Human Rights Developments
In the Middle East and North Africa, the overwhelming majority of people lived in countries where basic rights were routinely violated with impunity and where open criticism of the authorities knew sharp limits. This picture changed little during 1997, despite a few hopeful developments that included the Iranian presidential election, the region's first, excluding Israel, in which the outcome was not known in advance.
The battle against "terrorism" was invoked by several governments of the region to justify curbs on rights. Without exception, governments that invoked that struggle, including Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Israel, and Bahrain, went well beyond justifiable security measures to violate the rights not only of suspected militants but also of peaceful critics and of the population as a whole. All of these governments except Bahrain have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture. Yet all violated core rights that are considered nonderogable even in times of national emergency.
Religion provided another mantle for the violation of rights. In Iran, an official council of clerics and jurists limited the pool of candidates eligible to run for public office by vetting them for "piety." Pursuant to its interpretation of Islamic (shari'a) law, Saudi Arabia conducted trials in a manner that deprived defendants of their due process rights, while in both Saudi Arabia and Iran courts imposed death by stoning and other forms of severe corporal punishment on offenders. Shari'a-based family and personal status law were used in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Syria, among others, to discriminate against women, notably in the matters of child custody and in the freedom to marry and to divorce.
Several armed opposition groups invoked religion to justify their own abuses of human rights, including the deliberate and indiscriminate killing of civilians in Algeria, Egypt, and Israel. In 1997, armed groups in Algeria targeted civilians on a scale and with a savagery that was unprecedented in that country's six years of civil strife. They slaughtered scores and in some incidents more than a hundred unarmed men, women and children in numerous nighttime raids carried out on villages not far from Algiers. The Algerian security forces, for reasons that remained unclear, often did little to intervene, and were themselves implicated in torture, "disappearances," and summary executions
The Algerian tragedy was held up by some governments as a reason to "go slow" on democratization. In neighboring Tunisia, going slow was a euphemism for going backwards, toward intolerance of all forms of political dissent. Across the region, those in power employed common methods to suppress or limit opposition, whether peaceful or violent:
Direct government control over the content of television and radio broadcasts was the norm. Lebanon, with scores of privately owned but unlicensed stations, was an exception, until that country's media diversity was dramatically reduced when the cabinet began in September 1996 to license the audiovisual media pursuant to a 1994 broadcasting law. By July 1997, the number of private television and radio stations in Lebanon was reduced to six and fifteen, respectively, and unlicensed stations were forced to suspend operations. In addition, content bans imposed by the 1994 law curtailed free expression on the airwaves.
In the Palestinian self-rule areas, an effort to bring to viewers live coverage of the outspoken Palestinian Legislative Council was suppressed, at least temporarily, by the Palestinian Authority (PA). In Algeria, where all media faced strict censorship of coverage of the internal strife, state television and radio gave some coverage in 1997 to opposition politicians during the parliamentary election campaign and the sessions of the new national assembly. While Algerians supplemented the local coverage by watching foreign television via satellite, in Tunisia and some other countries the purchase and use of satellite dishes was heavily restricted, and in Iraq they were banned outright.
Newspapers in most of the Gulf states, Iraq, Syria and Tunisia, whether governmental or private, could not print news or commentary on political affairs that displeased the authorities. The print media in Morocco, Kuwait, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, and Yemen fared better, although journalists and publications that crossed certain lines in their criticism of authorities or of government policy risked harsh punishment. In Iran, small independent magazines have proliferated since the early 1990s. However, journalists affiliated with them ran enormous risks that included imprisonment and court-sanctioned whippings. In 1997 independent publisher Ebrahim Zolzadeh was at least the third writer to die since November 1994 in suspicious circumstances that suggested government complicity.
The government of Jordan took a step backward in May by enacting, while parliament was in recess, draconian amendments to the 1993 press and publications law. These amendments considerably broadened existing content bans and specified extremely high capital requirements for newspapers, steep fines, and suspension and closure of publications for infractions of the content bans. The amendments greatly diminished press freedom and self censorship increased. Six weeks before the parliamentary elections on November 4, authorities suspended thirteen weekly newspapers, some of which had developed reputations for independent, critical reporting.
