As leaders gather for the League of Arab States (LAS) Summit beginning on 31 March 2019 in Tunis, the ICJ called on them to place human rights and accountability for violations at the forefront of their agenda.
In particular, the ICJ urged the Summit to take immediate steps to revise the Statute of the Arab Court of Human Rights in line with international standards to allow access by victims of human rights violations in the region to such a Court.
“We’ve been witnessing a spike in gross human rights violations across the Arab region, including in extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and torture and other ill-treatment,” said Said Benarbia, the ICJ’s MENA Programme Director.
“The region is in dire need of a credible and independent judicial mechanism to provide justice for human rights violations, the overwhelming majority of which presently go unaddressed,” he added.
The ICJ called on external participants to prioritize human rights in their discussions with League member States at the Summit.
Expected attendees include United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Federica Mogherini, the Head of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat, and the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Yousef bin Abdul Al-Othaimeen.
Many States in the region are plagued by widespread and systematic violations.
These range from torture, enforced disappearance and arbitrary detentions in Egypt, attacks against human rights defenders and journalists in Saudi Arabia, including the high profile enforced disappearance and killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khasshogi, as well as the judicial harassment of human rights defenders and political activists throughout the region.
Civilian populations have borne the brunt of violations and crimes through military operations by governments and armed groups in Yemen, Syria and Libya, and in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“International leaders mustn’t sit back and follow the agendas of rights-violating States at this Summit, which will no doubt be directed towards further entrenchment of their authoritarian regimes at the expense of victims,” said Benarbia.
“Instead, they should urge LAS members States to ensure accountability for human rights violations in the region, including by revising and then making operational the Statute of the Arab Court,” he added.
The ICJ said that the process of revision should only be done with the participation of a wide range of stakeholders, civil society, judges, academics, bar associations, and victims of violations.
Said Benarbia, Director of the ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, t: +41-22-979-3817; e: said.benarbia(a)icj.org
The Statute of the Arab Court of Human Rights, which aims to establish a regional human rights court for Arab States, was approved by the LAS Ministerial Council on 7 September 2014, but is yet to come into force.
The ICJ and others have identified significant flaws in the Statute, highlighted in the 2014 ICJ report. The report notes that the Statute does not allow victims themselves to submit complaints directly to the Court, making access to justice an illusion. In addition, the Statute does not provide for sufficient guarantees to ensure judicial independence and impartiality; does not provide adequate protective measures for petitioners, their representatives or witnesses; and fails to require the Court to interpret the Arab Charter in line with international human rights obligations.
MENA-Arab Court HR-News-2019-ARA (full story in Arabic, PDF)