“A man spends his first years learning how to speak and the Arab regimes teach him silence for the rest of his life” Algerian writer Ahlem Mosteghanemi, “Memory in the Flesh”
The above quote forms the backdrop to an explosive report titled “Bastion of Impunity, Mirage of Reform” released this week by the Cairo Institute For Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) on the state of human rights in the Arab World for 2009.
Given the Report’s contents and the existence of CIHRS as a non government organization since 1993 - one wonders how it has managed to survive to continue its valuable work openly in Egypt exposing human rights abuses in the Arab World.
Perhaps the reason can be found in the associations CIHRS has built up over the years with other human rights organizations around the world that has now enabled it to produce this second comprehensive annual report in which it notes the worsening of human rights in the Arab world since 2008.
The CHIRS web site describes these associations as follows:
“CIHRS enjoys consultative status with the United Nations ECOSOC, and observer status in the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. CIHRS is also a member of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX). CIHRS is registered in Egypt, France and Geneva, has its main offices in Cairo, an office in Geneva for its work at UN human rights mechanisms and an institutional presence in Paris. CIHRS was awarded the French Republic Award for Human Rights in December 2007.“
The Report notes that in the Arab world in 2009
“Human rights defenders and advocates of democratic reforms were targeted for various threats and acts of repression.”
The Report cites Syria as the worst offender, describes Tunisia as a “Police State” and includes Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt and Sudan as sanctioning state authorized acts of repression against human rights defenders. It lists a large number of specific individual cases and actions taken in these countries to support its claims.
The report is particularly revealing about three of the six Arab countries that currently sit on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) - Bahrain, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia - a body that spends most of its time and discussions on condemning human rights abuses committed by Israel.
Saudi Arabia is exposed as having no independent media and according to the Report
“... it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of internet websites are blocked. Some Saudi bloggers were subjected to arbitrary arrest, and one Saudi citizen was sentenced to five years in prison and 1,000 lashes on charges of publicly proclaiming a sin, following statements he made on a program carried by a Lebanese satellite channel…
… remains dangerous for human rights defenders and advocates of reform. Authorities refuse to grant legal status to the few human rights organizations that exist in the Kingdom and many reformers have been detained for long periods of time without trial and tortured. An Islamist reform activist was sentenced to a prison term for opposing government policies, and several rights defenders were banned from travel.
… a great many people detained in connection with terrorism cases were subjected to physical and psychological torture, including cuffing, beatings, sleep deprivations, and the denial of family visits. Some people detained for their advocacy of political reform were also tortured.”
Bahrain - according to the Report:
“… continued to block political, news, and advocacy websites, as well as online forums. In a space of just three months in early 2009, more than 70 websites were blocked, among them online newspaper sites. Lawsuits were filed against journalists on charges ranging from slandering officials to undermining the judicial authority to harming national unity…
…Torture remains a routine practice in Bahrain, used especially against activists in social and political movements seeking an end to the institutionalized discrimination against Shiites; several human rights defenders were also tortured.”
Egypt has been in a state of emergency for the last 28 years and according to the Report:
“The greatest infringements of freedom of expression in Egypt were seen in the broad attacks launched by the security apparatus on bloggers and internet activists, dozens of whom were placed under administrative detention, abducted, or temporarily taken to undisclosed locations, usually State Security police headquarters; some have been detained for more than two years without charge or trial….
… continued to top the list of countries in which torture is routinely and systematically practiced. In 2009 Egyptian authorities used torture not only against those accused of political crimes or terrorism, but also against adherents of minority religions such as Shiites as well as suspects of criminal offences. Indeed, the threat of torture hangs over anyone who steps foot in a police station, whether to give a statement or file an assault charge, or pursuant to a summons by an officer, who might discipline or abuse citizens on behalf of influential persons.”
The Report comments as follows on the consequences of the split governance by Hamas in Gaza and by Fateh in the West Bank :
“Under the cover of the war in Gaza, Hamas embarked on several repressive measures targeting Fateh members, figures who oppose Hamas’ rule, and suspected collaborators with Israel, and it is suspected that dozens of people were killed, either shot to death or as a result of torture. Hamas personnel also broke the legs and arms of dozens of other people to compel them to stay in their homes. Also, some government employees in Gaza were replaced with Hamas loyalists.
In the West Bank, under the authority of Fatah, hundreds of Hamas sympathizers remain in detention; it is thought that at least two of the detainees have died as a result of torture. The West Bank authorities fired civil servants and teachers suspected of Hamas sympathies, while the salaries of thousands of employees of the Palestinian authority inside the Gaza Strip were suspended. Licensing for associations and companies in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip is now preceded by a security check,and those organizations that have affiliations with the “wrong” party are refused Licenses.”
Few of the 22 members of the Arab League are spared criticism in the Report which should be required reading for anyone interested in seeing some balance restored in any deliberations regarding the numerous and ongoing conflicts in the region.
No doubt this Report will not even rate any serious review or investigation by the UNHCR.
Whilst the Arab man in the street is prevented from expressing his opinion freely and without fear - the Arab world shall continue to present the monolithic Arab view of those few repressive regimes who rule to the detriment of the rest of the populations they rule over.
Such is the state of denial that the world currently finds itself in where the Arab world is concerned.