MIDDLE EAST WATCH OVERVIEW
Human Rights Developments
Nineteen ninety-one was a tumultuous year for the Middle East. The six-week Persian Gulf war, pitting Iraq against a twenty-eight-nation alliance led by the United States, traumatized the entire region. Neighboring states became bitter enemies; old alliances were rent asunder; peoples were set against their governments. In its wake, the original adversaries, Iraq and Kuwait, reverted to their old patterns of recriminatory bloodletting. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein suppressed a serious challenge to his rule by armed Kurdish and Shi'a Muslim insurgents with great ruthlessness, while Sheikh Jaber al-Sabah condoned a settling of scores with Kuwait's once-large foreign population.
When the war halted on February 27, only one clear-cut accomplishment had been achieved: Iraq had been compelled to reverse its forcible acquisition of Kuwait, and the government of the Sabah royal family had been restored to power. President Bush proclaimed this military victory a triumph of the "New World Order" that he has espoused. The rule of law as a guiding principle for international relations had been upheld, he claimed, and the world community had shown rare unanimity in acting in concert, rebuffing a bully whose ambitions were beginning to alarm even the most ardent supporters of pan-Arabism.
In terms of human rights, however, the war and its aftermath were a disaster. The only mitigating aspect was the precedent set by the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing military intervention by Western forces in northern Iraq, to provide for the basic needs of displaced Kurds and protect the 3.5 million-strong minority from further slaughter at the hands of vengeful government troops.
With the passage of this resolution, the long-standing principle of nonintervention in another nation's internal affairs, used by abusive governments around the world to protect their human rights record from external scrutiny, was breached. In the following months, the U.N. resolution and the allied military shield covering Kurds and other Iraqis living north of the thirty-sixth parallel provided a unique opportunity for human rights workers, and the Kurds themselves, to investigate the extent of the Iraqi government's past repression. The evidence is still being gathered, but at the time this report went to press it appeared that mass killings during Baghdad's campaign in the 1980s to depopulate the Kurdish countryside were far more extensive and systematic than had been previously estimated.
Grave abuses of the Fourth Geneva Convention, covering the treatment of civilians in occupied territory, were a norm of Iraqi behavior in Kuwait from the beginning of the occupation in August 1990. When war broke out on January 17, 1991, with massive allied bombardment of Iraqi targets, the Kuwaitis and foreigners living under occupation faced a renewed round of repression, including summary extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention, torture, and the pillage of public and private property. In a last-minute bid to seize bargaining chips before the ground war began, Iraqi occupation forces rounded up about two thousand Kuwaiti men and transported them back across the international border to Iraq. They joined an estimated eight thousand other prisoners-of-war and civilian detainees seized from Kuwait throughout the crisis.
As defeat became inevitable, Iraqi forces retreating from Kuwait indulged in a final orgy of wanton destruction and looting. Most cataclysmic were the 735 oil fires, which cost the returning Kuwaiti government many billions of dollars in lost revenue and caused an environmental disaster.
During the air war, public rhetoric by the United States and its allies as to their strict adherence to the rules of war, and a carefully stage-managed television presentation of the conflict, was contradicted by evidence discovered on the ground by journalists and human rights groups, including Middle East Watch. Up to one-third of the estimated 2,500 to 3,000 Iraqi civilians killed as a direct result of the bombing raids were the victims of the allies' failures to take all required precautions to avoid civilian casualties.
On the Iraqi side, Saddam Hussein's decision to target major Israeli and Saudi population centers for attacks with modified Scud missiles was in clear violation of the laws of war. Other Iraqi violations of the Geneva Conventions included the mistreatment of Kuwaiti and allied prisoners of war, and the failure to provide access to them by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
During the course of the air war in January and February, Middle East Watch had noted a range of human rights violations committed by regional allies of the United States, in response to actual or anticipated public reactions to the conflict in the Gulf. The Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip were placed under round-the-clock curfew for most of six weeks, creating considerable personal suffering and economic hardship. The Egyptian authorities arrested students and other political activists opposed to the Gulf war. Morocco banned several rallies and meetings planned by war opponents. Syria detained scores of lawyers, intellectuals and other citizens who opposed President Hafez al-Asad's decision to dispatch troops to the warfront. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states expelled hundreds of Palestinian residents, with little or no due process, as collective punishment for the Palestine Liberation Organization's decision to side with Iraq.
