21 February 2013
An NGO high level strategic conference urges the Arab League to adopt an effective human rights protection system, as an urgent requirement to meet expectations of the peoples and address major violations of and threats to universal human rights in the Arab region.
In a meeting with LAS Secretary General,Nabeel Al Araby, conference convenors urged him to push for the promotion and the upgrading of all LAS standards, organs and procedures in compliance with international human rights standards. Al Araby who supported the Conference welcomed human rights NGOs strong input, mobilisation and convergence for universal human rights standards in the region.
From 16 to 18 February 2013, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in cooperation with the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), held a regional conference in Cairo entitled “The League of Arab States (LAS), human rights and civil society: challenges ahead” to which top representatives of the LAS participated, together with around 50 representatives of national, regional and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) . The presence of human rights experts from the African Union, Organisation of American States , Council of Europe and United nations systems allowed for a comparative legal and practical analysis with the LAS.
During three days in this unprecedented format, participants discussed the challenges faced by the LAS to enhance the protection and promotion of human rights in the region. They urged the LAS to reform and strengthen the organs in charge of human rights issues and demanded effective interaction with independent civil society organizations at all levels of the LAS.
Meeting with a delegation led by Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President, and composed of the heads of the conference convenors, Bahey Eddin Hassan, Hossam Bahgat and Raji Sourani, the Secretary General of the LAS, Mr. Nabeel El Araby rereaffirmed the commitment of the LAS to listen to all ideas and suggestions on effective interaction with civil society to strengthen human rights in the Arab region. Fully aware of the demands of social justice and fundamental freedoms that the Arab revolutions have forced on the Arab States, the Secretary General reaffirmed the necessity to upgrade the LAS mechanisms to be able to achieve such demands.
The Secretary General of the Arab League also reaffirmed his prioritization of the establishment of an Arab court of human rights, a proposal made by the Kingdom of Bahrain. organizations have expressed that they intend to oppose the establishment of the Court, unless its set-up and rules comply with international standards, which would require a reform of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, seen as a priority by our organizations.
Beginning of 2012, the Secretary General asked Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, to consider a reform of the organic structure of the LAS and to make recommendations on the enhancement of the interaction between the LAS and NGOs. Brahimi, who also participated in the conference, submitted his report beginning of January 2013. Both the Secretary General and Mr. Brahimi made it clear during the conference that civil society would not be consulted on the report before it is discussed and possibly approved by the LAS member-States during the next Arab Summit to be held in Doha, in March 2013.
Our organizations believe that the LAS cannot take on a new role in democratic transition, consult with civil society and support its claims in that regard, without operating an effective change in the modality of its relationship with independent civil society organizations. It should also set forth mechanisms and unambiguous criteria based on transparency, in order to ensure a permanent relationship between civil society organizations and all the LAS bodies.
Regretting that Arab Civil society organizations still face severe domestic repression and restrictions to their effective participation within the the LAS political organs and affirming that the Arab Charter on Human Rights in its current form is inconsistent with international human rights standards and lacks effective guarantees to ensure the aspiration of Arab people to an effective human rights system, the participants to the seminar have agreed on a set of recommendations (attached below), to be sent to the Secretary General and the Member-States of the LAS, that focus on three main items: the promotion of an effective regional system of human rights protection, the strengthening of the Arab Human Rights Committee and an effective interaction with independent national, regional and international civil society organisations.
The participants also affirmed their commitment to engage in a collective manner towards strengthening and developing an effective regional human rights mechanism of protection in the Arab Region.
The Arab League, Human Rights and civil society : challenges ahead
16-17-18 February, 2013
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in cooperation with
The Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR)
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
Final Declaration and Recommendations
From 16 to 18 February 2013, more than 50 human rights defenders representing national, regionaland international non- governmental organisations (NGOs) as well as well as human rights expertsfrom different regional and universal human rights systems gathered in Cairo, Egypt, to discuss thechallenges faced by the League of Arab States in enhancing the protection and the promotion of human rights in the region and propose their vision to reform and strengthen the League of ArabState’s human rights component.The participants,1.0 Expressing their appreciation that the Secretary General of the League of Arab States Dr. NabilAl Araby and other representatives from LAS supported the discussions;1.1 Regretting that Arab Civil Society Organizations still face severe restrictions toward their effective participation within the the LAS’ political organs and that the accreditation of CSOs toattend the LAS’s deliberations is pendant upon the approval of their country of registration.1.2 Encouraged by the statement made by the Secretary General of the League of Arab States onthe occasion of the fourth anniversary of the Arab Human rights Day in which he recognized theneed to reform the Arab Charter on Human Rights and to bring it into conformity with universalhuman rights standards and acknowledging that reforming the League and its relevant mechanismsto ensure the full protection and promotion of human rights in the region has become a pressingrequirement that can neither be condoned nor overlooked;1.3 Encouraged by the League of Arab States positions over the deteriorating humanitarian andhuman rights situation in the Arab Republic of Syria and its unprecedented steps to address thehuman rights situation in Libya during the revolution;1.4 Affirming that the League of Arab States needs to be consistent in its decisions with relation tohuman rights issues throughout the Arab region and that it needs to address other pressing human
