For an effective Arab League human rights protection system : LAS Secretary General welcomes convergence on universal standards, NGO Coalition develops

Press Release

25 February 2013

An NGO high level strategic conference urges the Arab League to adopt an effective human rights protection system, as an urgent requirement to meet expectations of the peoples and address major violations of and threats to universal human rights in the Arab region.

In a meeting with LAS Secretary General,Nabeel Al Araby, conference convenors urged him to push for the promotion and the upgrading of all LAS standards, organs and procedures in compliance with international human rights standards. Al Araby who supported the Conference welcomed human rights NGOs strong input, mobilisation and convergence for universal human rights standards in the region.

From 16 to 18 February 2013, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in cooperation with the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), held a regional conference in Cairo entitled “The League of Arab States (LAS), human rights and civil society: challenges ahead” to which top representatives of the LAS participated, together with around 50 representatives of national, regional and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) . The presence of human rights experts from the African Union, Organisation of American States , Council of Europe and United nations systems allowed for a comparative legal and practical analysis with the LAS.

During three days in this unprecedented format, participants discussed the challenges faced by the LAS to enhance the protection and promotion of human rights in the region. They urged the LAS to reform and strengthen the organs in charge of human rights issues and demanded effective interaction with independent civil society organizations at all levels of the LAS.

Meeting with a delegation led by Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President, and composed of the heads of the conference convenors, Bahey Eddin Hassan, Hossam Bahgat and Raji Sourani, the Secretary General of the LAS, Mr. Nabeel El Araby rereaffirmed the commitment of the LAS to listen to all ideas and suggestions on effective interaction with civil society to strengthen human rights in the Arab region. Fully aware of the demands of social justice and fundamental freedoms that the Arab revolutions have forced on the Arab States, the Secretary General reaffirmed the necessity to upgrade the LAS mechanisms to be able to achieve such demands.

The Secretary General of the Arab League also reaffirmed his prioritization of the establishment of an Arab court of human rights, a proposal made by the Kingdom of Bahrain. organizations have expressed that they intend to oppose the establishment of the Court, unless its set-up and rules comply with international standards, which would require a reform of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, seen as a priority by our organizations.

Beginning of 2012, the Secretary General asked Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, to consider a reform of the organic structure of the LAS and to make recommendations on the enhancement of the interaction between the LAS and NGOs. Brahimi, who also participated in the conference, submitted his report beginning of January 2013. Both the Secretary General and Mr. Brahimi made it clear during the conference that civil society would not be consulted on the report before it is discussed and possibly approved by the LAS member-States during the next Arab Summit to be held in Doha, in March 2013.

Our organizations believe that the LAS cannot take on a new role in democratic transition, consult with civil society and support its claims in that regard, without operating an effective change in the modality of its relationship with independent civil society organizations. It should also set forth mechanisms and unambiguous criteria based on transparency, in order to ensure a permanent relationship between civil society organizations and all the LAS bodies.

Regretting that Arab Civil society organizations still face severe domestic repression and restrictions to their effective participation within the the LAS political organs and affirming that the Arab Charter on Human Rights in its current form is inconsistent with international human rights standards and lacks effective guarantees to ensure the aspiration of Arab people to an effective human rights system, the participants to the seminar have agreed on a set of recommendations (attached below), to be sent to the Secretary General and the Member-States of the LAS, that focus on three main items: the promotion of an effective regional system of human rights protection, the strengthening of the Arab Human Rights Committee and an effective interaction with independent national, regional and international civil society organisations.

The participants also affirmed their commitment to engage in a collective manner towards strengthening and developing an effective regional human rights mechanism of protection in the Arab Region.