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Having failed to adopt a plan for reform: The Arab Summit welcomes External Reform! Statement by 34 NGOs from 14 Arab States

In League of Arab States by CIHRS

The hereunder signatory institutions express their sorrow regarding the meager outcomes of the Arab summit regarding Arab issues, especially the issue of political reform. The institutions confirm that the results were not up to the demands of the civil society in the Arab region on reform, particularly the “Second Independence” initiative. The latter was adopted by the First Civil Forum parallel to the Arab summit and was organized by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) in Beirut, March 2004 with the participation of 52 NGOs. The results even contradict with the promises that the Arab governments pledged to fulfill prior to the Summit. Such ignorance of the issue of reform and the continuation of repression of reformists by the Arab governments might justify the external pressures and give legitimacy to the external initiatives for reform.

The failure of the Arab summit to meet its obligations towards political reform in the Arab states is best exemplified in the rhetorical statements declaring intentions and promises. Such statements do not include practical plans and obligations towards political reform within the framework of a time plan. They maneuvered by making the achievement of reform conditional on settling the Palestinian issue and ending occupation in Iraq. This is as if liberation of Palestine and Iraq necessitates the continuation of corruption, torture and despotism, undermining democracy, the rule of law and human rights in the Arab world. Moreover, the disappointment increases with the adoption of the amended Charter on Human Rights with its deficiencies and the gap between it and the international standards of human rights. The charter in its current form does not safeguard an effective mechanism for monitoring and protecting human rights in the Arab states. It does not ensure the right to political participation via free and fair elections and the right to establish political parties and trade unions. Moreover, it undermines the right to strike, formalize the already undermined women’s rights and ignores the existence and role of the human rights NGOs.

Such rhetorical statements do not aim at reform, rather, at deluding the Arab public opinion and the international community. This is emphasized by what took place in a number of Arab states during the drafting of such statements on reform. In Syria, political opposition and human rights activists were suppressed e.g. the detention of Aktham Naissa, the head of the Committees to Defend Human Rights and Democratic Freedoms and other activists, in addition to undermining the freedom of opinion and expression and the right to assembly. In Bahrain 20 democratic activists were harassed. Moreover, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights was threatened of withdrawing its licenses. In Egypt, the National Council on Human Rights failed to recommend to lift the state of emergency due to governmental pressures. In Saudi Arabia, reformists were detained. In Algeria, the new government refused to end the state of emergency and to ensure the right to peaceful assembly. The Tunisian government harassed the Ligue Tunisienne pour La Defence des Droits de l’Homme (Tunisian League for Defending Human Rights) by blocking its fund and suppressed a demonstration calling for the freedom of the media.

While the League of Arab States is calling for the necessity of interaction with the civil society, the Tunisian government rejected the request of CIHRS to allow holding the First Civil Forum parallel to the Arab summit. Moreover, the League ignored the request of the Forum to allow the participation of Civil Forum as observers in the Arab summit.

The Summit ignored the massacres in Darfur in Sudan which reached the extent of ethnic cleansing at the hands of the pro-government militias and the flagrant violations of human rights and the International Humanitarian Law. This is irrespective of the report by the fact-finding mission sent by the Arab League which emphasizes the fact that there are blatant violations by the Sudanese government. The apathy of the Summit might be another justification for external intervention in Darfur. It is noteworthy that the Arab governments condemned the practices of the occupation forces in Iraq, particularly the instances of torture of the Iraqi prisoners and detainees at the hands of the US and British forces. Nevertheless, the summit did not address the mutual agreements and arrangements of as many as one third of the Arab countries with the US against the International Criminal Court to safeguard the evasion of the American soldiers of punishment in case they commit war crimes. Thus, the credibility of whatever action to be taken by the Arab League to defend the Iraqis and the victims of US violations is questioned.

As for the escalating violations in the Palestinian territories and the recent war crimes in Rafah against the Palestinian civilians, the Summit did not but condemn such practices. It did not propose definite recommendations to pursue the Israeli war criminals and protect the Palestinians. Moreover, the real support of the Arab governments to the Palestinian people is not to be assessed through press releases directed to the local use which does not imply any commitments to provide humanitarian assistance for the Palestinians. It does not also alleviate their suffering. Respect for the Palestinian refugees in the host Arab countries should be ensured and the practices of discrimination against them should be stopped. There should be pressures to end the US blatant bias to Israel and its evasiveness towards declaring the Palestinian statehood in 2005.

The Arab summit has failed, even to absorb the pressures of local public opinion and the international community for reform. It has become clear that reform should be undertook by Arab peoples, the civil society, particularly the political parties, syndicates and human rights institutions regardless of the rhetorical promises of the Arab governments.

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