Over the course of 2017, the Arab region has once again been the scene of the most serious human rights violations. While there are still no credible peace processes under way in the countries with open armed conflicts such as Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, most other countries in the region are, to varying degrees, witnessing rising tensions with their neighbours. Coupled with foreign military intervention, this situation has wreaked havoc on the safeguard of the most fundamental human rights across the region.
As protests demanding more freedoms and social rights have swept across the Arab world, dictatorships and autocracies in the region have continued to repress dissenting voices, with the aim of bringing an end to the ideals of the Arab Spring. Under the pretext of the fight against terrorism, these regimes are, in fact, directing this repression against peaceful activists and human rights defenders. Scores of individuals have been tortured, imprisoned, or even executed as a result, while states are continuously enacting new repressive laws in blatant violation of the fundamental rights of their citizens.
At this tense time, the action of organisations like Alkarama, which envision an Arab world where all individuals can live dignified lives, free from injustice, is vital. While most Western states seem to turn a blind eye to ongoing human rights violations as a result of either the rise of populism or geostrategic considerations, victims of gross abuses need our unabated support and action. We must also be aware that this escalation in human rights violations in the Arab region is a clear indicator that a new wave of the Arab Spring is to be expected. The question in this respect is definitely not if but when, and under which circumstances that will happen.
In 2017, Alkarama provided legal assistance to 516 victims of enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention and summary and extrajudicial executions. We have also produced and submitted nine reports to the UN Treaty Bodies as well as three reports to the Human Rights Council in the context of the Universal Periodic Review. Despite recurring resistance and limited resources, we have had some notable achievements and we remain hopeful that our work will lead to some positive change in the region. Over the course of the year, we have observed a pattern of Arab governments targeting primarily human rights defenders and punishing those who dare to seek remedy before the UN mechanisms. Not only are these governments violating human rights, but they are also engaging in systematic reprisals against those who denounce these violations. In this respect, Alkarama has sought the intervention of the UN Assistant Secretary General for human rights, who stated that “[w]hen those engaging with the UN face intimidation, threats, imprisonment and worse for doing so, we all lose, and the credibility of the UN is damaged. The UN as a whole has a collective responsibility to stop and prevent these reprehensible acts”.
This year, Alkarama has again been targeted by smear campaigns orchestrated by states known for their appalling human rights records. A new development, however, has been an open attack against Alkarama led by the government of the United Arab Emirates. This took the form of defamatory declarations from government officials, as well as the introduction of a resolution before the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) aimed at denying Alkarama the ECOSOC consultative status in spite of a positive recommendation made by the ECOSOC’s Committee on Non-Governmental Organisations. Such a gross manifestation of political meddling into human rights issues must be denounced. States should not be allowed to hinder the work of human rights defenders within international mechanisms set up to safeguard those very rights. Regardless, Alkarama is more determined than ever before to continue its professional and recognised work in providing legal assistance to victims in the Arab region.
We wish to thank the UN independent experts and the dedicated staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for their lasting and fruitful collaboration. We also thank all organisations, partners and friends who have expressed support for our organisation during the defamatory attacks to which we have been subjected. Finally, our work would not be possible without the dedication and steadfastness of the men and women across the Arab region often risking their lives defending human rights. We will always stand by them and express to them our most sincere recognition.Alkarama’s Board of Trustees
In 2017, Alkarama submitted a total of 190 complaints to the UN Special Procedures and Treaty Bodies as well as other international human rights mechanisms such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. A number of these complaints concerned more than one individual.