Yesterday, Saturday, November 8, the first international forum for human rights in the Arab world was inaugurated, organized by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies in concert with the National Council for Human Rights in Morocco and attended by prominent rights advocates and researchers from around the world. The forum opened with a speech by UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Zeid Bin Ra‘ad, who was unable to be present; the address was delivered on his behalf by Hani Majalli, the head of the Asia, Pacific, and Middle East and North Africa bureau of the OHCHR.
First expressing regrets for his absence, Ra‘ad said he intended to visit the region in the near future to witness the successes achieved and understand the challenges facing the area in the wake of the Arab Spring. He said he hoped to meet with Arab human rights defenders, who are working on the frontlines to defend victims and support freedoms.
Ra‘ad added that Arab states are currently undergoing extremely difficult transitional phases and that their citizens deserve to live in a climate free of conflicts and terrorist acts that have an incalculable impact on society. He said these terrorist practices ultimately resulted from the adoption of repressive policies that create an environment that fosters takfiri groups like the Islamic State. He stressed the need to hold governments accountable for violations they commit and for the inequitable distribution of wealth and resources.
The chair of the National Council for Human Rights in Morocco, Idris al-Yazmi, said that the first international forum for the human rights movement in the Arab world offered the opportunity to think about conditions in the Arab region and the pivotal shifts underway. Al-Yazmi said that the region is witnessing serious political developments every day, after peoples of the area had aspired to genuine democratization through various routes.
In his opening address to the forum, Bahey eldin Hassan, the director of the CIHRS, praised the democratic shift in Tunisia, seeing it as the sole inspiring model to come out of the Arab Spring. He also lauded the Moroccan experience as a unique example of reform from within since the late 1990s, pointing to the role of former Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi, who was present at the forum inauguration, in this respect.
Hassan also warned against following the example of the Saddam Hussein regime in Egypt, saying that it could result in the same catastrophic outcomes that led to the disintegration of Iraq and the flourishing of terrorism. “ISIS and similar terrorist organizations could only have grown and spread so quickly on the ruins of political and civil society, systematically destroyed by dictatorships over several decades in Syria and Iraq,” Hassan said.
The first day of the forum included three discussion sessions. The first, on elections and new political actors after the Arab Spring from a human rights perspective, was moderated by Anthony Chase, an assistant professor at Occidental College in the US. Speakers included Ashraf al-Sherif, a lecturer in political science at the American University in Cairo; Adel Ltifi, from the University of Paris III, Sorbonne in France; and Abdel Aziz al-Nweidi, a former professor of international and constitutional law at Rabat University. Albaqir Alafif, the director of the al-Khatim Adlan Center for Enlightenment in Khartoum, and Ayachi Hammami, the chair of the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights, contributed commentary. The second session focused on new political actors in the Arab World, as well as the role of militaries after the Arab Spring. Ayachi Hammami moderated the discussion, while Amy Holmes, sociology professor at AUC; Rami al-Salihi, the director of the North Africa bureau of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network; and Amr Abd al-Rahman, the director of the civil liberties unit at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights addressed the panel.
The third session was dedicated to international actors, including the US, the EU, and member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Speakers included Michele Dunne, a fellow with the Carnegie Endowment’s Middle East Program in the US; Gregor Meiering, a German researcher on European issues; and Jimmy Dorsey, a German researcher at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies. Commentary was provided by Neil Hicks, the director of the promotion of human rights at Human Rights First; Shadi Sidhom, program director at the European Endowment for Democracy; and Stephen McInerney, the executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy. The discussion was moderated by Hani Mejalli, the head of the Asia, Pacific, and Middle East and North Africa bureau of the OHCHR.
The forum is being convened in preparation for the World Forum on Human Rights, to be held November 27–30 in Morocco.
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