The Civil Forum, held parallel to the Arab Summit, held its second meeting in Rabat, Morocco, 17 to 19 February 2006. The Forum is organized by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, in cooperation with the Moroccan Organization for Human Rights, the Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN), and the International Federation of Human Rights (IFHR). The European Commission providing funding for the event, making available the participation of 50 civil society organizations in 15 Arab countries, in addition to journalists, scholars, and members of parliament. The Forum also issued two separate reports regarding the Tunisian and Syrian, Bahraini and Saudi human rights situations. And a letter of appreciation and support to the widow of the Tunisian human rights defender Ahmed Othmani, the president of Penal Reform International.
Expressing sorrow for the fact that the majority of the Arab governments did not rise up to honoring the commitments they had made as regards the issue of reform, which had been voiced in “Tunisia Declaration on the Promotion of National Dialogue” adopted by the Arab Summit in Tunisia in 22-23 May 2004, and other declarations and documents of a number of conferences held under the auspices of these governments, the Civil Forum calls for promptly eliminating all legislative, administrative and security restrictions precluding application of political reform in the Arab World, and updating relevant legislation to be in accordance with international standards.
Expressing sorrow that around 25% of the Arab countries do not enjoy competitive public elections, and deeply concerned with the fact that public elections – in some of the countries that run public elections – are suffering lack of transparency and impartiality, and that they do not lead to power alternation, despite positive changes in the Palestinian, Iraqi and Lebanese elections, the Civil Forum calls upon the Arab countries that do not apply an electoral system to take legislative measures that will ensure holding competitive elections that grant people free choice of their representatives, and, in the same time, will ensure effective role of the NGOs to monitor all stages of elections.
Affirming the priority of the issue of democratization on the NGOs’ agenda, the Forum urges to accept results of the competitive public elections, being one of the mechanisms of transformation, so long as the will of the voters is not prejudiced.
Lauding the positive developments of the dynamic nature of civil society organizations in the Arab countries, the Forum strongly condemns some Arab governments, particularly the Tunisian, the Syrian and the Bahraini, for tightening the activities of NGOs, Human Rights defenders, democracy advocates and reformists over the last year, which culminated in the Summit on Information in Tunisia, and the G8 Forum for Future, November 2005, in Bahrain, and the Euro Mediterranean Partnership, November 2005, in Barcelona.
The Forum further calls upon Arab governments to eliminate all legislative, administrative and security restrictions on the establishment and management of NGOs, syndicates and trade unions, and political parties, and reject the policy of security harassment against Human Rights defenders and democracy activists, as well as revealing information about forced disappearances in a number of Arab countries, releasing the survivors among them and delivering the bodies of the dead to their relatives.
Lauding the relative improvement in women conditions in some of the Arab countries, the Forum, at the same time, is indignant at non-observance of some Arab governments to the commitments ensuing from signing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the continued reservation to certain articles of the Convention, as well as not taking appropriate measures incriminating all forms of violence against women.
Disturbed with the deteriorated conditions of the Judiciary in the Arab world, and the overall control of the Executive over the Judiciary in terms of appointments, promotions, disciplinary measures or dismissal, the matter which will lead to a crisis of confidence in national Judiciaries, and increased demands to form international judiciary investigation committees. The Forum, further, calls upon the Arab governments to secure independence of the Judiciary, non-interference in Justice affairs, and stopping of administrative security harassment against judges, particularly in Tunisia and Egypt.
Stressing the need to work on eliminating all forms of impunity, the Forum emphasizes the principle of integrating international with national judiciaries, stresses the importance of the International Criminal Court, and condemns attempts of the United States and some Arab countries to hamper the Court’s activities through signing bilateral agreements by virtue of which US soldiers will evade trials, if they should set for trial. The Forum, as well, urges all governments to effectuate transitional justice mechanisms making use of, and improving on, the Moroccan experience of the “Equity and Reconciliation Commission “, to ensure justice to victims, reveal the truth and settle human right violations.
Condemning the disdain of religious figures and beliefs, being a form of irresponsibility, which is one of the basic conditions of free expression, the Forum, at the same time, is dismayed that inflaming the campaign against such violations would distract attention on issues of political reform in the region and strike at the fragile freedom of expression in the Arab world, where governments do not respect the right of the public to information, and where many laws are enacted to impede independent mass media, legalize imprisonment in opinion cases, and allow the mandate of religious institutions over free thinking and artistic and literary creation.
Welcoming the comprehensive peace agreement and the drafting of the transitional constitution in the Sudan, deeming them a step in the path of progress towards establishing peace and democracy, the Forum is deeply concerned on the prospects of failure for a compromise between the government of Sudan and the armed opposition groups in a way that will lead to ending the conflict in Darfur. The Forum is also concerned with the slack attitude of the Sudanese government in disarming the militias known as “Janjaweed”, and lack of serious cooperation with the International Criminal Court.
Disapproving of the uneven attitude of the international community towards issues of political reform in the region, in addition to the double standards applied in dealing with certain issues, especially the Palestinian issue, the Civil Forum calls for applying one standard for all Arab issues, including the issue of Palestine, human rights violations and democracy in all the arab countries, taking declared joint and individual positions towards them, and not supporting authoritarian regimes in the Arab world to play the role of the policeman against migration and terrorism employing methods that never go to the interest of the public, rather stoke terrorism, in the final analysis.
Affirming that the Arab Charter on Human Rights in its current form is still contradictory with the international human rights standards, and affirming the fact that it is inferior to all similar charters, both regional and international, the Forum is shocked to find only one Arab country have signed the Charter whereas more than half of the Arab countries abstained. The Forum, still further, calls for reconsideration of several items of the Charter, particularly, these prioritizing local legislations over the Charter’s provisions in several vital matters, and not restricting the death penalty to be later dismantled, as well as neglecting the right to free transparent elections, in addition to manipulating women’s rights including their rights to pass citizenship, in case of marrying a foreigner, to their children, and disregarding altogether the role of the NGOs.
Expressing appreciation for the participation of a representative of the Secretary General of the Arab League for the second time in its proceedings, the Forum invites the Arab League to open its closed doors to NGOs as much as the organizations approved by their relevant governments as monitors in the League, and to allow representatives of the Civil Forum to attend and express views in the League meeting due next April on the League’s relationships with civil society organizations, as well as the Arab Summit’s meetings, for which purpose, the Forum delegates the Cairo Institute to form a secretariat.
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