Regional human rights context
In recent years,many States in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have taken steps towards legal, economic and social reforms, including holding multi-party legislative and municipal elections, establishing national human rights institutions, and improving the status of women. The number and diversity of activities of civil society organizations has increased, with human rights NGOs focusing their activities on raising awareness, promoting human rights education, documenting human rights violations and providing legal assistance and research services to right-holders. In addition, new independent media outlets have emerged in many countries.
Many States in the region have ratified the major international human rights instruments. A growing number of these countries have been fulfilling their human rights treaty body reporting obligations and taking steps to follow up on the implementation of both treaty body and special procedures recommendations and concluding observations. However, despite this progress, more work is required to ensure region-wide ratification of some of the core human rights treaties, particularly the two International Covenants and the various optional protocols.
While several countries in the region have demonstrated a greater commitment to human rights, the record in most countries still needs improvement. One of the many pressing problems facing North African and the Middle Eastern countries is the impact of counter-terrorism measures on human rights. Striking a balance between upholding core human rights principles and combating terrorism is a particularly great challenge to the States of the region. With the political climate in the region dominated by the violence in Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the unrest in Lebanon and their respective consequences, human rights norms and the rights of civilians have become harder to protect. Some countries have remained under emergency laws for decades. Others have adopted laws within the framework of national reconciliation processes that, in practice, ensure impunity. In some countries, human rights organizations have had their freedom of association and assembly restricted.
In 2008 and 2009, OHCHR will focus on combating impunity, strengthening democratic institutions and contributing to the protection of human rights in armed conflicts. The Office will strengthen its country engagement in the region by improving the capacities of the Office in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and the Regional Office for the Middle East, opening a Regional Office for North Africa, and a UN Human Rights Documentation and Training Centre in Qatar.
The Office will increase the number of its advisory and needs-assessment missions to the region and will intensify dialogue with all relevant actors at regional and national levels. OHCHR will also bolster its strategic partnerships with intergovernmental organizations, such as the League of Arab States, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and regional professional associations. In cooperation with independent media outlets, OHCHR will promote human rights and raise its own profile throughout the region. Training tools and information in Arabic will be developed to support public information and advocacy activities.
The Office will continue to encourage and assist government efforts to ratify international human rights treaties and protocols, support the existing national human rights institutions, and encourage the creation of new ones in line with the Paris Principles. OHCHR will also support governments, UN Country Teams, civil society actors and media outlets in implementing and following up on concluding observations and recommendations of treaty bodies and special procedures. The Office will consult with concerned States and other relevant actors to ensure monitoring of the implementation of national human rights plans of action. The High Commissioner’s good offices will be sought to bring about policy changes and place human rights on the national agendas of MENA countries.
In an effort to combat impunity, OHCHR will undertake legal analyses to ensure that national legislation complies with international standards and will offer advice and assistance on establishing or strengthening justice and accountability mechanisms. Specific training activities for judges and lawyers will be conducted and ad hoc amicus curiae briefs will be filed with the aim of increasing the implementation of international human rights standards through court judgments.
Protecting human rights in situations of armed conflict will remain at the core of OHCHR’s regional focus. Timely technical assistance will be provided to governments to conduct national investigations, assist in the creation of truth and reconciliation commissions, and award individual and collective reparations for violations of human rights and humanitarian law. Support will be provided to rights-holders to identify and use mechanisms of redress for violations of international humanitarian or human rights law.