"A man spends his first years learning how to speak and the Arab regimes teach him silence for the rest of his life", Algerian writer Ahlem Mosteghanemi, Memory in the Flesh.
The above quote forms the backdrop to an explosive report titled Bastion of Impunity, Mirage of Reform (PDF 81KB) released last week by the Cairo Institute For Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) on the state of human rights in the Arab world for 2009.
Given the report’s contents, and the existence of CIHRS as a non government organisation since 1993, one wonders how it has managed to survive to continue its valuable work openly in Egypt exposing human rights abuses in the Arab world.
Perhaps the reason can be found in the associations CIHRS has built up over the years with other human rights organisations around the world that has now enabled it to produce this second comprehensive annual report in which it notes the worsening of human rights in the Arab world since 2008.
The CHIRS web site describes these associations as follows:
CIHRS enjoys consultative status with the United Nations ECOSOC, and observer status in the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. CIHRS is also a member of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX). CIHRS is registered in Egypt, France and Geneva, has its main offices in Cairo, an office in Geneva for its work at UN human rights mechanisms and an institutional presence in Paris. CIHRS was awarded the French Republic Award for Human Rights in December 2007.
The report notes that in the Arab world in 2009: “Human rights defenders and advocates of democratic reforms were targeted for various threats and acts of repression.”
The report cites Syria as the worst offender, describes Tunisia as a “Police State” and includes Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt and Sudan as sanctioning state authorised acts of repression against human rights defenders. It lists a large number of specific individual cases and actions taken in these countries to support its claims.
The report is particularly revealing about three of the six Arab countries that currently sit on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) - Bahrain, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia - a body that spends most of its time and discussions on condemning human rights abuses committed by Israel.
Saudi Arabia is exposed as having no independent media and according to the report:
... it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of internet websites are blocked. Some Saudi bloggers were subjected to arbitrary arrest, and one Saudi citizen was sentenced to five years in prison and 1,000 lashes on charges of publicly proclaiming a sin, following statements he made on a program carried by a Lebanese satellite channel…
… remains dangerous for human rights defenders and advocates of reform. Authorities refuse to grant legal status to the few human rights organizations that exist in the Kingdom and many reformers have been detained for long periods of time without trial and tortured. An Islamist reform activist was sentenced to a prison term for opposing government policies, and several rights defenders were banned from travel.
… a great many people detained in connection with terrorism cases were subjected to physical and psychological torture, including cuffing, beatings, sleep deprivations, and the denial of family visits. Some people detained for their advocacy of political reform were also tortured.
Bahrain - according to the report:
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