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G7 Leaders Should Turn Rhetoric into Action to Address Human Rights Crises in the Middle East and North Africa

In Arab Countries, Egypt /Road Map Program, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) sent an open letter to G7 leaders on June 10 setting out recommendations for how policies of G7 states can improve the dire human rights conditions in five countries in the Middle East and North Africa region: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Palestine and Yemen.

Traveling to the summit, U.S. President Joe Biden underscored “ the commitment of the United States, Europe and like-minded democracies to stand up for human rights and dignity.” CIHRS welcomes this commitment and the Summit agenda’s prioritization of  “championing our shared values.”

In this context, CIHRS urges the G7 governments and democratic governments around the world to put these values into practical effect by implementing the recommendations and promoting the fundamental human rights and dignity of peoples throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

Open Letter to the Heads of State and Government of the Group of Seven Nations

 

H.E. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
H.E. Emmanuel Macron, President of France
H.E. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
H.E. Mario Draghi, Prime Minister of Italy
H.E. Yoshihide Suga, Prime Minster of Japan
H.E. Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
H.E. Joe Biden, President of the United States of America

Tunis, June 10, 2021

Your Excellencies,

As you gather for the Group of Seven meeting in the United Kingdom on June 11, we are encouraged that as democratic leaders, you have prioritized “championing our shared values” at the G7 Summit.  President Biden has stated that a priority of his visit to Europe will be to “underscore the commitment of the United States, Europe and like-minded democracies to stand up for human rights and dignity.”

Our organization, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, has worked for over 25 years as an independent non-governmental organization, to protect and promote human rights in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  We are all too aware of the profound impact that the policies of international powers, democratic and authoritarian, have upon human rights conditions in our countries.

We would like to call attention to the dire human rights challenges in the region, and to offer specific recommendations as to the steps your governments, and like-minded governments around the world, can take in order to translate your welcome rhetoric of human rights and dignity into tangible improvements in the human rights situations for the peoples of: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Palestine and Yemen.

We wish you a successful meeting and look forward to continuing to engage representatives of your governments as we advocate for human rights and democracy, in your capitals and in multilateral settings.

Most respectfully,

Neil Hicks
Senior Director for Advocacy

Algeria

Following the resumption of peaceful grassroots protests calling for democratic reform (the “Hirak”) in February 2021 and ahead of legislative elections on 12 June, repression has risen steeply in Algeria. As of 26 May, at least 183 individuals are detained for expressing their views online or for protesting peacefully while at least 5,300 peaceful protesters have been arrested since 22 February 2021.

Institutional reforms have failed to provide substantive progress in terms of good governance and rule of law. Basic guarantees of inclusivity and fair representation remain absent, while social unrest is deepening and credible partners for dialogue are being targeted. Conditions have thus been created for significant instability and a profound economic crisis in the country, with regional ramifications. A more assertive public position from democratic states is crucial to protecting Algerians peacefully exercising their fundamental rights; it would also stave off or potentially avert further political and economic deadlock in the country. If no assertive public stance is taken by the international community, this impasse will be long-lasting and liable to have dire implications for the region and beyond.

We urge G7 governments to publicly address the alarming crackdown on peaceful Algerian protesters, journalists, civil society, and  human rights defenders, including during the forthcoming 47th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, by:

  • Condemning the escalating crackdown on peaceful protesters, journalists, and human rights defenders, notably the unlawful use of force, the forcible dispersal and intimidation of protesters, and the continued arbitrary prosecutions, including on bogus terrorism-related charges.
  • Urging the Algerian government to cease all arbitrary arrests and prosecutions and release all individuals arbitrarily detained.
  • Demanding prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigations into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, including allegations of physical, sexual and psychological abuse in detention and physical assaults during protests; and accountability for suspected perpetrators in fair trials.
  • Urging authorities to amend or repeal overly broad provisions of the Penal Code and other legislation used to repress fundamental rights and freedoms, notably Law 12-06 on civil society organizations and Law 91-19 on public meetings and demonstrations, in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).
Egypt

A precedent-setting 32 countries at the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a joint statement on 12 March 2021, expressing their alarm over “the trajectory of human rights in Egypt.”

