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memri
June 1, 2004 No.
724

Arab NGOs: Arab League Summit Declarations are Not for Reform, But for Deceiving Arab Public Opinion and the International Community

The London-based pro-Saddam daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi published a joint statement by 34 Arab non-government organizations (NGOs) condemning the declarations issued by the Arab League following its summit in Tunisia on May 22-23, 2004. The NGOs claimed that nothing had been done at the Arab League summit toward instituting reform in the Arab world, and that this could be considered justification for foreign intervention to impose reform. The following is a translation of the NGOs' statement, along with a list of signatories: [1]

NGOs Express 'Regret over Miniscule Arab Summit Results … that Create an Excuse for External Pressure'

"The undersigned organizations express regret over the miniscule results of the Arab summit in the issues [concerning] the Arab world – first among them political reform. The organizations emphasize that these results did not reach the [level] of the demands by the civil society organizations in the Arab world for internal and regional reform – particularly [the demands included] in the Second Independence Initiative published by the First Civil Forum Parallel to the Arab Summit that was organized in Beirut in March by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, with the participation of 52 NGOs. [2]

"Furthermore, [these results] are contrary to promises undertaken by Arab governments prior to the summit. This failure to move ahead and the continued repression of reformists by Arab governments create an excuse for external [bodies] to apply external pressure, and gives legitimacy to external initiatives for reform.

"The clearest proof of the Arab summit's inability to be faithful to its own undertakings regarding political reform in the Arab countries is that it makes do with a few rhetorical declarations that include intentions and promises without programs, policies, and practical undertakings for democratic reform within a time frame."

Connecting Reform with Palestine and Iraq 'As if Their Liberation Demanded the Continuation of Corruption, Torture, and Autocratic Rule'

"The Arab governments are insisting on procrastination and time-wasting, by connecting the realization of reform with the resolution of the Palestinian problem and the ending of the occupation in Iraq – as if the liberation of Palestine and Iraq demanded the continuation of corruption, torture, and autocratic rule, and the abolition of democracy, rule of law, and human rights in the Arab world.

"Likewise, [the NGOs'] disappointment has increased with the affirmation of the so-called Revised Arab Charter on Human Rights, which endorses a lowering of the condition of the peoples of the region in comparison to the rest of the peoples of the world. [3]

"In its present form, the charter does not guarantee an effective mechanism for supervising and protecting human rights in the Arab countries, and does not ensure the right to political participation through objective, free elections, or the right to form political parties and professional and labor unions. [The charter] limits the right to strike, endorses curtailment of women's rights, and ignores the existence and roles of human rights organizations."

'The Purpose of These Rhetorical Declarations is not Reform, but Rather to Deceive'

"[The fact] that the purpose of these rhetorical declarations is not reform, but rather to deceive Arab public opinion and the international community, is emphasized by what happened in some Arab countries when the draft of these reform declarations was being prepared – namely, when the oppression of the political opposition in Syria, and of those who defend human rights, was heightened, at the peak of which came the recent arrest of the Committees for the Defense of Human Rights [in Syria] President Aktham Na'isa, and other activists, and the limiting of the freedom of opinion and expression and the rights of assembly. [4]

"In addition, there is what happened lately in Bahrain, namely the arrest of 20 advocates of democracy and the threat to revoke the license of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. [Also there was] The National Council for Human Rights in Egypt's failure to present a recommendation for the removal of the state of emergency [in Egypt] after pressure was put on it by the government, and the detaining of advocates of reform in Saudi Arabia, and the refusal of the new Algerian government to remove the state of emergency and to permit demonstrations, and the attempt by the Tunisian government to suffocate the Tunisian Human Rights League by freezing its funding, and to suppress a demonstration demanding freedom of the media.

"At the very time that the Arab League speaks of the need to open up to [the idea of] civil society, the Tunisian government rejected the request presented by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies to call a forum of NGOs parallel to the Arab summit. Likewise was ignored the demand by the First Civil Forum Parallel to the Arab Summit for two Civil Forum representatives to attend the Arab summit in an observer capacity."

'The Summit Ignored the Killings and Grave Human Rights Violations'

"The summit ignored the wide-ranging killings going on in the Darfour region of the Sudan, and the grave violations of human rights and international law being committed there – which have reached the level of ethnic cleansing – by militias supported by the Sudanese government. [This is being done] in disregard of what was written in the report issued by a fact-finding delegation sent by the Arab League that confirmed serious human rights violations in Darfour by the local Sudanese administration.

