenders in Western Sahara, Belarus and Saudi Arabia at the 54th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Right Livelihood Laureates Aminatou Haidar, Viasna and Mohammad al-Qahtani have all been victimised by this alarming trend.
The UN Secretary-General’s report on intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders who work with the United Nations found an increase in laws aimed at restricting civil society. It also highlighted a rise in the online and offline monitoring of human rights defenders.
In light of these trends, we alerted the Council to the situation for human rights defenders in Western Sahara, Belarus and Saudi Arabia, where activists suffer from systematic reprisals, laws targeting civil society organisations and arbitrary prison sentences.
In Western Sahara, advocates for the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination are systematically retaliated against, we told the Council. This includes various forms of intimidation, even within the Palais des Nations, as well as torture and unjust imprisonment.
Activist and 2019 Right Livelihood Laureate Aminatou Haidar is one of the many Sahrawi human rights defenders living under threat and surveillance. In 2021, Amnesty International found that state-sponsored actors had targeted Haidar using Pegasus Spyware.
The Belarusian human rights organisation Viasna, which received the Right Livelihood Award in 2020, has also suffered from a crackdown on civil society. Belarus’s repressive laws have nearly wiped out civil society altogether.
Belarus designated Viasna an “extremist formation” in August 2023, making it easier for authorities to persecute those affiliated with the organisation.
We also warned the Council about the repression of Saudi activists engaging in peaceful dissent. These activists often face severe consequences, including death sentences, unjust retrials and forced disappearances. Mohammed al-Qahtani, a 2018 Right Livelihood Laureate, has been forcibly disappeared since October 24, 2022.