A Message from Civil Society in the Arab Region to the Summit for Democracy

In Annual Regional Forums, Human Rights Dissemination Program by CIHRS

No Global Democratic Renewal without Reforming the Approach to Counter-Terrorism”
Declaration of CIHRS 25th Forum for the Human Rights Movement in the Arab Region

On 16 November 2021, and ahead of the US administration’s “Summit for Democracy,” the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) organized its 25th Forum for the Human Movement in the Arab Region.

Considering the Summit’s aim to build a foundation for global democratic renewal, the Forum addressed previous efforts by the international community to support democracy, and discussed a set of recommendations that aim to ensure a sustained approach to advance democracy and promote respect for human rights in the region.

With the participation of democracy and human rights advocates from Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen, the deliberations of the Forum identified the over-securitized counter-terrorism approach of the past two decades as one of the biggest challenges to the international community’s engagement on democracy in the region. Accordingly, the Forum’s recommendations primarily called for adopting a fundamentally different approach to the international community’s engagement on both, counter-terrorism, and supporting democracy.

The recommendations of the Forum were submitted to the organizers of the Summit on November 26.

The full text of the Forum’s recommendations :

No Global Democratic Renewal without Reforming the Approach to Counter-Terrorism”

A Message from Civil Society in the Arab Region to the Summit for Democracy

Declaration of CIHRS 25th Forum for the Human Rights Movement in the Arab Region

The prospects for democracy and human rights in the Arab region have diminished to their lowest levels in many decades. Unapologetic repression and armed conflicts have become the daily reality in most Arab states while democracy seems like a more distant prospect than it had been on the eve of the Arab Spring. Despite authoritarianism and conflict in the region directly and indirectly contributing to the global erosion of democracy, the international community’s efforts to support democracy in the region have fallen far short.

The current international focus upon strengthening democracy on a global level, under the auspices of the “Summit for Democracy,” may risk repeating previous mistakes of the international community, and contribute to perpetuating conditions that have obstructed democracy. For the Summit to achieve its intended goal of building a “foundation for global democratic renewal,” a fundamentally different approach to supporting democracy is needed.

Ahead of the Summit for Democracy, democracy and human rights advocates from Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen participated in the Forum for the Human Rights Movement in the Arab Region, organized by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), to address the international community’s engagement on democracy in the region. During the Forum, participants identified flaws in previous efforts by the international community and deliberated upon recommendations that aim to ensure a sustained, consistent approach to advance democracy and promote respect of human rights.

Participants in the Forum particularly identified the ill-conceived dichotomy between democracy and stability as one of the biggest challenges to democratic transformation in the region. This misguided dichotomy has contributed to the over-securitization of domestic and foreign policies, specifically the post 9/11 counter-terrorism paradigm, and is one of the main obstacles to the international community’s engagement on democracy in the region and beyond.

On the one hand, authoritarian governments, from international powers like China and Russia to oppressive rulers in the Arab region, have taken advantage of the prioritization of counter-terrorism on the international level to justify their assault on racial and religious minorities, and on peaceful democracy and human rights advocates. At the same time, the over-securitization of foreign policies with the aim of countering terrorism led many democratic states to adopt policies that directly and indirectly support authoritarian regimes and actively undermine the future of democracy. Given this context, the Forum’s deliberations produced the following recommendations urging states participating in the Summit to pledge to:

In the Field of Counter-Terrorism

  1. Overhaul their approach to counter-terrorism, to take fully into account the political, social, cultural, religious, and economic root-causes of conflict and political instability when formulating their foreign policies and strategies.
  2. Mobilize their efforts to put an end to the misuse of counter-terrorism policies that consolidate authoritarian power by targeting religious and racial minorities, peaceful political opposition, and free media and independent civil society.
  3. Actively pursue establishing an international definition and criteria for what constitutes terrorism, in accordance with universal human rights principles.
  4. Take necessary measures to implement the recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism, as well as those of her predecessors.

In the Field of Security Assistance and Arms Export

  1. Downsize military assistance in favor of increasing assistance aimed at improving education, health, development, and alleviating poverty.
  2. Subject military assistance and arms exports (including dual-use/surveillance technology) to strict oversight to ensure their use in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian obligations and laws, including through establishing stronger end-use monitoring and human rights vetting mechanisms.
  3. Expand the mandate of different governmental institutions (legislative assemblies and concerned departments/ministries)of arms-exporting states in the process of authorizing the provision of security assistance, as well as the process of enhancing oversight mechanisms.

In the Field Economic and Developmental Assistance

  1. Strictly condition economic and developmental assistance on international standards of human rights and inclusive governance, including those that ensure transparency, oversight, and accountability for corruption and misuse.
  2. Use their influence in International Financial Institutions (IFIs) to ensure that recipient governments are accountable before their peoples, and adopt meaningful anti-corruption and transparency measures, including lifting restrictions on basic freedoms of expression and of civil society association.
  3. Prioritize the provision of financial assistance, whether directly or through IFIs, to states taking concrete steps towards democratization.
  4. Refrain from providing any form of political or economic support to governments aborting democratic transitions, whether through military coups or otherwise.
  5. Take concrete measures to effectively combat illicit financial flows, particularly those involving the financing of conflicts.

In the United Nations

  1. Reinforce the United Nations’ Human Rights-Based Approach.
  2. Address the chronic underfunding of human rights agencies at the UN, which undermines the protection of human rights and accountability for human rights violations and war crimes.
  3. Take measures to ensure that members of the UN Human Rights Council are held to their commitments to uphold the highest standards of human rights, including by not engaging in a practice or pattern of intimidation, attacks, or reprisals against human rights defenders.
  4. Call for the suspension of the UN membership of states experiencing military coups or using weapons of mass destruction against their people.
  5. Actively counter the efforts of authoritarian states aiming to undermine international human rights and international humanitarian systems and legal standards, and ensure the ability of international intergovernmental human rights institutions to create and maintain accountability mechanisms to address human rights violations and war crimes.
  6. Support and establish new mechanisms that aim to address military and political interventions in states undergoing democratic transition.

 

 

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