Even model democracies such as the United Kingdom and Denmark were guilty in 1991 of violating the rights under international law of some of their Arab residents. After the war broke out, fifty-four Iraqis and Palestinians were detained by British authorities and ordered deported without due process; another thirty-five Iraqi students were seized as prisoners-of-war on dubious grounds. In all, nearly 170 Arabs of various nationalities were served with deportation orders by the United Kingdom between August 1990 and February 1991. During the fall of 1991, the Danish government moved to deport to Lebanon 125 Palestinians who had been given temporary refuge, despite fears that they would be in danger of arrest by the Lebanese or Syrian authorities on their return.
On the Kuwaiti government's reckoning, 2,100 of its detainees were still unaccounted for at the end of 1991, and were believed still being held by Iraq. In fact, the real number of missing former Kuwait residents is probably substantially higher; the government's figure was cynically reduced to eliminate those long-term residents of Kuwait, such as Palestinians and the stateless Bedoons, whom Kuwait is refusing to take back. The refusal to accept responsibility for these people derives from the grand restructuring of pre-war Kuwaiti society now underway, the goals of which are to create a majority of Kuwaiti citizens in as short a period as possible and to force out virtually all Palestinians, who are collectively considered to be politically unreliable because of the sympathy they are alleged to have shown for Saddam Hussein. By the end of 1991, Kuwait's pre-war Palestinian population of about 350,000 had been reduced by nearly eighty percent, through a mixture of deportations, economic pressure, a refusal to renew work permits, and a ban on the reentry into Kuwait of the many Palestinians who fled to safety elsewhere during the war. Tens of thousands of persons have in the process been forced to abandon their lifetime's savings.
Bearing most of the burden of the Kuwaiti policy was Jordan, adding further economic and social strain to that already impoverished country. Despite the enormous pressures generated by the Gulf war and the rise of a militant strain of Islamic fundamentalism during 1991, King Hussein stuck to the program of political liberalization that he initiated two years earlier. At times, however, such as during the October Madrid peace conference, in which Jordan participated, the government took a firm line against public dissent, banning rallies and arresting activists. Press freedoms have also been curbed occasionally when they conflicted with government foreign policy concerns. But the process of establishing a parliamentary democracy, under a monarch who retains sweeping powers, appears to be making progress.
In contrast, as of the year end, promises made during the heat of the crisis by several conservative Arabian Peninsula states to introduce limited forms of popular participation in government, such as consultative assemblies, had not been met. Oman did form an advisory assembly chosen by Sultan Qabus, but neither Saudi Arabia nor Qatar made good on pledges to follow suit. Nor did Bahrain revive its suspended National Assembly, as it had said it would. Led by Saudi Arabia, the big brother of the Peninsula, it and the smaller Gulf sheikhdoms reverted to type within months of the end of the war, restricting access by foreign journalists and rights monitoring organizations and cracking down on their own people's freedoms. Arrests of suspected Shi'a dissidents are reported with disturbing regularity from Bahrain. Saudi Arabia resumed its practice of public executions of persons who were often victims of serious due process violations, including confessions induced by torture and incommunicado detention, then sentenced without having had the right to defense counsel.
More in the public spotlight than its fellow members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, the Kuwaiti government eventually bowed to pressure from its own people and abroad, and announced that parliamentary elections would be held in October 1992. Based on the country's 1962 Constitution, with its limited male franchise for only "first-class Kuwaiti citizens," the election campaign is bound to revive the pre-war arguments over the need for greater political participation and for a lifting of current restrictions on assembly, association and expression.