Governments also moved to control the flow of information via the Internet. For this reason, few Tunisians enjoyed Internet access during 1997. The Bahraini authorities, who also closely monitored net access, arrested in March 1997 an engineer employed by the state telecommunications company, reportedly because of information he was transmitting abroad via the Internet. As of October, he remained indetention without charge. The police chief of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, stated in 1996 that the Ministry of Interior and the police had to license all subscribers before they could receive Internet services.
Countries including Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, continued to allow no political parties or associations. In Kuwait, however, the sometimes-fractious parliament housed different political tendencies.
Governments that allowed some space for opposition politics continued to outlaw certain political groups-often Islamist ones-and prosecute their suspected members. Egypt continued to target members of the country's leading political opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood. Since 1995, members of this officially banned but long tolerated group-including elected leaders of professional associations, ex-parliamentarians, and academics-were imprisoned following unfair military court trials for their peaceful political activity. The government of Algeria, which tolerated two legal Islamist parties despite a new law outlawing parties based on religion, continued to ban the Islamic Salvation Front, which was dissolved in 1992 after winning a plurality in the first round of parliamentary voting. Tunisia tolerated no party that genuinely challenged the positions of the ruling party, and held hundreds of men and women behind bars for membership or political activity in the once-tolerated Islamist Nahdha movement, along with a smaller number of nonviolent leftists. The Israeli military government in the West Bank continued to imprison or administratively detain Palestinians for affiliation with political groups that opposed the Israeli-PLO accords.
The plight of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, worsened in many respects during 1997. The Palestinian Authority protested Israel's continued construction and expansion of settlements, in
violation of international law, in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and its delays in redeploying troops from the territories. A series of bombings were carried out inside Israel and claimed by the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), and Israel charged that the PA was not doing enough to combat anti-Israel violence. In an act of collective punishment against more than 1.5 million Palestinians, Israel imposed the tightest restrictions since the Gulf War on the movement of people and goods in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with devastating consequences for the daily life and economy of Palestinians. The closure, imposed on the grounds that it helped to prevent further attacks inside Israel, blocked movement not only out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but internally as well: Israeli Defense Force checkpoints in the West Bank kept most of the area's Palestinians under de facto town arrest, preventing many from reaching their workplace or fields, visiting relatives, obtaining medical attention, or traveling abroad, to list but a few hardships.
As noted above, religion was invoked to justify a wide range of abuses, from legal discrimination to acts of violence. The government of Iran considered Baha'ism a heretical sect and singled out its members, as well as evangelical Christians, for harsh persecution. In Saudi Arabia, public worship by non-Muslims was prohibited, and as in Bahrain, the sizable Shi'a community charged discrimination in the fields of education and public-sector employment, as did the Coptic Christian minority community in Egypt. The Shi'a government of Iran restricted the growth of Sunni mosques and seminaries, and held in detention Sunni religious leaders, reportedly because of their demands for parity for the large Sunni minority.
The Christian minority in Egypt continued to suffer from state-sponsored discrimination as well as acts of violence by armed militants in which Coptic Christians and other civilians lost their lives. Two particularly heinous massacres occurred in Upper Egypt, in February and March, in which twenty-four people, twenty of them Copts, were killed. Egyptian Muslims who converted to Christianity were unable to obtain legal recognition of their new religion; the children of converts could not be registered in the religion of their parents; and the marriages of Christian men to Muslim women were not recognized. Church construction and repair continued to require a presidential decree, pursuant to a 19th century Ottoman law.
In Algeria, there was religious persecution of another type: Islamist armed groups waged a campaign of violence against their Muslim compatriots who deviated from the militants' own view of the righteous path, in terms of personal conduct, appearance, or interpretation of religion. Since 1993, many Algerians falling into these categories have been assassinated by armed groups, although the precise reasons for specific killings and authorship have been difficult to establish. This type of persecution, moreover, was distinct from the large-scale massacres of villagers in 1997.