Despite record levels of repression under the dictatorial rule of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, democratic governments have largely failed to push back against the brazen contempt of the Egyptian government towards its international human rights obligations. We call on G7 governments to act collectively and bilaterally to:

  • Urge the Egyptian government to release the tens of thousands of prisonersheld after grossly unfair trials, or without adequate procedural safeguards. Many of these prisoners were detained for their political opinions or their peaceful criticism of policies of the Sisi government, in violation of their rights protected under the Egyptian Constitution and international law.  G7 governments can initiate prompt progress in advancing prisoner releases by elevating calls for the release of specific, named prisoners, including human rights defenders, journalists, and other non-violent political activists and prisoners of conscience.
  • Encourage and support multilateral efforts to hold Egypt accountable for its abysmal human rights record until there are clear signs of change.
  • In particular, provide leadership at the UN Human Rights Council to ensure follow up on the joint statement made by states on Egypt in March 2021, namely through a resolution that would establish a human rights monitoring mechanism.
  • Urge the Egyptian government to end its sustained crackdown on independent civil society organizations, including human rights organizations.The Egyptian government should revise restrictive laws that prevent organizations from operating free of government interference; it should end criminal prosecutions and investigations of human rights defenders in reprisal for their legitimate human rights activities, including by completely closing Case 173 of 2011; it should lift all travel bans imposed on human rights defenders, and lift asset seizures imposed on defenders and human rights organizations.
  • Urge the Egyptian government to end institutional discrimination against religious minorities, especially the large Coptic Christian minority.  Discriminatory laws governing the construction of churches and religious buildings should be rescinded; impunity for incidents of religiously motivated violence against Copts should be ended; and activists jailed for their advocacy for the rights of Copts should be released.
  • Urge the Egyptian government to stop using the pretext of counterterrorism to legitimize grave human rights violations, including forced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, and widespread torture.
  • Urge the Egyptian government to end its restrictions on media freedoms, which have resulted in the closure of independent news outlets, the jailing and prosecution of journalists, and the blockage of websites.
  • Use their influence within international financial institutions toadvance anti-corruption and transparency. Such measures should include lifting restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of expression and of association.
Libya

While there has been progress in Libya’s political process, the security situation remains critically unstable. This instability is compounded by the pervasive impunity of armed groups, continued military build-up, and the entrenchment of foreign forces around Sirte, Al-Jufra, Al-Khadim and Al-Watya. In addition to restrictions on public freedoms, the lack of progress on security sector reform and national reunification threatens the organization of free and fair elections in December 2021.

G7 members should prioritize upholding international norms and the rule of law, including by pursuing a more assertive engagement towards allies undermining the peace process, in order to ensure that free and fair elections do take place in December 2021, and that these elections do not lead to further conflict. Addressing the recommendations below is critical to lifting Libya out of crisis, in a sustainable manner, and to the advancement of G7 shared geopolitical and economic interests, both in the region and globally.

  • Strengthen political and financial support to international investigations into war crimes and other violations and abuses of international humanitarian and human rights law, with a view to deterring further violence, notably by ensuring that the only mechanism currently able to investigate human rights violations in the country – the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) to Libya – is renewed in September 2021 and has sufficient resources to carry out its mandate.
  • Building on the Key Principles for human rights, appended to the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) Roadmap, and on UN Security Council Resolution 2570, press Libyan parties on both sides to urgently put in place a comprehensive and transparent legal framework for security sector reform and to ensure that conditions are in place for the organization of free and fair elections by repealing arbitrary executive decisions infringing on freedom of peaceful assembly and association and freedom of expression.
  • Condition and leverage diplomatic, economic and military ties with states contributing to unlawful military build-up in Libya, including through sanctions, in order to press foreign and Libyan actors to cease this build-up, to press foreign actors to withdraw forces from the country, and to deter potential spoilers of peace ahead of elections. Arms transfers and security cooperation with meddling states should be reviewed in line with these commitments.
  • Halt any migration and security cooperation with Libyan authorities that involves facilitating illegal pullbacks and giving support to Libyan parties against which there are credible allegations of grave human rights violations and involvement in human trafficking. Condition any such cooperation upon the adoption of concrete measures to protect the rights of refugees and migrants (such as the closure of detention centers and the adoption of legislation protecting asylum seekers), and upon the advancement of security sector reform.
Palestine

Israel’s recent escalation of violence against Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line has underlined the urgent need for the international community to address the human rights crisis precipitated by the systematic dispossession, fragmentation and oppression of the Palestinian people.  The international community, especially Israel’s closest allies in Europe and North America, must take long-overdue effective measures to hold Israel accountable for its widespread and systematic violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and bring Israel’s impunity to an end.

Israel’s repression of Palestinians intensified even further than its already pervasive levels in May 2021, in response to widespread Palestinian demonstrations against Israel’s imminent threat of eviction and displacement of eight Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem. In the Gaza Strip, Israel targeted civilian structures, in particular homes, wiping out entire families, and inflicting widespread destruction and collective punishment on the population as a whole, under siege and closure for fourteen years.

