At the invitation of the Cairo
Institute for Human Rights Studies, and hosted by the Moroccan
Organization for Human Rights, the First International Conference
of the Arab Human Rights Movement: Prospects for the Future was
held in Casablanca from 23 to 25 April, 1999, to examine the human
rights conditions in the Arab world, and the responsibilities,
tasks and prospects of the Arab human rights movement.
After extensive discussions, the Conference declared that the
only source of reference in this respect is international human
rights law and the United Nations instruments and declarations.
The Conference also emphasized the universality of human rights.
The International Setting: The Conference examined the
international setting and conditions affecting the status of human
rights specifically in the Arab world and affirmed the following:
* The call for substantial reforms in the United Nations so as to
make it more representative of the regions and peoples of the
world, and more effective in fulfilling its role and in expressing
the common interests and responsibilities of humanity.
* The importance of drawing the attention to the grave
consequences of using the principles of human rights for the
realization of specific foreign policy objectives of some
countries. It affirms that the Arab world is still suffering from
the opportunistic, political and propagandist use of human rights
by some major powers as evidenced by the double-standards employed
by such powers, most notably the United States of America.
* Calling upon the UN Security Council to review the
international sanctions system and its application methods. The
Conference also urges the UN Security Council to decide to
immediately and unconditionally end the economic sanctions on
Iraq, considering that their devastating effects on the civilian
population could be likened to genocide.
* Rejecting the manipulation by some Arab governments of
patriotic sentiments and the principle of sovereignty so as to
avoid complying with international human rights standards.
* Rejecting any attempt to use civilizational or religious
specificity to contest the universality of human rights.
Commendable specificity is that which entrenches the dignity and
equality of citizens, enriches their culture and promotes their
participation in the administration of public affairs.
Peace and the Rights of Peoples and Minorities in the Arab
World: The Conference declares its support for the proposed UN
Decade for the Culture of Peace and affirms that acceptable peace
is that which is based on respect for fundamental rights, justice
and peoples' inherent dignity. It should also be based upon the
provisions of international law, the UN resolutions, and the due
respect of human rights -- most notably the right to
The rights of the Palestinian people are the proper standard to
measure the consistency of international positions towards a just
peace and human rights. The Arab human rights movement will apply
this standard in its relations with the different international
organizations and actors.
The Conference declares its full support for the right of the
Palestinian people to self-determination and to establish their
independent state on their occupied national soil --with Jerusalem
as its capital-- and the right of return for the refugees and to
compensation in accordance with UN resolutions. The Conference
demands the dismantling of settlements, the elimination of all
forms of racial discrimination and human rights violations against
the Arabs of Israel, and the elimination of the racist Zionism and
the expansionist nature of Israel.
The establishment of a just peace requires the immediate and
unconditional withdrawal of Israel from the Golan Heights and
South Lebanon in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.
Meanwhile, the Conference calls upon the contracting parties of
the Fourth Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons
in Times of War to fulfill their legal obligations and to work
towards compelling the Israeli occupation forces to apply the
provisions of the Convention, considering that these provisions
constitute the minimum standards required for the protection and
safety of Palestinian civilians. In this regard, the Conference
affirms that it is necessary that the High Contracting Parties
comply with the UN General Assembly resolution to hold a special
conference of the High Contracting Parties on July 15th, 1999, to
examine the measures required for the enforcement of the
provisions of the Convention in the occupied territories. The
Conference also calls upon international and Arab NGOs to join the
international campaign to urge the High Contracting Parties of the
Fourth Geneva Convention to work towards enforcing its provisions
in the occupied territories.
The Conference values the positions of NGOs and states in
support of the rights of the Palestinian people and the position
of the European Union among them -- especially the EU's refusal to
recognize the Israeli stance on Jerusalem. The Conference also
hails the European Commission's recommendation to embargo the
goods produced in the Israeli settlements and calls upon all
states to adopt similar positions.
The Conference urges the Palestinian National Authority to
respect human rights, to establish the separation of powers, to
dissolve State Security Courts, and to release political
In discussing the issue of minorities in the Arab world, the
Conference affirms its commitment to the right to
self-determination and its strong condemnation of all acts of
oppression, despotism and war that have been and are still being
committed against minorities in the Arab world, especially
genocide, displacement and enslavement. The Conference affirms
that the Arab human rights movement will treat such actions as
crimes against humanity.
