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Middle East and North Africa

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Children’s Rights

Women’s Human Rights


The Role of the International Community

European Union
Human rights was most prominently and publicly on the E.U. agenda in the case of Algeria, as a consequence of European public concern over the lack of accountability for the civilian carnage. Some countries, most notably France, responded by relaxing visa policies. The E.U. tried to persuade Algeria to accept humanitarian aid and a visit by U.N. human rights rapporteurs, but when these initiatives were rejected official E.U. concern was not sufficient to produce further steps, such as sponsoring a resolution at the Commission on Human Rights, in the face of opposition from states with strong political and economic interests in Algeria—particularly France, Spain, and Italy.

A number of European states reportedly raised other human rights issues and cases of abuse in meetings with government officials of other Middle Eastern and North African countries. Germany and other states publicly raised cases regarding Iran. However, Human Rights Watch was not aware of instances where such concerns affected political or commercial policies, with the exception of Britain’s refusal to resume diplomatic relations with Iran until Tehran disavowed the “fatwa” condemning author Salman Rushdie to death. The British government also stated publicly on at least one occasion that it had raised specific human rights cases of abuse with Bahrain.

The European Commission, in a January 16 document, charged that the deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations had “begun contaminating other international initiatives aiming at stability and prosperity in the region. Most importantly for the European Union, the crisis threatens the Barcelona process.” This referred to the E.U. initiative, launched at a summit in Barcelona in 1995, to establish a Euro-Mediterranean free trade and cooperative security zone. Jacques Santer, president of the European Commission, visited the region in February, stopping in Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. His agenda included a review of the status of Association Agreements with these governments and the broader Euro-Mediterranean partnership project. Although the Association Agreements and the partnership are premised on “respect for human rights and democratic principles,” the commission did not indicate publicly what role, if any, human rights had played in Santer’s discussions.

The United Kingdom, during its presidency of the E.U. from January 1 through June 30, conducted two high-level missions to the Middle East. In March Foreign Secretary Robin Cook traveled to Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan in an effort to revive Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. In April Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Cairo, Gaza, Jerusalem, Amman, and Riyadh. His meetings focused on the negotiations and on U.K. investment and trade opportunities.

Algeria, Egypt, Israel, and Bahrain, in their dealings with the E.U. and member states, stressed that terrorism rather than human rights should be the main issue for political dialogue and cooperation. This was only occasionally contested by the European side in public. In May the interior ministers of Italy, France, Portugal, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia met in Naples and, according to Algerian accounts, established a working group to “strengthen cooperation in combating terrorism.” In early June, the foreign ministers of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership countries held an informal meeting in Palermo to examine the apparently stalled status of the Barcelona process. According to Foreign Minister Cook, the meeting expressed “deepening concern” over the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and agreed to hold a special ad hoc meeting on cooperative measures to “combat terrorism.”

Several European countries made well-publicized arrests of resident Algerians, Egyptians, and other Arabs on suspicion of links to violent opposition groups in the region. In early September French authorities opened a mass trial of 138 persons arrested in late 1994 and 1995 and charged with belonging to “a vast network of logistical support for armed Islamic groups with its headquarters in the Paris region.”

European public reticence on human rights issues in the Middle East may partly have been a consequence of the fact that the countries of the region continued to be a leading source of energy imports and a leading market for exports, including military goods and services. According to the most recent data compiled by the U.S. Congressional Research Service, sales agreements with countries in the region—for the most part the GCC states—accounted for 82 percent of total French military sales agreements with developing nations for 1994-1997. The corresponding figure for the U.K. was 36 percent.Measured in terms of deliveries—i.e., fulfilled contracts—the Middle East accounted for 45 percent of French arms deliveries to developing countries and almost 88 percent of U.K. deliveries. For “other” European countries (except Germany and Italy) the figure was 69 percent.

United States
The United States, through its military presence and sales, its foreign aid commitments, and the engagement of high-level official attention, continued to play the largest role of any outside power in the Middle East. There were few indications, however, that the Clinton administration attempted to use this potential leverage to promote human rights in the region. Washington gave no sign that grave and systematic abuses by close allies such as Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain would have any effect on U.S. relations with those countries.

The administration did raise human rights in its dealings with regard to a few countries. U.S. officials called on Algeria, early in 1998, to practice greater transparency and give attention to human rights in its counterinsurgency campaign. On several occasions Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other officials welcomed President Khatami’s reform efforts in Iran, and U.S. officials condemned that country’s persecution of Baha’is following the execution of a Baha’i man in July. Secretary of State Albright and Assistant Secretary Martin Indyk stated in September that the administration was gathering information concerning atrocities and war crimes committed by the Iraqi government for possible use in a special tribunal. David Scheffer, ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, visiting Kuwait in May, said that it was “entirely speculative” when such a tribunal might be established, but that “our immediate priority is to establish the record in such a persuasive...way that the international community will not be able to ignore what the evidence reveals.”

For most of the Middle East in 1998, however, the January publication of the State Department’s Country Reports, whose Middle East chapters were of generally high quality, was the only occasion when the Clinton administration publicly highlighted its human rights concerns.

The countries receiving the greatest amount of U.S. military and economic assistance and the largest purchasers of U.S. weapons were gross abusers of human rights in 1998 but were virtually exempt from any public attention from U.S. officials in this regard. The administration estimated in its fiscal year (FY) 1999 presentation to Congress that government-funded Foreign Military Sales (FMS) to Middle Eastern countries—chiefly Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia—would amount to $4.38 billion, accounting for more than 49 percent of the total FMS program for FY 1998, and that the region’s share would increase to 59 percent of the total in FY 1999. Egypt and Israel accounted more than nearly $2 billion in Economic Support Funds, or more than 83 percent of the total for FY 1998.

