CIHRS 14th Regional Forum of the Human Rights Movement: Horizons of political reform in the Arab world

In Annual Regional Forums, Human Rights Dissemination Program by CIHRS

“Horizons of political reform in the Arab world” Parallel Forum to “the Forum for the Future”
Cairo, Egypt

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies organized the 14th Regional Forum of the Human Rights Movement (parallel Forum for the seventh Forum for the Future summit, to be held in Qatar in November 2010) Titled “Horizons of Political Reform in the Arab World,” the Forum was attended by representatives of civil society in the Arab world, their peers from Europe and the US, and academics, media experts, and journalists. The Forum was held on July 27 and 28, 2010, in Cairo, with support from the Middle East Partnership Initiative.

The Forum agenda focused on the most significant challenges facing advocates of political reform in the Arab region. Participants discussed strengthening the role of civil society in the reform process and Arab governments’ responsibility for the erosion of human rights in the region. Attendees offered critical analyses of US and EU policies designed to strengthen democracy and human rights in the Arab world and examined the strategic and structural obstacles to achieving respect for human rights in Arab societies. Participants took the opportunity to convene the preparatory meeting and to evaluate the role and contribution of the six-year-old Forum for the Future and its progress toward its stated objective of supporting political reform in the Arab world.

Drawing on lessons learned in the discussions, participants concluded that engaging the Forum as an effective body is closely linked to stimulating civil society’s role within the Forum. Achieving this requires the following

1. All parties in the Forum for the Future must avoid treating the Forum as a debate club where discussion about the importance and need for reform in the Arab world takes precedence over reform itself. The Forum must become an effective instrument with the power to monitor progress towards agreed upon recommendations. It should function as a platform for proposing concrete, time-bound reform plans, evaluating progress towards these reforms, and exchanging experiences.
2. The G8 governments must follow a single standard of engagement with all issues in the Arab world. These issues include the collective and individual rights of Palestinians as well as violations of human rights and democratic principles in each nation. Governments should take public stances accordingly, both individual and collective, including monitoring general elections and trials involving prisoners of conscience. The G8 governments should link the level of political and economic cooperation they maintain with member states to progress on reforms and individual governments’ compliance its obligations. The G8 governments must refrain from providing security and political support for the repression of human rights.
3. Civil society in the Arab world must be treated as a partner, not only in meetings of the Forum for the Future, but as a matter of course. This requires:
a. Treating civil society as an equal partner in all stages of preparation for Forum meetings and during them by providing the conditions necessary for an in-depth discussion of civil society’s views, proposals, and recommendations.
b. Arab governments in each state must maintain an open dialogue and level engagement with civil society and explore ways to implement reform plans within an appropriate time frame. This dialogue should not be conditional on the presence of a mediator from a G8 nation.
c. When visiting Arab states, presidents and delegates from G8 nations must strive to hold meetings with political actors and civil society groups in these countries, as do some Arab presidents and monarchs when visiting G8 nations.
d. The Forum for the Future must conduct a periodic assessment of the reform process and the state of human rights in Arab nations. Civil society organizations should be involved in this assessment and incentives put in place to encourage states to make progress.

Participants also urged Arab governments to commit to the following:
1. Respect civil groups and delegations participating in the Forum and restrict harassment by security personnel.
2. Release all human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience detained in Arab prisons; reveal the fate of the “disappeared” among them; and put an immediate end to security and judicial harassments of human rights defenders, political reform advocates, and bloggers, and refrain from detaining or prosecuting them in unfair trials lacking guarantees of due process.
3. Strengthen civil and political rights; allow the free formation of political parties; and refrain from restricting the right of various political forces to stand in elections. To accomplish this, Arab governments should amend or remove the relevant constitutional and legal restrictions as demanded by national political forces.
4. Introduce constitutional and legal changes that seek to comply with international human rights standards. Civil society, political parties, trade unions, political forces, and the public must be involved in the debates to precede votes on these amendments. The voting process should be honest and respect the right of local and international civil society to monitor general elections and referendums. Citizens should have the right to manage public affairs through free and fair elections, and all citizens must have the opportunity to hold public and political office in their countries, regardless of race, language, or national, political or religious affiliation.
5. Enlarge the space for private ownership of the visual, aural, and written media and refrain from exercising hegemony over it. Freedom of the press must be respected. Governments should stop imprisoning journalists and media workers for their opinions, and the government media should be restructured through independent councils that involve representatives from across the ideological spectrum including political and civil society members.
6. Abandon emergency laws and review and prune counterterrorism legislation to provide a precise definition of terrorism and abolish all provisions that can be used to intimidate political opponents, civil society activists, human rights defenders, and journalists.
7. State security forces must maintain impartiality towards adherents of all religions and confessions while the right of all citizens to perform their religious rites must be upheld without discrimination.
8. Arab regimes dealing with domestic armed conflicts must stop all wars fought against minorities and end all practices of genocide, forced displacement, forced servitude and enslavement, and rape, which constitute crimes against humanity. Arab governments should facilitate the mission of international humanitarian aid groups.
9. Encourage all major agents in political reform in the Arab world—legal and illegal political parties, new political formations, trade union initiatives, independent media, human rights organizations, bloggers, and independent journalists—to conduct an ongoing dialogue and assessment, coordinate efforts, and exchange experiences through debates at the state and regional level, and to include sector-specific, bilateral, and multilateral frameworks.

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