Most governments in the region practiced torture but either flatly denied it or conceded only isolated abuses. Israel admitted to putting Palestinian suspects from the West Bank and Gaza Strip through various forms of physical and psychological pressure, but claimed to ensure these did not reach the threshold of torture. During 1997, Israel's highest court continued to refrain from challenging this claim, by ruling against Palestinian petitioners when they sought court orders barring the General Security Service from using physical force against them. In May, the U.N. Committee against Torture rejected the government's position, calling Israel's interrogation techniques "torture."
Several governments of the Middle East, including those of Iran, Iraq, and Israel, were linked to political assassinations or attempted assassinations on foreign soil over the last decade. While none of these governments has formally admitted to these acts, the evidence linking Iran and Israel to killings on foreign soil was dramatically strengthened during 1997. In April, a German court, after a lengthy investigation and testimony from former Iranian agents, ruled that "the Iranian political leadership" was responsible for the murder of four activists from Kurdish armed opposition groups in Berlin in 1992. It was the first time a court had held Iran's leaders responsible for some of a number of killings of Iranians that have taken place on European soil since the Islamic revolution.
The government of Israel all but officially admitted that its Mossad agency had carried out on September 25 a botched attempt in Jordan on the life of Hamas official Khaled Meshal. After strong pressure from King Hussein, Israel provided an antidote to the fatal toxin its agents had administered to Meshal outside the Hamas office in Amman, and he recovered. The suspected perpetrators were allowed to return to Israel as part of an Israeli-Jordanian deal that included Israel's release of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, Hamas' spiritual leader, and other Jordanian and Palestinian prisoners. Israeli leaders defiantly refused to rule out such operations in the future; a government spokesman vowed that Israel's "long arm will reach terrorists wherever they are." Israel was reportedly responsible for a series of assassinations that included Islamic Jihad leader Fathi Shikaki in Malta in 1995.
Amidst this gloomy picture of human rights in the region, some of the elections that took place during 1997 provided a basis for cautious optimism. In Oman's Shura Council elections in October, women were permitted to vote and run as candidates nationwide for the first time. In Iran, Mohamed Khatami scored a surprise victory in May over the presidential candidate favored by the ruling religious establishment. The election was not free: an official body had pruned the would-be list of candidates down to four, all of whom came from within the religious establishment. But Khatami's campaign promises to institutionalize the rule of law inspired hope that Iranians would enjoy more freedom of expression and less intrusion in their private lives.
While Jordan's November parliamentary election was preceded by mounting restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, Algeria's parliamentary elections in June presented a mixed picture. Constitutional and legal reforms put in place since late 1996, and measures taken during the campaign to promote pro-government candidates, ensured that the resulting National Assembly would pose no serious challenge to the power of the executive. Nevertheless, for the first time since independence, a multiparty parliament was in place, one that included secular and Islamist critics of government policies. It remained to be seen whether the assembly, despite its limited powers, could contribute to more accountable government and to ending the horrific strife in the country.
The governments of Yemen and Qatar committed themselves to signing the international treaty banning landmines when it is opened for signatures in December 1997, and other governments in the region indicated their intention to follow suit. In the negotiations on establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC), Egypt played a positive role by supporting provisions that would empower the court to prosecute those accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and serious war crimes.
There was also encouragement to be drawn from the persistence of independent human rights and women's rights organizations, in approximately half the countries of the region, in documenting and publicizing abuses and lobbying for reforms. In several countries that did not tolerate human rights organizations on the ground, such as Bahrain and Iran, information got out-and in-often aided by foreign broadcasts and the new information technologies.
The Right to Monitor
Throughout the region, supporters of human rights struggled to create, maintain, or expand the space inside their countries for independent monitoring and reporting. In many countries, however, lack of access to the countries themselves or to information about the situations there complicated the tasks of both international and domestic human rights activists.
