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The Work of Human Rights Watch
The Middle East and North Africa Division increased the level and scope of our country monitoring, experimented with new advocacy techniques, and developed work on inter-and intra-regional human rights issues. We increasingly looked beyond the U.S. to European governments and others for sources of influence on human rights offenders in the region. We also attempted to maintain a balance between the work on gross violators and reporting on increasing restrictions imposed in countries that claimed to have curtailed abusive practices and allowed the exercise of basic rights. It was only by documenting the range of abuses across the region that a picture of its diversity and complexity could emerge.

We reached out in 1998 to broader segments of the region’s population through faster and wider dissemination of our published materials, in print, radio, and on the Internet. We issued many reports and communiques in Arabic, Farsi, and French, substantially improving their coverage in major regional and local media. Greater emphasis was placed on consultation and coordination with local and regional human rights organizations to ensure that our priorities reflected the concerns in the region and to formulate joint strategies for pressuring governments to end abuses. Where possible, we consulted with domestic NGOs before launching advocacy campaigns, a strategy which also helped foster the exchange of information and advocacy strategies among domestic NGOs in different countries.

Above all we sought to defend those who were persecuted for their human rights work and to protect and enlarge the political space in which independent institutions of civil society could express diverse—and dissenting—views. We spoke out on behalf of Iranian advocates of reform in family law who were imprisoned or threatened with vigilante violence and made joint interventions with other international human rights NGOs on behalf of persecuted or threatened human rights advocates there. We protested the prosecution and harassment of Tunisian human rights defenders, including Khemaïs Ksila and Radhia Nasraoui, and the arrest of the son of Algerian human rights lawyer Mahmoud Khelili, and urged U.S. officials and E.U. parliamentarians to raise these cases in meetings with Tunisian counterparts. We protested the ban placed by Moroccan authorities in September on a march organized by Moroccan and other human rights activists from the region in solidarity with Ksila. When news reached the outside world in September that Syrian human rights activist Nizar Nayouf, sentenced to ten years imprisonment in 1992, was suffering from Hodgkin’s disease and being denied medical care, we launched an Internet campaign calling for his immediate release on humanitarian grounds.

Throughout the year, the division protested harsh restrictions of free expression, association, and assembly in Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, and Lebanon. We sent a series of communications to the Bahraini government asking for clarification of the basis for the March ministerial decree that replaced the elected board of the Bahraini Lawyers Society with its own appointees. We raised this and other abuses publicly when Bahrain’s ruler visited President Clinton in Washington and when Britain’s minister of state visited Bahrain. Mounting restrictions on press freedom in Egypt prompted a public letter to President Mubarak in April, and in June we sent another public letter outlining concerns about a proposed law that would allow the state to impose further restrictions on the activities of NGOs beyond those already permitted in the 1964 law.

We intervened repeatedly to protest Iranian authorities’ closure of independent newspapers and the arrest of journalists and editors. We also protested restrictions on Iranian dissidents, ranging from Ayatollah Montazeri to Ebrahim Yazdi, and continued to denounce the activities of vigilantes who broke up peaceful gatherings and attacked prominent dissidents.

In communications with members of Jordan’s lower and upper houses of parliament we expressed concern about provisions of the proposed press and publications law that were inconsistent with international free expression standards and urged their cancellation. In April, we publicly protested the ban on press coverage of the state security court trial of leading dissident Leith Shubeilat, and criticized the open-ended ban on all rallies and demonstrations in Jordan in a public letter sent to the prime minister. We sent a public protest to Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, in December 1997, about the continuing ban on public demonstrations in Lebanon and the suppression of a peaceful demonstration in Beirut that month, which was organized to protest the banning of a television interview with exiled General Michel Aoun.

Algeria was a major focus for the division in 1998. We attended the European Parliament’s November 1997 hearing on human rights in Algeria, and maintained contact with various E.U. bodies during a year of heightened European engagement with that country. In January we helped organize in Brussels a press conference to highlight the essential human rights elements of upcoming official E.U. visits. Our February report on state-sponsored “disappearances,” which contained instructions on how to report suspected “disappearances” to the U.N., was useful in our campaign to highlight Algerian abuses and lack of accountability in the U.S. and Europe and at U.N. fora such as the Commission on Human Rights. Much of our U.N. advocacy on Algeria was in collaboration with Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights, and Reporters sans frontiéres. In Washington, Human Rights Watch testified before Congressional committees and worked with congressional aides and administration officials to get the U.S. to press Algerian authorities publicly on the human rights situation there. We also protested the Algerian government’s decision to prevent a group of children affected by political violence from participating in a summer program in Europe.

Much of the division’s U.N. advocacy included consultation and coordination with local and international human rights NGOs on submissions to U.N. committees, working groups, and special rapporteurs. In March we submitted to the Commission on Human Rights a memorandum detailing Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations against migrant workers, and recommending a joint investigation by the U.N. special rapporteurs on racism and violence against women. In a separate submission to the commission, we urged the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression to investigate the situation in Bahrain. In May we submitted to the U.N. Committee against Torture a memorandum urging the committee to review Israel’s practice of administrative detention and hostage-taking—holding individuals as “bargaining chips,” in the words of the Israeli Supreme Court ruling—as a violation of the Convention Against Torture. At the July session of the U.N. Human Rights Committee, we submitted a memorandum rebutting the reports submitted to the committee by the Algerian and Israeli governments, and in August we published reports analyzing the committee’s conclusions and recommendations on both countries. When U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited Iran for the November 1997 Organization of the Islamic Conference meeting, we presented him with a summary of human rights concerns to raise with the authorities, including freedom of expression and the situation of religious and ethnic minorities. In February the Iranian government denied Human Rights Watch permission to participate in a U.N. workshop on human rights held in Tehran.

Throughout the year we campaigned for the inclusion and enforcement of human rights mechanisms in all E.U. trade agreements, focussing on the E.U. Association Agreements concluded or under negotiation with Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Syria. The only Association Agreement that had been fully ratified and taken effect was that with Tunisia. Prior to the first meeting of the official E.U.-Tunisia Association Council in July, we urged E.U. officials both privately and publicly to use the occasion to press Tunisia to cease its intense repression of dissidents and human rights activists. We also wrote to the European Parliament, on the eve of meetings with Tunisian parliamentarians in September, rebutting Tunisia’s official position on a number of human rights cases. In May we organized workshops for Egyptian human rights activists in Cairo to discuss advocacy strategies in connection with the association agreements.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the Swiss government and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in May, urging them to ensure that Swiss-sponsored meetings between Israel and the PLO to discuss the application of the Geneva Conventions in the territories occupied by Israel did not lead to agreements that would weaken the universality or enforceability of the Geneva Conventions or undermine the rights guaranteed to persons protected by them.

Human Rights Watch did not receive permission to visit Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq and Syria during 1998, but our representatives were able to visit Egypt, Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, Morocco, and Tunisia to carry out research, attend conferences, and consult with activists from around the region.







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

Saudi Arabia





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