"The summit's failure to address its obligation in this case can be additional justification for foreign intervention in Darfour. Despite Arab governments' denunciation of the occupation forces' actions in Iraq – particularly the crimes of the brutal torture of Iraqi prisoners by American and British forces – the summit did not open the portfolio of agreements and bilateral arrangements drawn up between members of the Arab League and the U.S. to give American troops immunity from criminal prosecution and from handing them over to the International Criminal Court if they are involved in war crimes.

"This does damage to the credibility of any promises given by the Arab summit with a claim of doing justice to the Iraqi people and to the victims of the American forces' violations.

"Despite the growing number of human rights violations in the occupied territories [in Palestine] and war crimes committed lately against Palestinian civilians in Rafah, the summit made do with denouncing them, without undertaking defined measures to prosecute the Israeli war criminals and give international protection to the Palestinians."

The Summit Was a Total Failure; Reform will not Begin as Long as the Arabs Stop Putting Faith in Rhetorical Promises

"The real test of the degree of Arab governments' seriousness in supporting the Palestinian people goes beyond statements to the press and rhetoric intended for internal consumption, which do not lead to any undertaking – [and any undertaking] should be manifested by giving human aid to the Palestinians and easing their suffering, and respecting the rights of the Palestinian refugees in the host Arab countries, and stopping all discrimination against them, and pressuring the American administration to stop its blatant bias towards Israel and its attempt to evade [its commitment] to 2005 as the date of announcing the establishment of a Palestinian state.

"The Arab summit was a total failure even in its attempt to ease the pressure for reform by internal public opinion and by the international community. It was confirmed that the task of reform will not begin as long as the Arab peoples, the political parties, and the unions and the human rights organizations, and the rest of the institutions of civil society do not take this task upon themselves, and stop putting faith in rhetorical promises."

The Signatories:

"Signed by:

  • The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
  • The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
  • The Arab Program for Human Rights Activists (Egypt)
  • The Saudi Human Rights Center (London)
  • The Federation of Tunisians for the Right to Citizenship on Both Shores of the Mediterranean (Paris)
  • The Iraqi Association for Human Rights
  • The Human Rights Information and Training Center (Yemen)
  • The Egyptian Social Democratic Center
  • The Gulf Press Freedom Center (Oman)
  • Forum for Civil Society (Yemen)
  • Libyan League for Human Rights (Germany)
  • The Palestinian Human Rights Organization (Lebanon)
  • Al-Haqq (Palestine-Ramallah)
  • Al-Shaml (Palestinian Diaspora and Refugees Center, Palestine-Ramallah)
  • The Algerian Association for Human Rights
  • The Committee on Freedoms and Human Rights in Tunisia (Paris)
  • The Committees for the Defense of Human Rights in Syria
  • The Iraqi Network for Human Rights Culture and Growth
  • The Bahrain Human Rights Society
  • The Moroccan Human Rights Association The Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners (Egypt)
  • The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (Gaza-Palestine)
  • The Center for Research and Alternative Growth (Egypt)
  • The Association for Human Rights in Syria
  • Democratic Association of Moroccan Women
  • The Center for Human Rights Studies in Yemen
  • The Center for Sudanese Studies
  • Bahrain Center for Human Rights
  • Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights (Palestine-Gaza)
  • The Center for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms – 'Adel (Lebanon)
  • Tunisian Human Rights Watch
  • The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (Regional –International Institution)."

[1] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 27, 2004.

[2] The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies specializes in human rights research and is situated in Cairo, but deals with the entire Arab world, with the aim of advancing human rights in the region. See http://www.cihrs.org/home/home_A.htm. The Second Independence Initiativewas drawn up by 50 NGOs from 13 Arab countries during the First Civil Forum Parallel to the Arab Summit,Beirut, March 19-22, 2004. The initiative that was presented to the Arab ambassadors and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa included a demand to remove the state of emergency, release political prisoners, establish independent courts, take steps towards administrative and economic reform, fight corruption, strengthen the transparency mechanisms, defend human rights, and so on. Islam Online, March 27, 2004. For the text of the initiative, see http://www.apfw.org/indexenglish.asp?fname=news%5Cenglish%5C12437.htm.

[3] In 1994, the Arab League drew up the Arab Charter on Human Rights, but none of the 22 member states signed it. The Arab League Council decided in March 2003 to revise the charter, but First Civil Forum Parallel to the Arab Summit expressed many reservations regarding the revised version. Islam Online, March 27, 2004.

[4] On April 13, 2004, Syrian security forces arrested Aktham Na'isa without stating why. A few days before his arrest, the Committees for the Defense of Human Rights in Syria, which he heads, published an annual report on the state of human rights in Syria. AlJazeera.net, April 25, 2004.