In this context, the Conference declares its support for the
Kurdish people's right to self-determination and calls upon the
United Nations to convene a special international conference with
the participation of all the concerned parties to reach an
integrated and comprehensive solution to the continued suffering
of the Kurdish people.
The Conference also calls for an end to the war in Sudan and
urges the establishment of peace within the framework of a formula
that ensures the establishment of a democratic system of political
plurality, participation in public life, and respect for human
rights without discrimination between citizens -- including
securing the right of the citizens of South Sudan to
The General Conditions of Human Rights in the Arab World:
Despite the relative relaxation in the human rights situation in a
number of Arab countries, the general picture remains gloomy in
comparison with the progress realized in other parts of the world.
This is exacerbated by the failure of the League of Arab States to
provide an effective regional conflict-resolution system and
mechanisms for the protection of human rights in the Arab world.
The Conference expresses its alarm at the continued absence of
a modern legal structure in a number of Arab countries. This
includes the lack of a constitution, a parliament and a modern
judicial system, in addition to their persistent rejection of
international human rights standards. This applies to Saudi Arabia
and a number of Gulf states.
The Conference discussed at length the continuation of acts
that completely suppress fundamental rights and freedoms and the
persistence of legal systems based upon the codification of
cruelty and violence in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan and Bahrain.
This is despite their accession to some of the most fundamental
international human rights conventions and agreements. The
Conference also discussed the prevalence in these countries of
grave and flagrant human rights violations that can not be
accurately monitored because of the absence of the minimum
requirements for fact-finding.
The conference draws attention to the fact that acts of
external aggression and military or economic violence against Iraq
and Libya further aggravate the human rights situation there.
The Conference affirms that the acts of violence and armed
internal conflicts, as in Somalia and Sudan, constitute in
themselves a grave violation of the rights to life, physical
integrity, life in peace and all other rights.
While expressing its concern at the situation in Algeria since
the cancellation of elections in 1992, the Conference strongly
condemns the crimes and massacres committed by armed groups and
military militias against tens of thousands of citizens. The
Conference also condemns the grave human rights violations
committed by the state, specifically the enforced disappearance of
thousands of people.
The Conference examined the human rights situation in the other
Arab countries, which are characterized by defects in the rule of
law and in institutional, legislative and other safeguards for the
enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, in addition to
infringements of the principle of the independence of the
judiciary. These conditions lead to grave and systematic
violations of human rights, especially the crime of torture. The
Conference regrets the reversal in some countries, which had
realized some relative improvement in the condition of human
rights, such as Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan.
The Conference welcomes the relative progress in the general
human rights situation in Morocco in the last decade, due to the
efforts of the Moroccan and international human rights
In this respect, the Conference affirms the following:
1- Generating pressure to reform and upgrade the institutions
of the League of Arab States and to achieve the legislative and
practical reforms necessary for safeguarding human rights and for
ensuring the participation in and monitoring of these institutions
by Arab citizens.
2- Calling upon the League of Arab States to review all its
conventions relating to human rights -- especially the Arab
Agreement on Combatting Terrorism -- and also to review the Arab
Charter of Human Rights of 1994, with a view to drafting a new
Arab convention on human rights, in cooperation with Arab human
rights NGOs, so as to make it compatible with international
standards. The Conference decided to form a working group to
prepare a draft proposal for such a convention.
3- Generating pressure to reform the legislations of Arab
countries, especially those contravene the freedoms of opinion,
expression, and dissemination of information and the right to
knowledge. Working towards ending the state's control of all
media, and demanding that Arab governments legalize, in the
framework of democratic constitutions and laws, the rights of
assembly and peaceful association for all intellectual and
political groups and forces, including the unarmed political
4- Calling upon all political Islamic groups to renounce
violence and to end its practice, and calling upon the
intellectual and political community and forces to abstain from
practising intellectual terrorism through calling others apostates
or traitors or defaming their characters.
5- The need to initiate substantial political reforms in Iraq
leading to a democratic system and constitution that would bring
about the equality of citizens, abolish political confessionalism,
allow for diversity as a basis of national unity according to the
principle of equality in citizenship, and enshrine fundamental
6- Calling for an end to the exceptional situation in Sudan and
for convening a comprehensive constitutional conference with the
participation of all the political and civil forces so as to
ensure the restoration of democracy and peace.