On December 26, 1991, Algeria was also due to hold the first round of national legislative elections. Postponed from earlier in the year, after what the authorities claimed was an attempt by the leading opposition party, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) to create chaos and seize power by force, the eyes of much of the Arab world were focused on the Algerian elections. After decades of single-party rule, over forty parties have been permitted to register. Press freedom has flourished and lively public meetings and rallies are reported to have been a feature of the electoral campaign. Following the arrest of its top two leaders in late June during FIS-fomented disturbances that led to the imposition of martial law, thousands of the party's supporters were also rounded up. By the end of the year, most had been released, while FIS leaders Madani and Belhadj were still being held pending a trial that was due to begin in January.
The Maghreb region of North Africa, of which Algeria forms a part, saw some of the most significant improvements in regional human rights conditions during the year. Morocco took several important steps. These were the release of Abraham Serfaty, one of the longest serving political prisoners in the world; the announced closure of the notorious Tazmamart military prison and release of some of its inmates; the lifting of the eighteen-year confinement without charge of the family of the late General Oufkir, a former defense minister allegedly implicated in a failed coup against King Hassan; the release of hundreds of secretly held Sahrawi prisoners; and a promised reform of garde a vue, or incommunicado, detention under which many abuses of detainees' rights take place. While welcoming these overdue changes, Middle East Watch remained concerned about the qualified aspect of each of these steps.
During 1991, Egypt moved to reassert its traditional role as the heart, and center, of the Arab world. President Hosni Mubarak's forthright military and diplomatic support for the allied effort against Iraq was crucial to this endeavor. The Arab League returned to Cairo, its former headquarters, from Tunis, while the former Egyptian foreign minister, Esmat Abd al-Meguid, was appointed its secretary general. Egypt suffered financially as a consequence of the Gulf crisis, largely because of the loss of repatriated earnings of hundreds of thousands of expatriate workers and the need to accommodate them again at home. But it also reaped a huge windfall, with the cancellation of billions of dollars of debt owed to the West and to the rich oil states of the Arabian Peninsula. Egypt remains the second largest recipient of U.S. aid worldwide, after Israel.
However, Egypt's enhanced stature in the region made little difference to the Mubarak government during 1991 when it came to the treatment of its own citizens. A state of emergency, in force continuously since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, remains in effect, granting wide powers of arrest and detention to security forces, even though the justification for its retention appears problematic. Fringe groups of armed Islamists who receive aid from abroad are a thorn in the side of the authorities; the government also expresses concern at times about the alleged activities in Egypt of dissident Palestinians. But the scale of the threat appears out of proportion to the measures being used against them. One of the most noxious features of the system is the apparently pervasive use of torture in detention. According to the independent Egyptian Organization of Human Rights (EOHR), torture of suspected criminals in police lock-ups is routine, while convincing evidence exists of the systematic use of torture against suspected political dissidents by the State Security Intelligence (SSI) force. The continued use of torture by the SSI contradicts a pledge made by Interior Minister Abd el-Halim Moussa on taking over from his sacked predecessor, Zaki Badr, in late 1989.
The inescapable impression gained is that President Mubarak prefers to retain the reserve powers in the state of emergency as a means of guarding against popular discontent with government policies _ and protecting his own seat. Theoretically a multiparty democracy, Egypt in reality is controlled by the ruling National Democratic Party; several parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, continue to be barred from open political activities while freedom of association remains subject to arbitrary interference from above. In 1991, the leading women's organization in the Arab world, the Cairo-based Arab Women's Solidarity Association, was told by the government to close down, and its assets were ordered transferred to an obscure Islamic women's group. The EOHR itself continues to operate in the shadows of the law because of the government's failure to grant it legal recognition.
In late 1991, Egypt's traditional rival for leadership of the Arab world, Syria, began to show unmistakable signs of recognizing that it would have to begin relaxing political controls at home or face a potential popular revolt on the lines of those seen in Eastern Europe. Coinciding with the start of his third decade in power, President Asad over a period of several months ordered the release of an estimated five thousand prisoners detained for their political or religious beliefs. Many were Palestinians or members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and Party of Communist Action. Others were activists in professional associations who had been jailed a decade earlier for pressing for the rule of law and greater respect for the constitution in Syria.