In this presentation, Assistant Secretary Indyk listed twelve “most important and enduring objectives” for U.S. policy in the region, one of which was to “[e]ncourage movement toward democratic political processes, respect for the rule of law, greater respect for human rights, improved opportunities for women, and expansion of civil society institutions.” The remainder of the document, as well as actual policy, indicated that the administration’s chief priorities were to sustain negotiations between Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the Arab states, to guarantee full and secure access to Persian Gulf energy resources, to maintain the security of all regional partners, and to reduce barriers to U.S. investments in and exports to the region.

The presentation document said that the administration had “increased the emphasis the U.S. places on human rights, democratization and rule of law,” but such emphasis was difficult to discern in the budget or in U.S. policies during 1998. The administration cited in this connection the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, in which small numbers of military officers from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Tunisia, and Yemen were brought to the U.S. for instruction that included human rights training, and the Middle East Regional Democracy Fund, which showed an increase of funding from $750,000 in FY 1997 to an estimated $5 million in FY 1998. The Fund provided electoral assistance, such as poll monitoring, and small grants “to strengthen domestic NGOs” in the region. It was unclear as of October what amount of this had been committed or disbursed. The U.S. provided an estimated $94 million for refugee assistance in the region in FY 1998, mostly through UNRWA. This funding also supported programs of the UNHCR and the ICRC.

The State Department also said in its presentation that it aimed to “[e]nsure that the need for adherence to democratic practices and respect for human rights are prominent aspects of U.S. public/media message.” In the U.S. conduct of public Middle East diplomacy, however, human rights was anything but prominent. In 1998 Vice-President Al Gore and Secretary of Defense William Cohen visited Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel, and Secretary of State Albright went to Israel and the Palestinian-controlled areas. President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright conferred in Washington with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Israel, Bahrain, the Palestinian Authority, and others from the region. Stuart Eizenstat, under secretary of state for economic affairs, went to Tunisia and Israel, and Assistant Secretary Indyk made a number of trips to the region. The administration chose not to use any of these diplomatic encounters to signal publicly its concern with the deplorable human rights practices of these states.

The presentation to Congress stated that human rights were “important elements of our diplomatic dialogue with governments of the region.” In some countries, however, there appeared to have been few demarches on specific cases or abuses, and mention of human rights was apparently confined to passing endorsement of principle or, at most, expressions of “concern about the internal situation.” In at least one case, Bahrain, it appeared that the U.S., by failing to raise specific abuses with the government, undermined the demarches the British government made about those cases in 1998.

Regional Governments
There was virtual silence from governments across the region when it came to commenting on each others human rights performances. Most were ready to criticize Israel’s human rights record of occupation, and Israel was quick to reciprocate, but Arab governments refrained from holding each other accountable for gross violations. In light of the human rights crisis in Algeria it was troubling to see the governments of the region remain silent while the international community, including the United Nations and the European Union, expressed concern. Following a series of large massacres in early January, Arab League envoy Muhab Muqbel visited Algeria and echoed the government’s rejection of international involvement. “My main mission was to support Algeria... and reject any foreign intervention in Algeria because this is an internal matter,” he said.

In January, the Council of Arab Interior Ministers, meeting privately in Tunis, unanimously endorsed a wide-ranging agreement to cooperate in a joint “anti-terrorism” effort, an initiative that Egypt and Algeria first proposed several years ago. The forty-three-article pact, known as the Anti-Terrorism Agreement, was formally adopted on April 22, at an extraordinary joint meeting of Arab interior and justice ministers in Cairo. The treaty obligated signatories to various actions, ranging from tighter border controls to prevent infiltration of personnel and weapons to information exchange and extradition procedures.

The independent, Cairo-based Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP) criticized the agreement, finding that it had “unjustifiably expanded the notion of terrorist crimes.” It also threatened the right to “freedom and personal security” by obligating governments to work toward extradition arrangements whereby they could “preventively” detain persons for up to thirty days upon a simple written request from another state party, and for up to sixty days even if the formal extradition request is incomplete. The ACIJLP feared that the extradition provisions could be abused by states “to harass their political opponents by using preventive custody for long periods as virtual detention.”

Several countries from the region signed the international treaty banning the production and use of anti-personnel landmines, including Algeria, Jordan, Qatar, and Tunisia, but only Yemen ratified the treaty. In July Jordan hosted a regional meeting of the Landmine Survivors Network, at which Queen Noor announced a Jordanian cabinet decision to ratify the treaty.

Governments from the region participated in the diplomatic conference in Rome in June-July that approved by a vote of 120 to seven an international treaty establishing an International Criminal Court for the prosecution of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. During preparatory meetings and the Rome negotiations Middle Eastern states were among those which objected to provisions that strengthened the independence and effectiveness of the court, in particular its capacity to deal with war crimes in internal conflicts and with gender-related crimes, but most modified these obstructive positions during the conference and many subsequently expressed support for the treaty that emerged, as did the Arab League. Of the states voting against the treaty, five were from the region: Iraq, Israel, Libya, Qatar, and Yemen, along with China and the U. S. As of mid-October, only Jordan from the region was among the fifty-eight states that had actually signed the treaty.







Israel, The Occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Palestinian Authority Territories

Saudi Arabia





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Human RIghts Watch