In several parts of the region, notably Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Palestinian self-rule areas, and Yemen, human rights remained a growth industry as local activists expanded existing organizations, launched new ones, and increasingly reached out to their counterparts elsewhere in the region and internationally. The dissemination of information was enhanced by new information technologies, with electronic mail and Internet sites enabling local organizations to provide timely reports of human rights developments and violations in a speedy manner that was unthinkable several years ago. In an important sense, the globalization of accurate information, the basis of the human rights craft and rights-related advocacy, made important inroads in the region in 1997, and held future promise as models for emerging NGOs.
Government policies, however, still regulated and for the most part restricted the extent to which human rights activists enjoyed internal operating space and access to information. At one extreme the complete lack of freedom of association in Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iraq, for example, meant that no locally based organizations could monitor and report on human rights conditions. This, combined with these states' denial of access to international human rights organizations, kept the flow of information about abuses there to a trickle. Iran also did not allow human rights organizations to function, but did tolerate monitoring within certain bounds and did not impose controls so draconian as to prevent some courageous Iranians from documenting information abroad about human rights conditions.
At the other end of the spectrum, in Egypt, Israel, and areas under the Palestinian Authority, human rights communities thrived, and the work of locally based groups gained increasing international recognition and media coverage. The situation in Israel and Palestine was particularly acute during protracted periods of closure of the occupied territories that kept human rights workers from moving freely within and between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In Egypt, groups had to find creative ways to circumvent the restrictive 1964 associations law, and still were forced to operate under constant monitoring by internal security forces operatives and an ever-present risk of possible closure by authorities.
The government of Tunisia conditionally released from prison one human rights activist, Khemaïs Chammari, but detained another, Khemaïs Ksila, on the day he launched a hunger strike to publicize the persecution he had suffered for pursuing human rightswork. In Algeria, human rights lawyer Rachid Mesli was sentenced to three years in prison after an unfair trial on charges of aiding "terrorist" groups. During the trial the judge questioned him about his contact with Amnesty International's research team on Algeria. It was in Syria that human rights monitors paid the highest price; there five activists from the Committees for the Defense of Democratic Freedom and Human Rights in Syria continued to serve prison sentences of up to ten years.
The Role of the
Governments of the larger industrialized countries generally paid scant public attention to human rights issues in the Middle East. Their chief interests were access to oil, natural gas, and export markets; promoting Israeli-Arab accords; and combating, or at least containing, the violence committed by armed opposition groups. Western inaction on human rights was sometimes justified with reference to the violent and intolerant nature of some opposition groups; on other occasions, inaction was dressed up as deference toward Islamic sensibilities or cultural traditions-usually as defined by those holding power.
In September 1997, both Secretary-General Kofi Annan and High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson publicly challenged the Algerian government's insistence that the country's human rights problems were strictly an internal affair. The United Nations continued to maintain peacekeeping forces in the region, including southern Lebanon and the Syrian-Israeli demilitarized zone, and to aid Palestinian refugee communities through the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). In September, former US Secretary of State James Baker, as the special representative of the secretary-general, brokered an agreement between Morocco and the Polisario Front on a proposed code of conduct for a referendum over the future of the Western Sahara. In Iraq, the U.N. continued to monitor the status of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons development, and the distribution of food and other relief goods under the post-Gulf War sanctions regime. The humanitarian crisis in Iraq was not ended by the Security Council-authorized purchase by Iraq of humanitarian goods in 1997. Special rapporteurs continued to cover human rights developments in Iran, Iraq and the Israeli-occupied territories, but did not visit those countries in 1997.
In April the foreign ministers of the European Union member states and the twelve Euro-Mediterranean partners, from Morocco to Turkey, held a second summit in Malta. However, unlike the Barcelona Declaration of 1995, the communique from the meeting was issued only several months later-reportedly on account of disagreements over language referring to human rights-and contained only passing reference to "the rule of law, democracy and human rights" as common objectives.
