The OHCHR Regional Office for the Middle East (ROME) was established in Beirut in 2002 as an advisory office to the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) originally. The Regional Office covers eleven countries: Bahrain, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Human rights context in the Middle East
The 2011 “Arab Spring” was a broad and spontaneous upheaval - starting in North Africa and followed by the Middle East - that attempted to end decades of failed development and human rights violations. In many cases, the response of Governments to the massive protests, focused on security at the expense of human rights, and resulted in an increased crackdown on human rights defenders, civil society activists, and journalists. Freedom of assembly was largely undermined as security forces resorted to harsh and violent measures to disperse protestors. Protestors were often subject to arbitrary arrest and prosecution without due respect for the right to a fair trial.
Ongoing conflicts and political tensions in some countries greatly affect women, children, persons with disabilities and the elderly, as well as minorities. Gender inequality continues to be a matter of acute concern, and efforts to secure the rights of women have wielded few positive results to date. The Middle East is host to millions of non-citizens such as refugees, stateless persons, and migrant workers, including migrant domestic workers. However, these individuals often fall outside the legal protection structures required of host States and are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
Priorities and working strategies
The Regional Office works on thematic issues that require attention at the national and regional levels. Among others, the freedoms of opinion and expression, association and peaceful assembly require heightened attention, given that they are both threatened and essential to democratic participation. The Regional Office continues to advocate for the rights of vulnerable groups, minorities and non-citizens, whose legal status and rights are rarely discussed let alone protected.
In addition, the Regional Office actively cooperates with the UN human rights mechanisms, including treaty bodies and special procedures mandate holders.
The Regional Office prioritizes gender equality and women's rights in its programs. All countries in the region are party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
In addressing these issues, the Regional Office provides technical advice to Governments in the field of human rights with regard to, inter alia, the ratification of human rights treaties, and encourages States to establish national human rights institutions (NHRIs) and to reinforce existing institutions, especially with respect to their independence and ability to take action when violations occur. The Regional Office also designs training modules on human rights targeting civil society organizations, Governments and NHRIs on a variety of issues, including: developing laws that are in-line with international human rights standards, preparation for and follow up on the UPR process and its recommendations, follow up on the concluding observations and comments of treaty bodies and special procedures mandate holders.
In addition, the Regional Office compiles and analyses information on the human rights situation in countries of the region, contributes to global or thematic reports of the High Commissioner and organizes awareness raising sessions and advocacy meetings to promote the protection of human rights.
The Regional Office has established strong relationships with key national and regional stakeholders and works closely with UN agencies, Governments and non-governmental partners.
Expected results (2012-2013)
National laws, policies and institutions
- Increased compliance of laws with international human rights standards in the area of the protection of migrant domestic workers.
- Legislative and policy steps taken to improve the enjoyment of human rights by stateless persons.
- Removal of legislative and policy restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and assembly for human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists.
- Adoption and implementation of the National Human Rights Plan of Action in Lebanon. Increased knowledge of human rights standards by Lebanese Internal Security Forces.
- Establishment of national human rights institutions in Lebanon, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates and increased compliance with the Paris Principles of national human rights institutions in Oman and Bahrain.
- Increased participation of rights-holders, especially women, in the development and monitoring of economic, social and cultural rights policies within the right to development framework.
Human rights mainstreaming within the United Nations
- Increased integration of human rights standards and principles into the UN policies and programs at the country and regional levels.
- Fostering closer linkages with the UN entities (UN Women, ESCWA Centre for Women, UNFPA, ILO, etc.) to coordinate support for CEDAW implementation and mainstreaming of gender concerns in their work, and to ensure that gender equality remains high on the agenda of the UNCTs in the region.