Alkarama Attends Doha Conference on the OHCHR's Role in Promoting Human Rights in the Arab World

On 13 and 14 January 2016, Alkarama attended the Regional Conference on "the Role of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [OHCHR] in Promoting and Protecting Human Rights in the Arab Region" in Doha, which welcomed 230 participants from governments, regional and civil society organisations and the OHCHR.

Opening the conference, Ali bin Samikh al Marri, Chairman of the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar (NHRC) – the Qatari National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), who organised the event – underlined that it was taking place in a context of a deteriorating human rights situation in the region, in particular in Syria, Palestine and Yemen. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein then took the floor, reminding that it was the governments' primary responsibility to provide dignity and security to their people, while calling upon the creation of a network of human rights organisations across the region.

The opening session was followed by an interactive dialogue on the OHCHR's role and activities and to various workshops, including on the UN's response to the situation in the region through the human rights protection mechanisms with which Alkarama works extensively. A Regional Representative of the OHCHR in the Middle East, Abdel Salam Sidahmed first spoke of the challenges that the Office was facing, deploring the lack of funding of the UN human rights pillar and the denial of access to certain countries, both impeding the implementation of human rights programmes. The Head of the Civil Society Unit, Safir Syed then denounced the "counterproductive" restrictions on the freedoms of expression and of peaceful assembly in the region, in particular the arbitrary arrests that civil society members are too often subjected to, particularly under the new anti-terrorism frameworks that are used "to shut down their legitimate activities."

Presenting the work of the UN Treaty Bodies (TBs), its Chief Ibrahim Salama deplored "the wide gap between ratifying and implementing the core conventions," as well as the fact that States often perceived their obligation to report as one "to defend themselves instead of reporting the reality" of the situation in their country. Karim Ghezraoui, Chief of the Special Procedures (SPs) Branch, then presented the role of the SP's human rights experts, calling upon governments to effectively collaborate with them including by accepting country visits, while noting that Libya and Djibouti had never been visited. Finally, Shahrzad Tadjbakhsh, Chief of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Branch, called upon an assessment of the changes that occur after the State's review, fearing that doing otherwise "would kill this mechanism, which would be just a show."

"In a region which is experiencing armed conflict and massive human rights violations, this conference was timely and has been successful in bringing together various stakeholders to discuss the appropriate responses of the UN special procedures for the protection and promotion of human rights in the Arab world," says Inès Osman, Alkarama's Legal Coordinator, who attended the event. "Too many State delegations however remain hostile to the work of the OHCHR, as many called for a 'cultural relativism' of human rights, showing their lack of political will to effectively abide by their obligations stemming from the core human rights instruments that they themselves ratified."

At the outcome of the conference, several recommendations were issued towards the OHCHR, States and NHRIs. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, then closed the session, saying he was hoping a similar conference to follow-up on the recommendations would be organised next year.

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