During 1997, many E.U. member state governments took up ratification of the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements that the E.U. had initialed earlier with Tunisia, Israel, and Morocco. During this process, parliamentarians and others raised the issue of human rights compliance-particularly with regard to Israel-which is specified in common Article 2 of the Association Agreements. Several governments indicated they would seek to have the European Commission set up a human rights monitoring mechanism as part of the implementation process. However, no European government demanded human rights improvements from the governments of Israel, Tunisia, or Morocco as a condition for its ratifying of the Association Agreement. During 1997 the E.U. signed an interim association agreement with the Palestinian Authority, and was scheduled to sign one with Jordan in late November. Negotiations continued on the terms of agreements with Egypt and Algeria. As E.U. and Syrian officials prepared to open negotiations on an agreement, the E.U. Council of Ministers continued to suppress a November 1995 report on human rights in Syria that the European Parliament had mandated as a condition for economic assistance.
The U.S. continued to play the largest role of any outside government in the Middle East in terms of trade, economic and military assistance, and arms sales. In its Congressional Presentation for Foreign Operations for fiscal year 1998, the Clinton administration identified U.S. interests in the Middle East as promoting a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace settlement, containing threats to energy supplies and regional stability posed by Iran, Iraq and Libya, maintaining full and secure access to Persian Gulf energy resources, expanding trade and investment opportunities for the U.S. private sector, and encouraging democracy and sustainable development.
Israel and Egypt accounted for U.S.$5.3 billion, or 91 percent, of the $5.8 billion requested by the Clinton administration for foreign military and economic support assistance globally. U.S. arms accounted for just under $24 billion worth of weapon deliveriesto the countries of the Middle East in the 1993-1996 period, or 47 percent of the total, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service. Saudi Arabia was the leading arms purchaser.
Despite the potential leverage this role provided, and despite high-level declarations of the centrality of human rights to U.S. policy, Washington did and said little publicly to promote human rights in the region. Israel, Egypt, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, all close U.S. allies, engaged in grave and systematic human rights abuses as matters of state policy, without any public indication from Washington that these violations had or would have consequences for relations.
The severity of abuses, as well-documented in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1996, was almost never reflected in the public responses of President Clinton, Secretary of State Albright, or other high officials to developments in the region. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor John Shattuck and his top aides passed another year without visiting the Middle East or North Africa.
On her first trip to the region, in September, Secretary of State Madeline Albright called on Israel to ease its blockade of the PA-controlled areas, and to refrain from "land confiscations, home demolitions and confiscation of I.D.s." These recommendations, however welcome, were made explicitly as means to improving the climate for negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Israeli abuses were never publicly characterized by Albright or any other senior official as violations of human rights or humanitarian law. During her stops in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and during her meetings with foreign ministers from the region at the U.N. General Assembly sessions, she made no public comments about human rights practices in any of these countries.
In July the State Department issued a congressionally-mandated report, Religious Freedom: Focus on Christians. The entries included all Middle East countries, in some cases elaborating on information contained in the Country Reports and noting U.S. government responses to instances of persecution or discrimination against Christians on the basis of religious belief.
U.S. foreign assistance in the region included funds for UNRWA and the Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group. The U.S. also continued a military air patrol of northern Iraq, discouraging a major Iraqi military incursion into that mainly Kurdish-populated area.
The $5 million U.S. Middle East Regional Democracy Fund supported the dispatch of election observers to Yemen and Algeria. The U.S. also provided funds to the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian nongovernmental sector to promote democracy and rule of law, but undermined these objectives by demanding a crackdown on suspected militants without demanding that the PA avoid the abusive methods that had accompanied such crackdowns in the past.
In his confirmation hearings, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Martin Indyk said "In cases where `quiet' diplomatic efforts are unsuccessful in addressing human rights abuses" a more effective approach would be sought, "but the approach we take depends on the nature of our relationship with the country involved."