rights situations in the Arab Region [including in Bahrain, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, United ArabEmirates, Oman, Yemen and the Occupied Palestinian Territories] with the same degree of determination and persistence it has been over the situation in Libya and Syria; 1.5 Reiterating the responsibilities of Member States to respect, protect and promote theuniversality of human rights as stipulated by their obligations under the different international andregional agreements and conventions;.1.6 Reaffirming that no justification (be it political, cultural, religious or economic) could be used toderogate from the obligations of state and non state actors in the Arab region to respect, protect andfulfill universally recognized human rights standards and norms;1.7 Stressing the importance of the correlation between LAS reforms on the one hand, andobligations of Member States by virtue of their ratification of international and regional humanrights conventions on the other, which makes it imperative to ensure the respect of human rights andenact measures toward this end not only at the national level but also at the regional andinternational levels.1.8 Affirming that the Arab Charter on Human Rights in its current form is inconsistent withinternational human rights standards and lacks effective guarantees to ensure the aspiration of Arab people to an effective human rights system;1.9 Recalling past civil society initiatives and recommendations proposed to the League and itsdifferent mechanisms with the purpose of providing a comprehensive view on mechanisms toguarantee genuine and effective reforms that ensure strengthening the League’s human rights protection and promotion mechanisms, including the recommendations of the First and SecondCivil Arab Society Forum Parallel to the Arab Summit held in 2004 and 2006 and therecommendations of the Civil Society Forum Parallel to the Arab Economical and Social Summit in2013;1.10 Believing that the LAS cannot take on a new role in democratic transition, consult with civilsociety and support its claims in that regard, without operating an effective change in the modalityof its relationship with civil society organisations, and set forth mechanisms and unambiguouscriteria based on transparency, in order to ensure a permanent relationship with all the League’s bodies.The participants to the seminar have agreed on a set of recommendations to the Secretary Generaland the Member-States of the LAS on:
2.0 The Promotion of an effective regional system of human rights protection
The participants urge the League of Arab States to take the necessary measures in view of:2.1 – Demanding amendments of the Arab Charter of human rights in consonance with the Arabhuman rights experts recommendations of January 2004;2.2 – Clarifying the protection mandate of the League of Arab States by enhancing its monitoringcapacity (recommendations and resolutions on the HR situation in Member states, establishment of independent special procedures to receive information from any sources and investigate allegations,make public their qualification of situations, establishment of an independent complaint mechanismto deal with individual and collective communications received in accordance with other systems’established practice); taking in to account the experiences acquired through the development of
human rights protection mechanisms at the regional and international levels.2.3 – Demanding interaction with local, regional and international NGOs through the developmentof a concrete modality of engagement between all LAS bodies concerned and NGOs. One thatensures a strategic, transparent and permanent relationship between civil society and LAS and istranslated not only through institutional development and reform, but also through a genuine changein the perception of this relationship and the recognition of civil society as an imperative pillar tothe system, through exploring the definition of clear criteria for granting consultative status toindependent organizations, and the establishment of an independent management of the procedure pertaining to the granting of observer and/or consultative status, keeping in mind that the absence of an NGO domestic legal status should not be an obstacle in granting consultative status. Indeed the participants underlined that for the sake of its credibility. LAS bodies should cooperate withgenuine independent NGOs only, without restriction pertaining to their registration in their country;2.4 – Encouraging the publicity of meetings, in particular those meetings where situations of humanrights are considered.2.5 – Guaranteeing that any Arab Court for Human Rights, to provide redress to victims of humanrights violations, including violations perpetrated by non-state actors, shall be established inaccordance with international standards.3.0
The strengthening of the Arab Committee for Human Rights:
The participants urge the League of Arab States to take the necessary measures in view of:3.1 – Promoting the Arab Human Rights Committee (by inviting states to submit their report, toengage in a constructive and result-oriented dialogue with the committee and the States parties toappoint qualified and independent experts for the election of its members in 2013)3.2 – Urging the States parties to elect women as independent experts to the Committee3.3 – Encouraging the States Parties to adopt clear criteria for the appointment of the members of the Committee in order to ensure their independence, their dedication and their human rightsexpertise.3.4 – Encouraging local, regional and international NGOs to submit alternative reports anddocumentation to the Committee and to disseminate the Committee’s concluding remarks throughwebsites, social networks and traditional media of the country at stake. The NGOs should be able toreview State reports and publish their review publicly, and attend Committee sessions. It is crucialthat a seperate public document be made stating in detail the relationship between civil society andthe Committee and the possibility for the CSO to brief the experts prior to the Committee’s sessions.3.5 – Expanding the mandate of protection of the Committee by vesting it with the ability tointerpret the provisions of the Charter in accordance with the universally established internationalhuman rights standards. 3.6 – Ensuring the Commitee’s transparency and competence by encouraging it to devise an accessto information plan where it posts on its website mechanisms of its action, guidelines for reporting,state reports, concluding remarks, annual reports, or any other relevant documents.
3.7 – Supporting the Committee to clarify its methods of work, including the modalities of interaction with local, regional and international civil society organizations, notably in view of obtaining public sessions.
4.0 Ensuring a greater interaction with civil society organisations:
The participants urge the League of Arab States to take the necessary measures in view of:4.1 – Amending the LAS Charter so that it explicity recognizes universal human rights standards,and amending the procedures in order to allow for NGOs to attend meetings of all LAS bodies, possibly through an independent mechanism to grant consultative status to independent NGOs.Again, the status of registration of the NGO domestically should not be an obstacle to its applicationfor consultative status.4.2 – Encouraging interface meetings of independent NGOs with diplomatic missions of theMember states as well as with the Cabinet of the Secretary General and other relevant departmentsand units placed under the authority of the Secretary General.4.3 – Taking concrete and enforceable steps, based on the UN standards in that respect, aiming atcombating reprisal against human rights defenders including administrate and security harassmentagainst HRDs participating in the deliberations of the LAS bodies or providing information andanalysis on the human rights situation in their countries.The participants urge the Arab League’s Member-States to sign the Swiss Initiative urging the UNSecurity Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.