- DemocracyHuman RightsReform IssuesTorture
- December 13, 2009
- 6 minutes read
Report: Human Rights on the Decline Part II
As we reported earlier, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) has released a comprehensive and thorough report, called “Bastion of Impunity, Mirage of Reform,” on the state of human rights throughout the Arab world. The full report in Arabic spans 254 pages and chronicles in detail the backsliding on human rights in the region while also identifying a few points of optimism. In addition to the full report, CIHRS has released a translation of the report’s introduction written by their general director, Bahey eldin Hassan, as well as a 21-page summary of the report in English.
According to Hassan’s introduction, while there have been important strides to “ease repressive measures” in the Middle East under the Forum of the Future regional initiative, in no country were there “real constitutional, legislative, or institutional gains that could upset the balance of power between authoritarian regimes and the forces of reform.” Hassan blames this failure on the narrow focus on electoral reform at the expense of human rights, the contradictory actions of the G-8 countries, attempts by the Arab League to co-opt reform with their own homegrown initiatives, and the European and American fear of Islamist electoral victories. Finally, Hassan contends “the last spark in the initiatives was quashed once and for all with the arrival of a new US administration” apparently unwilling to support democracy rhetorically.
Now, Hassan warns that the minor gains made over the past five years are under a “counterattack by Arab governments. Among other examples of backtracking, the Arab league disabled the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which only had 10 of 22 signatory countries to begin with. As with the CIHRS report last year, Hassan concludes that “lack of political will on the part of most regimes in the Arab region was the key to understanding and explaining chronic human rights problems in the region.”
Hassan then outlines several worrying developments. First and most damaging, there is ”widespread impunity and flagrant lack of accountability” in the Arab world. Worse yet, Arab regimes actually “seek out and punish those who strive for the establishment of a democratic government that guarantees accountability.” At the same time, they seek to erode the international framework for human rights. Second, there has been an “increase and deterioration of failed states.” The example of Yemen shows the shortsightedness of pure counter-terrorism strategies that “often lead to support for corrupt dictators as long as they can be helpful in the short term.” Third, there has been an increasing trend of Arab regimes aligning with Salafists “with the goal of mending their tattered political legitimacy in any other way than reestablishing it on the basis of the free democratic choice of their citizens.” Fourth, there has been a decline in the status of minorities throughout the region.
But at the same time, there have been some positive developments. Civil society and opposition parties are increasingly willing to “pay the price” for the cause of human rights. In addition, political and cultural elites have begun to “recognize the chronic problem of religious and ethnic minorities in the region.” In conclusion, Hassan offers four principles for the pursuit of political reform and human rights: human rights are more important than the narrow demand for electoral reform, freedom of expression is an especially important human right, human rights organizations should participate in bilateral and multilateral organizations, and there should be increased monitoring of international aid.
The report itself concludes that human rights have deteriorated throughout the region over the past year. First, on the legal front, emergency laws, damaging constitutional amendments, manipulated elections, enhancement of security forces and institutionalized discrimination all undermined political freedom and human rights. However, Morocco did increase representation for women and Lebanon, despite its political crisis, ratified the Optional Protocol of the UN Convention against Torture. Second, human rights advocates were targeted throughout the region, with Syria holding “the worst record.” Egypt, on the other hand, takes a different approach than Syria by seeking to undermine civil society through legal regulation and government oversight.
Third, freedom of expression was threatened throughout the region, observed “most clearly in the war waged by the Yemeni authorities on independent press.” Fourth, with the exception of Lebanon, political and social protest have been targeted by most Arab regimes, with Yemen again instituting the “severest crackdown on social action.” Fifth, torture was widespread in the region and abuses went unpunished, with Egypt and Syria identified as the most consistent violators. Sixth, regimes used counter-terrorism as a pretext to arbitrarily detain and torture, deny due process, erode standards of justice, and restrict the freedoms of expression, association and religion. Seventh, discrimination against minorities “remained a source of tension and fueled social conflict,” especially in the case of the Kurds in Syria, the Shi’ites in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the Amazigh minority in Morocco, and the Copts in Egypt. Eighth, armed conflict and occupations led to “grave” human rights abuses throughout the region.
Finally, the”peaceful rotation of power through representative politics, and clean and competitive elections remained a dream in most countries.” Lebanon was plagued by political paralysis despite successful elections, Yemen postponed elections for two years, Algeria removed restrictions on President Bouteflika’s rule, Tunisia conducted predetermined elections, Egypt failed to pass needed electoral reform while cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, and Morocco’s elections were saw “several irregularities.” Only Iraq hosted elections that “signaled some positive change,” holding both successful provincial and presidential elections, as well as elections in Kurdistan.