7- Calling for the consolidation of the political reforms begun
in 1989 in Algeria so as to prepare the ground for ending violence
and laying down arms; releasing those detained without trial;
retrying those who had been tried under exceptional laws;
revealing the fate of the "disappeared"; and bringing
those responsible for the crimes of disappearance, torture and
killing to justice. The Conference stresses the need for
governments to respond to just and legitimate initiatives for
opening a serious dialogue to establish peace and broaden public
Responsibilities of the Arab Human Rights Movement:
1- Promoting the struggle for democracy and basing the general
strategy of the movement on such a task. The Conference affirms
that the aims of preserving the non-partisan nature of the
movement and ensuring its independence from political parties do
not exclude working towards a constant dialogue between human
rights organizations and all political parties. Such a dialogue
should aim at cooperation to consolidate democratic transformation
and respect for human rights, and to draft a code of minimum
standards for the respect of human rights and democracy that takes
into consideration the specific political and social context of
every single country.
2- Determining the common priorities of the Arab human rights
movement in the realms of advocacy and protection. These include
* Putting a final end to the practice of torture,
and pursuing its perpetrators and bringing them to justice.
* Annulling martial and emergency laws, and affirming the need
to respect freedoms of expression, assembly and association.
* Ending administrative and preventive detention and releasing
all prisoners of conscience and those detained without charge or
* Opposing exceptional courts, campaigning for laws and
safeguards which guarantee the independence of the judiciary from
any administrative manipulation or intervention.
* Introducing necessary reforms to the basic laws, revoking
exceptional laws, and putting an end to arbitrary and
extra-judicial executions or those resulting from unfair trials.
3- Struggling for the realization of economic and social
rights, considering that human rights are integrated, indivisible
and are not exchangeable. In this respect the Conference affirms:
* Securing citizens' right to participation, including
guaranteeing public oversight of the public revenues of the state,
is the backbone of the application of the right to development.
4- Struggling for entrenching the values of human rights in the
Arab and Islamic culture. This includes the following:
those Arab governments that did not ratify international human
rights instruments to do so immediately and without reservations,
and urging those that ratified them to lift their reservations,
and to comply to the provisions of such instruments regarding the
mechanisms of protection.
* Urging academics, researchers and religious scholars to shed
light on the roots of human rights in the Arab culture, to exhibit
the contribution of the Islamic civilization in establishing the
values of human rights, and to dismantle the artificial
contradictions between some human rights principles and some
obsolete fundamentalist interpretations. Calling upon all Arab
intellectuals and politicians to refrain from entangling Islam in
a confrontation with human rights, and to consider those rights
provided by international human rights law as a minimum to build
upon and not to seek to reduce or call for their violation in the
name of specificity or any other pretext.
5- Struggling for the recognition of women's rights as an
integral part of the human rights system. This includes the
affirmation of the following:
* Women's enjoyment of human rights
is an integrated and comprehensive process that should encompass
all facets of life within and outside the family.
* Real equality between women and men goes beyond legal
equality to encompass changing the conceptions and confronting the
stereotypes about women. Thus, it requires not only a
comprehensive review of laws, foremost of which are personal
status codes, but also the review and upgrading of educational
curricula as well as the critical monitoring of the media
* In this respect, the Conference stresses the necessity of
engaging women's and human rights NGOs in the process of reviewing
current legislations and in upgrading civil and criminal laws,
with a view to resolutely confronting all forms of violence and
discrimination against women.
* The Conference also calls upon the Arab governments that did
not ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Women to do so expeditiously, and those
that ratified it to lift their reservations.
* It also calls upon women and human rights NGOs to work to
refute these reservations, to challenge the culture of
discrimination, and to adopt courageous stances in exposing the
practice of hiding behind religion to legitimize the subordination
of women. These NGOs should also give special attention to the
continued monitoring of the compliance by Arab governments to
their international commitments concerning women's enjoyment of
* The necessity of considering the possibility of allocating a
quota for women in parliaments, representative institutions and
public bodies as a temporary measure. This should stand until
appropriate frameworks for women's voluntary activity take shape
and until the awareness of the necessity of equality and the
elimination of all forms of discrimination increases.
6- Confronting the violations of the rights of the child in the
Arab world, specially those emanating from economic sanctions, the
aggravation of armed conflicts in some countries, and the increase
in the phenomena of street children and child labor. In this
respect the Conference calls for the following:
the engagement of children in armed conflicts, and supporting
efforts aimed at raising the minimum age of military conscription
to 18 years.