The Work of Human Rights Watch
In 1997 Human Rights Watch placed a priority on exposing human rights abuses in the Gulf states; providing in-depth analyses of human rights conditions in Algeria, Iran, and Jordan on the eve of elections; exposing human rights abuses in Lebanon in a fashion that highlights the responsibility of the Lebanese, Israeli and Syrian authorities; and increasing our work with the European Union, in the context of the negotiation of Association Agreements with several Middle Eastern countries and growing European interest in the countries on its southern flank as well as Iran.
Iran and the Gulf states were largely closed to human rights monitoring. The authorities in Teheran did not approve our requests to return, following our first-ever authorized mission to Iran in early 1996, and permission to send fact-finding missions to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain was not granted.
Research and action continued, however, on countries that did not give access to human rights monitors. In May we issued a report before Iran's presidential elections that described the means by which the religious establishment used arbitrary criteria to disqualify candidates from outside its own ranks, as well as other impediments to free and fair polling. A second report, issued in September, exposed discrimination in law and practice against the country's religious and ethnic minorities. We gave priority to communicating our findings on Iran via scores of Farsi-language interviews with radio stations broadcasting to that country.
In April, following a German court verdict that implicated Tehran's top leadership in the 1992 assassinations of four Kurdish Iranian leaders of armed opposition groups in Berlin, Human Rights Watch called on the E.U. foreign ministers to condition the resumption of normal political and commercial relations with Iran on that government investigating extrajudicial executions and holding accountable any officials found to have been involved in them.
In July we published a report on Bahrain that highlighted measures against activists in the Shi'a community and in the broad-based movement seeking the restoration of the dissolved parliament and suspended rights. The report refuted the government's claim that it repressed only participants in "a campaign of disturbance orchestrated by foreign backed terrorist groups."
Repression and controls on the flow of information made Saudi Arabia one of the world's countries most closed to human rights monitoring. During 1997, we obtained information about a Syrian who was executed on charges of practicing witchcraft, but whose real "offense" appears to have been incurring the wrath of his wealthy and well-connected Saudi employer. After Saudi authorities ignored our inquiries on the case, we issued a report describing the flaws in the Saudi justice system that this case revealed.
Many of Lebanon's human rights problems were linked to the continuing foreign intervention in that country. Israel continued to occupy 850 square kilometers of southern Lebanon. We issued two reports during the year on abuses stemming from Israel's conflict with Lebanese guerrillas, based on two missions each to Lebanon and Israel. The first documented laws of war violations committed by Israeli military forces and Lebanese guerrillas in April 1996, causing civilian casualties on both sides of the border, although it was only in Lebanon where civilians were killed. On the first anniversary of the Israeli artillery shelling of the U.N. base at Qana, in which over one hundred Lebanese civilians perished, the Arabic-language daily newspaper al-Hayat (London) published a two-part Human Rights Watch report on the attack. A full report on the conflict followed in September that showed the attack on the U.N. base was only the most calamitous in a series of incidents in which Israel's military did not take precautions to spare Lebanese civilians from harm during attacks and fired at or near U.N. peacekeeper vehicles and bases. The report also criticized Hizballah's indiscriminate attacks on civilians in northern Israel and its firing of weapons from positions near the civilian-filled U.N. base at Qana.
In September we reported on a forgotten aspect of the conflict: Israel continued to hold twenty-one Lebanese prisoners in long-term detention. Two of the detainees-Sheikh Ahmad Hikmat Obeid and Mustafa al-Dirani -continued to be held in utter secrecy and isolation, in undisclosed locations, since 1989 and 1994 respectively. Others among these prisoners completed prison sentences in Israel up to nine years ago but orders for their deportation upon release were suspended without explanation and their long imprisonment under administrative orders has continued. Our report built on and supported the work of nongovernmental organizations in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Israel that have been working for years on behalf of these prisoners.