The suddenness and scale of these releases surprised most observers; there had been no hint beforehand that they were in the offing. What this opening up of the jails confirmed was the frequent charges of human rights groups abroad, including Middle East Watch, that Syria held large numbers of political prisoners. Several thousand persons detained for political reasons, including some who have been in jail for over twenty years without trial and others whose sentences have expired, are believed to remain in custody. Moreover, on initial information it appears that none of the releases were from the secret detention facilities maintained by Syrian Military Intelligence in those parts of Lebanon controlled by the Syrian army.
In November, President Asad easily secured another seven-year term in office, to commence in March 1992, through the endorsement of his sole candidacy by the People's Assembly and then a popular referendum in which he was said to have gained over 99.9 percent of the vote. The legal and political niceties of his own position ensured, the president moved in the last months of the year to open up the political system below himself to a wider range of views. The ruling National Progressive Front, dominated by his Baathist Party, was said to be preparing to open its ranks to a number of other minor parties.
Like President Asad in Syria, the Iranian government of President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani has felt the need to respond to the changed international climate on human rights. A number of positive developments have taken place over the two-and-a-half years since the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's revolutionary leader. Among these are a modest relaxation on public dress, particularly by women; on sports and other forms of entertainment; and on the censorship of the print media. Iran today possesses a thriving artistic life and a large, and varied, print media. During 1991, the Iranian Parliament passed a bill providing for the right of defendants to legal counsel in all courts, including the Islamic revolutionary tribunals. Conditions of detention for a number of long-term prisoners held for their political beliefs were improved.
Other prisoners, such as most of those detained during 1990 from the opposition Freedom Movement and the Association for the Defense of Freedom and the Sovereignty of the Iranian Nation, a civil rights body, were released. On the other hand, nine prominent dissidents, some of them elderly and in frail health, were sentenced to jail terms of up to three years after closed-door trials in which they were denied legal counsel and after credible reports of torture. The case was in flagrant contradiction of the assurances given earlier to the United Nations by Ayatollah Yazdi, head of the judiciary, about procedural reforms; and it revealed the extent of the Rafsanjani government's unwillingness, or inability, to control the parallel revolutionary institutions still powerful in the country.
All forms of expression in Iran continue to operate under an absolute prohibition against the promotion of what may be deemed secular behavior or the denigration of Islam and the political concept of the rule of the clergy. In other important respects as well, the government's record shows no sign of improvement, despite President Rafsanjani's evident eagerness to convince the West that Iran has put its atrocious past record behind it.
There remains a de facto ban on political pluralism, not to mention a climate of fear of the all-pervasive Intelligence Ministry that discourages most forms of apolitical association. Discrimination against minorities, though less than in the past, persists. And large numbers of executions continue to be carried out, sometimes in barbaric fashion, such as by stoning to death. In the first seven months of the year, nearly seven hundred executions were announced in the Iranian press, triple the rate in the same period of 1990; most are attributed officially to drug trafficking crimes.
Social discontent, stirred by difficult economic conditions and more than a decade of heavy-handed repression, was a feature of the past year in Iran. Popular demonstrations were reported in major cities, including Tehran, Isfahan, Zanjan and Rasht. These were quickly suppressed and exemplary punishments meted out. Although the unpopular Revolutionary Guards, or Pasderan, have officially been merged into the army or municipal police forces, Iranians say that they retain an autonomy of action in practice as guardians of the Islamic revolution. Harassment of citizens in their cars or in their homes, if suspected of Islamic transgressions such as possessing alcohol or illicit mixing the sexes, also persists. Given this background, the conduct of the parliamentary elections scheduled for April 1992, in which President Rafsanjani is aiming to eliminate his radical opponents, will be an important signal of the future direction of Iranian society.
A concerted offensive by Iran to secure the lifting of monitoring of its human rights record by the United Nations and the country's reacceptance into community of nations gathered momentum during 1991. One part of this campaign consisted of working to persuade its surrogates in Lebanon to release all their Western hostages. This effort was crowned with the freeing on December 4 of Terry Anderson, the last American hostage. The two Germans still in captivity as this report was completed were being held by a small Lebanese group with no ties to Tehran. A related aspect was Iran's release from imprisonment without trial of British journalist Roger Cooper.
