According to the figures published in the 2016 United Nations Arab Human Development Report, while the Arab world is home to only 5% of the global population, it accounts for approximately 68% of the world’s conflict-related deaths, 58% of the world’s refugees, and 45% of the world’s terrorist attacks. Autocracies, dictatorships, and foreign interventions are certainly among the leading factors to blame for this appalling situation.
In this context, Alkarama’s vision for an Arab world where all individuals live in freedom and dignity and are protected by the rule of law – albeit a daunting task – is essential. Back in 2011, we anticipated that the transition initiated by the Arab Spring would be difficult. Time has shown that the hopes shared by so many in the region – to peacefully achieve sustainable change in governance and the rule of law – have been met with brutal repression. Far from meeting their citizens’ demands, governments have pushed back, using abductions, executions, judicial harassment, and torture, among others, to silence their people.
Protecting human rights defenders and change makers in this context has been one of the major challenges faced by Alkarama in the past years. More than ever, our strategy remains to protect and empower local civil societies by acting as a bridge between them and the UN human rights mechanisms.
The effectiveness of this approach has been questioned, however, as some governments persist in refusing to ratify core human rights conventions, while those who have ratified them are often reluctant to uphold the obligations enshrined therein.
Nevertheless, we are convinced that the UN mechanisms remain an important means through which claims can be made by victims, especially in countries where justice is at best inefficient, if not a tool for governments to punish dissenting voices. It is therefore not surprising that under the pretext of counter-terrorism, some Arab governments, with the silence – if not the support – of Western liberal democracies, do not hesitate to attack these procedures as well as those who cooperate with them.
Too often, victims, along with their families and lawyers, are subjected to reprisals for engaging with the UN. In the same vein, Alkarama is frequently targeted by smear campaigns orchestrated by those very States in an attempt to discredit our work and the victims who seek our help. We remain unshaken by these sordid accusations, which only embolden us to continue to shed light on the injustices committed by these governments and to speak for those who are silenced.
This year again, our dedicated staff has provided legal assistance to hundreds of victims of the most severe human rights abuses. Our team has also produced and submitted six reports to the UN Treaty Bodies, five reports to the Human Rights Council in the context of the Universal Periodic Review, as well as three reports on Arab National Human Rights Institutions assessing their independence and impartiality.
Alkarama has also published two public reports on the right to truth for families of the disappeared in Algeria and the crackdown on human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. 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. We wish to pay tribute to the outstanding men and women without whom our work would not be possible.
We are humbled everyday by their courage and sense of sacrifice, often risking their lives and liberty to defend human rights in their countries. We also 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.
Alkarama’s Board of Trustees