While Syria did not formally occupy any part of Lebanon, it maintained an estimated 30,000 troops as well as intelligence operatives on the ground. The Syrian role in carrying out arbitrary arrests, abductions, and "disappearances" in Lebanon was first documented in our 1990 report. In May 1997 we published a report showing that Lebanese authorities acquiesced and sometimes directly collaborated in this practice. The report was disseminated in Arabic in the region, encouraging families of the "disappeared" to provide information about their relatives to international organizations. Neither the Syrian nor the Lebanese government commented officially on its findings.
Following the government's decision in September 1996 to license only four television and eleven radio stations, and impose content restrictions, we dispatched a fact-finding mission to Lebanon. In a report issued in April, we argued that the state's legitimate interest in regulating airwaves must not become a pretext for restricting the political content of broadcasts and limiting dissenting viewpoints.
Working with the Ramallah-based Centre for International Human Rights Enforcement (CIHRE), we concentrated on pressing the international community to end its acquiescence in Israeli abuses. We campaigned in several European capitals where the European Union's Association Agreement with Israel was up for ratification. These efforts helped to provoke discussion within parliaments and questioning directed at government ministers, as well as Israeli responses to these initiatives. We suggested to parliamentarians ways to give substance to the human rights clause common to the agreements with Israel, and also with the governments of Tunisia, Morocco, and the Palestinian Authority.
In April, prior to the Euro-Mediterranean ministerial conference in Malta, Human Rights Watch urged the foreign ministers of the attending governments to address a number of human rights issues. These included discrimination and xenophobic violence directed at migrant workers and their families, and the need to make a public and unconditional commitment to end the practice of torture. At a European Parliament hearing devoted to human rights in Tunisia in June, we outlined a framework for the role that the international community should play in promoting human rights in that country.
We joined with Israeli human rights organizations to campaign to block legislation that would prevent Palestinian victims of Israeli human rights abuses from seeking compensation in Israeli courts. The government ended up submitting a toned-down but still objectionable version of the bill to the Knesset, which had not acted on the bill as this report went to press.
In October, as the Palestinian Authority resumed rounding up suspected Islamist militants in response to outside pressure, we issued the findings of research into abuses under the PA. In addition to condemning the pattern of arbitrary arrests of suspected militants as well as other critics by the PA, we criticized foreign powers, including the U.S., for demanding a crackdown without insisting that the PA avoid the pattern of abuse that accompanied its previous crackdowns. During the year we also issued statements condemning the suicide bombings inside Israel and the punitive closures that Israel imposed on Palestinians in their wake.
Although Human Rights Watch does not monitor elections per se, we frequently strived to demonstrate how their fairness can be judged only against a full picture of prevailing human rights conditions. This was the goal of our report issued prior to Iran's presidential election in May (see above) as well as the report issued before parliamentary elections there in early 1996. A mission to Algeria in March and April yielded a report placing the June parliamentary elections in the context of the civil strife, controls on freeexpression and assembly, and constitutional amendments that barred certain political parties. We also worked with human rights lawyers in Algiers who collected hundreds of dossiers on "disappeared" persons. In October, together with three other international human rights organizations, we called on the United Nations to conduct an inquiry into the massacres taking place in Algeria. In October, in advance of Jordan's parliamentary elections, we issued a report documenting the effect of curbs on press freedom-the subject of a Human Rights Watch report in June-and other restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly that compromised the fairness of the electoral contest.
We issued a series of statements on the arrest of activists who were peacefully protesting implementation of new land tenancy laws in Egypt and visited the country twice. In April, we testified before the U.S. House of Representatives on human rights in Egypt and in June expressed alarm over the impact of an Egyptian court decision rejecting a government ban on female genital mutilation.
As always, we responded on many occasions where local lawyers, activists, journalists and others were being pressured or persecuted because of their efforts to expose human rights abuses. Letters were sent to governments in support of lawyers in Algeria, Lebanon and Tunisia, activists and journalists in Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, and the West Bank, to name but a few.
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