* Prohibiting the employment of children in occupations that
may harm their health, security or morals.
* Prohibiting the implementation of capital punishment in
crimes committed by children under 18 years of age; this is until
the abolition of capital punishment entirely.
* Prohibiting the confinement of children in the detention
places of adults.
7- Disseminating human rights education and culture on the
basis that the first line of defense of human rights is citizens'
awareness of their rights and their readiness to defend them. In
this respect, the Conference has decided on the following:
need to overcome all obstacles preventing access to the fora
provided by the media and the educational institutions to
disseminate the message of human rights. It is necessary to try by
all means to convince governments to facilitate the work of human
rights education institutions, to add the subject of human rights
to the educational curricula, and to uproot all that contravenes
the values of human rights from the current curricula.
* Consolidating cooperation with the fora of artistic
creativity and other non-governmental organizations in the realm
of disseminating the culture of human rights, and focusing on some
intermediary strata that could be able to play a vital role in
this sphere, such as teachers, media personnel, judges and
lawyers. In addition, it is necessary to design suitable plans to
activate the role of preachers in mosques and churches in this
8- With respect to upgrading and advancing the capabilities of
the Arab human rights movement, the Conference draws attention to
the signs of substantial developments in international criminal
justice manifested by the opening for ratification of the
Convention on the International Criminal Court, and also the
possibility of bringing to justice the torturer Pinochet. The
Conference affirms that such developments open the door to the
possibility of trying war criminals and perpetrators of crimes
against humanity. This necessitates that human rights defenders
develop new methodologies and tools to collect and document
information that could be used as evidence before such trials.
9- Protecting human rights defenders and their rights to
receive information, hold meetings, contact all the concerned
sides, and make use of local and international law to defend human
rights. In this respect, the Conference:
* Absolutely condemns all
the reservations made by 13 Arab states to the Declaration on the
Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of
Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights
and Fundamental Freedoms;
* Affirms that the conduct of any Arab
government toward human rights defenders will be the determinant
by which, negatively or positively, the Arab human rights movement
will deal with it;
* Stresses that it is necessary for human
rights defenders to commit themselves to the professional
standards and political neutrality, which require defending the
victims of human rights violations regardless of their political
or ideological affiliations. It is also necessary that human
rights defenders apply the rules of democratic review established
in the structures of civil associations and exercise complete
transparency regarding their financing sources and expenditures.
The Conference considers that the commitment to these principles
is consistent with the very essence of the task of defending human
rights. This calls for the founding of a body to represent civil
society in overseeing the performance of human rights NGOs and
their commitment to these standards.
10- Coordination between the Arab human rights NGOS: The
Conference affirms that the minimum standard required for the
fulfillment of these responsibilities and recommendations
necessitates the elevation of bilateral and collective cooperation
between Arab human rights NGOs to the highest level. Given the
lack of national and regional coordination mechanisms and
structures on the local and regional levels, the Conference
considers these tasks of utmost importance. There is an urgent
need for reviewing the present structure of relations between its
components on the local, regional and international levels, taking
into consideration the quantitative and qualitative developments
of the human rights movement in the South. The movement should
strive to found a new international mechanism based on continuous
and dynamic consultation to promote the relationships of
partnership and parity among its components. This is to help
further the effectiveness of the movement on the international,
regional and local levels.
The First International Conference of the Arab Human Rights
Movement: "Prospects for the
Future", took place in Casablanca, Morocco,
between April 23-25, 1999. It was organised by the Cairo Institute
For Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) with the collaboration of the
Moroccan Organisation for Human Rights.
There were many participants from North African countries among
the 100 representatives from human rights groups from across the
Arab world. It is significant that the conference took place in
Morocco, a country which has seen considerable improvements in
human rights conditions in recent years and where civil society
organiSations have found new space for their social development
This is in stark contrast to some neighbouring countries. In
late May, for example, several international human rights
organizations joined Egyptian groups in condemning a law passed on
May 27 by the Egyptian Parliament, which imposes some very
restrictive conditions on civil society organizations.
The Casablanca Declaration provides a useful analysis of the
human rights situation in the Arab world, as well as
recommendations for human rights organizations and NGOs. For more
information please contact: Bahey El Din Hassan Director, Cairo
Institute for Human Rights Studies ( CIHRS ) PO Box 117 Maglis El
Shaab, Cairo, Egypt Tel: (202) 3551112 / 3543715 / Fax: (202)
3554200 E-mail email@example.com