On the diplomatic field, Iran was also assiduous. A move to secure the lifting by the Human Rights Commission of the eight-year mandate of Reynaldo Galindo-Pohl, the U.N. special representative investigating Iran's rights record, very nearly succeeded in February. Coming at the height of the Gulf war, it was apparent that the West was reluctant to disturb Iran's professed neutrality by pressing it hard on its domestic affairs. Battle over the U.N. mandate will be joined again in Geneva in February 1992. However, given the government's record, as well as its continued equivocation over access by the International Committee of the Red Cross to Iranian prisons and over visits to the country by nongovernmental human rights organizations, the outcome of that debate is not certain.
The two-faced character of Iran's rights behavior was best illustrated by its policy abroad. Working to end the Lebanon hostage crisis so as to shed its terrorist-nation label, Iran is believed responsible for the assassination in Paris, in August 1991, of former Iranian Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar. Nor was there any move by Iran to rescind the death sentence imposed by Ayatollah Khomeini on British author Salman Rushdie over his book Satanic Verses, as well as on all those associated with the book in any form. During the year, unknown persons killed the book's Japanese translator and seriously wounded its Italian translator.
Over the past year, Israel's human rights record in the territories it captured during the June 1967 war continued to be shaped by the four-year Palestinian uprising, or intifada. The intifada lost steam in 1991, and that, coupled with a change in tactics by Israeli troops, led to a decline in fatal casualties among Palestinians. Counterbalancing this improvement, however, there was a distinct increase in various forms of collective punishment such as movement restrictions. As noted above, during the six-week Gulf war the occupied territories endured the most severe curfew of the entire intifada, with far-reaching economic consequences. Tighter restrictions on movement to and from annexed East Jerusalem, the de facto capital of the West Bank, between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and into Israel, for work or other purposes, were retained after the war. New controls on workers entering Israel, ostensibly on security grounds, had a particularly severe effect on the Gazan economy.
A disturbing feature of the past year was an increase in the number of "collaborator killings" of Palestinians. In most months, deaths of Palestinians at the hands of their kinfolk exceeded those committed by Israelis. Despite some efforts to curtail the violence, Palestinian leaders have failed to condemn unequivocally the killing of suspected collaborators.
The ability of the Israeli system to investigate itself while failing to come to any meaningful conclusions or to exercise accountability was on display in striking fashion during 1991. After an official inquiry into the October 1990 incident at the Jerusalem sanctuary known as the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif, ended in a whitewash, a judicial investigation produced a much more balanced report into the causes of the seventeen Palestinian deaths. But Judge Kama's inquiry failed to press for the prosecution of those suspected of unlawful killings, and there the matter was dropped.
The Right to Monitor
A growing number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa grudgingly tolerate the activities of domestic human rights organizations, but only a handful of states have gone so far as to grant official recognition and protection under the law to them. The Cairo-based Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR) now includes eight national chapters that operate independently of their governments. These are found in Egypt, Yemen, Mauritania, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. In addition, genuine human rights organizations exist clandestinely in Syria, Lebanon and Bahrain; to declare their existence openly would almost certainly lead to their closure and the arrest of their members. Each of the latter maintains offices in Europe or the United States. Self-proclaimed human rights organizations exist in a number of other regional states, such as Libya and Iran, but these are not believed to have any real independence from their governments.
No rights monitoring activity has ever been tolerated in government-controlled regions of Iraq. Those who have attempted to complain about the security forces' actions or to protest any aspect of President Saddam Hussein's rule have usually paid a heavy price. In the second half of 1991, a fledgling Kurdish human rights organization was established in the rebel-controlled city of Erbil, but its independence from the principal guerrilla factions and the nature of its work could not be verified. Outside Iraq, a number of human rights bodies affiliated to Shi'a opposition parties document abuses primarily against their own communities; these predate the Gulf crisis. In the wake of the war, several more organizations have also been formed in the West. For instance, a German-based international human rights organization dealing with Kurds regionwide was established in September.