As the systemic violence and anti-Palestinian incitement underpinning Israel’s apartheid regime continues, G7 governments should:

  • Call on Israel to put an end to its policies of population transfer of Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line, including the cases of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.
  • Ensure that political negotiations are based on international law, including existing UN resolutions on the Question of Palestine.
  • End Israel’s illegal blockade and closure imposed on the Gaza Strip, in line with recommendations of UN bodies and mechanisms, and address the root causes of the human-made humanitarian crisis and unlivable conditions for the two million Palestinians residing there.
  • Urge Israel to halt and reverse settlement expansion in territory it has occupied since 1967. Reject Israel’s de facto and de jure annexation of occupied territory and its unilateral claim of sovereignty over Jerusalem.
  • Support international justice and accountability mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court investigation into the Situation in Palestine. In addition, activate universal jurisdiction mechanisms to try suspected perpetrators of grave violations and crimes in their own jurisdictions. Pursue the implementation of accountability resolutions adopted by the UN Human Rights Council as well as the recommendations of all previous UN investigatory mechanisms on Palestine.
  • Support the annual update of UN database of businesses involved in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise by allocating sufficient resources for the OHCHR to fulfill Human Rights Council resolution 31/36 until settlements are dismantled, and the occupation comes to an end.
  • Impose travel bans and asset freezes on settlers, settler leaders, and individuals with businesses associated with Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise responsible for land appropriation and exploitation of Palestinian natural resources.
  • Legislate mandatory human rights due diligence procedures, regulations, and avenues for accountability for all corporate entities that are engaging with Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise, in line the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
Yemen

The latest escalations of military operations by Houthi rebel forces in the Marib governorate, and in the cities of Taiz and Hudaydah by forces aligned with the Saudi-led coalition, have undermined the resumption of political negotiations, putting civilians at grave risk.  Violations committed by the parties to the conflict include targeting civilian infrastructure, the recruitment and use of children as soldiers in the armed conflict, gender based violence against women, and the targeting of African migrants.  Journalists and human rights defenders are subjected to killing, harassment, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, physical assault, and restrictions on their rights, including the right to free  expression.

Impunity for war crimes and other violations of international law have fueled the conflict, causing the world’s largest man-made humanitarian catastrophe. This catastrophe is exacerbated by the ongoing obstruction of humanitarian assistance by parties to the conflict and the blockade imposed on the main ports, alongside the international community’s underfunding of the UN-led humanitarian response  – thereby ensuring that the prospects for widespread famine rise in conjunction with these military escalations. An inclusive, durable negotiated political solution is vital.  G7 governments should:

  • Support the resumption of an inclusive Yemeni-owned political process, under UN auspices, that engages all parties to resolve differences and addresses the legitimate concerns of all Yemenis, including women, youth, and civil society, non-combatants, and parties other than the Houthis and the Government of Yemen and its aligned Saudi-led coalition.
  • Support all confidence-building measures with parties to the conflict in order to immediately mitigate the humanitarian crisis, such as the full reopening of the Sana’a Airport, the resumption of salary payments, and the creation and support of mechanisms that enable sustained seaport operation with a view toward facilitating fuel and food imports, and efforts to resource and support the Central Bank.
  • Enhance accountability for serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in Yemen.
  • Support independent and impartial investigations consistent with international standards into alleged violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
  • Maintain support for the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEE), including by providing sufficient resources for the continuation of its work documenting and reporting on human rights violations.
  • In line with the recommendations of the GEE:
    • Pursue a Security Council referral of the situation in Yemen to the International Criminal Court, and expand the list of persons subject to Security Council sanctions;
    • Support the establishment of a UN international criminal investigative mechanism to analyze evidence, prepare files, and map civilian harm in order to facilitate and expedite fair and independent criminal proceedings and lay the groundwork for accountability for crimes committed in Yemen.
  • Highlight the link between armed conflict and violence and the threat of famine.
  • Urge all donors to immediately disburse pledged funds and call on donors to rapidly provide additional funding, and fully fund the Humanitarian Response Plan.
  • Provide an economic rescue package for Yemen, including foreign exchange injections to help stabilize the economy and the Yemeni rial, and prevent further inflation in food prices. Foreign reserves should be provided to subsidize commercial imports of food and fuel, and to pay public salaries.
  • End the licensing and delivery of arms to all parties engaged in the conflict.

This post is also available in: العربية

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