International human rights instruments, in particular article 9 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protect the right to personal liberty, meaning that no one shall be arbitrarily detained.
Detention, which, in itself, is not a violation of human rights and can be legitimate, becomes arbitrary when the deprivation of liberty is carried out in violation of fundamental rights and guarantees set forth in relevant international human rights instruments. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has defined several categories under which detention is arbitrary:
- When it is impossible to invoke any legal basis for the deprivation of liberty (as when a person is kept in detention after the completion of his sentence or despite an amnesty law applicable to him/her);
- When the deprivation of liberty results from the exercise of the rights or freedoms guaranteed by the UDHR and the ICCPR, such as the right to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association;
- When international norms relating to the right to a fair trial have been totally or partially violated, for example if the person has been imprisoned without charge or denied access to a lawyer;
- When the deprivation of liberty is based on discriminatory grounds such as, amongst others, on ethnic origin, religion, political or other opinion or gender.
In the Arab world, thousands of individuals are subjected to arbitrary detention. Victims are usually denied their fundamental rights from the onset of the detention: arrest without a warrant; incommunicado detention with the denial of access to family and lawyer; prolonged periods of custody, during which the person is tortured in order to extract confessions; and speedy trials before tribunals that lack independence or exceptional courts.
Arab governments often arrest and prosecute all dissenting voices, such as those of human rights defenders, political opponents, journalists and peaceful demonstrators in retaliation for peacefully making use of their right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Simultaneously, thousands of ordinary citizens are also victims of arbitrary detention when they are denied their fair trial rights.
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