Also in September, the Iranian government organized an unprecedented human rights conference, attended by representatives from many Western and Muslim countries. Middle East Watch was among those invited. The event was flawed by the government's insistence on treating it as an academic exercise in reconciling Islamic and Western attitudes toward the principles of human rights, independent of actual practices. Attempts by Middle East Watch to carry out a mission to examine Iran's own record, originally scheduled for fall 1990, were unsuccessful. However, Iran did permit missions by Middle East Watch and other Western organizations, such as Amnesty International, to visit the country during the spring to interview Iraqi refugees. In December, U.N. Special Representative Galindo-Pohl was also able to make a brief visit to Iran, after a number of delays that may have been attributable to the detailed strength of the report he had submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in February. The success of this latest mission was unknown at the time of writing.
Iran does not permit local human rights monitoring. The one indigenous organization is concerned almost exclusively with countering the propaganda abroad of the regime's principal opponents, the Baghdad-based People's Mujaheddin of Iran, and is thought to be sponsored by the government. In addition, Tehran houses an Iraqi Shi'a human rights association documenting abuses committed by Baghdad. When a civil rights offshoot of the liberal Freedom Movement, a small political party associated with former Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, was created three years ago, the authorities moved quickly to suppress its activities and jail many of its members.
In Israel, human rights monitoring by a variety of local and foreign organizations is a well established practice. Often aiding their work is the strength of the local media in exposing abuses of authority. However, these plaudits need to be qualified. Organizations such as al-Haq, the West Bank affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists, and the Palestine Human Rights Information Campaign face numerous obstacles in carrying out their work. Among these are the arrest of field workers and restrictions on movement when investigating suspected violations.
The Egyptian government's refusal to grant legal recognition to the EOHR and the arrest and torture in 1991 of Dr. Mohamad Mandour, a member of its board of trustees, illustrates the limits of domestic human rights monitoring. Both the AOHR and the Arab Lawyers Union, which has been active in protesting abuses, are based in Cairo; however, perhaps out of concern for their host's sensibilities, they have done little work on Egypt itself. (The AOHR carried out a mission to Kuwait in the fall, to observe the government's treatment of non-Kuwaitis.) Egypt permits foreign rights organizations to conduct investigative missions on its soil; but it has yet to permit access to its prisons, its official protests that international standards are met notwithstanding.
The part of the region where local human rights organizations are strongest established is in the three Maghreb countries of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. However, several of these organizations are closely associated with political parties and others have been coopted into government-controlled human rights advisory councils.
Despite its recent advances in other rights-related areas, Morocco places frequent roadblocks in the way of visits by foreign organizations. Amnesty International is effectively barred from entering the country, while Middle East Watch has yet to receive an official response to its many requests over the past two years to send a mission and meet with Moroccan officials.
The most disturbing feature of the West's approach to human rights issues in the Middle East during 1991 was the frequent subjection of human rights to what were considered to be the higher imperatives of foreign policy. In the interests of maintaining the wartime alliance, the alliance chose to overlook violations committed by its friends while excoriating those for which Iraq was responsible.
Likewise, in the build-up to the Middle East peace conference which opened in Madrid in late October, it was evident that the United States was soft-pedalling human rights issues so as not to antagonize potential participants. The issue of human rights was not placed on the agenda of the peace conference, for any of its planned three phases. Nor was any reference made to the matter by U.S. officials during formal speeches or at press conferences. The contrast with the prominence Washington gives to issues of political pluralism and core freedoms in other parts of the world where it is hoping to induce political change is striking.
One somewhat distasteful conclusion is that the United States patronisingly regards the Middle East as "not being ready for democracy," or that Arabs and Iranians do not appreciate the value of individual liberties and protection from the arbitrary actions of their governments. To put it another way, the underlying argument appears to be that the "strongman" type of ruler fading into the history books elsewhere in the world is the best guarantor of stability, and U.S. interests, in the Middle East. Until it was politically convenient to do so, in the case of Iraq last February, the United States never played an active role at the U.N. Human Rights Commission at Geneva in promoting the investigation of the record of Middle Eastern governments.
When British and American investigators brought their long inquiry into responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, to a conclusion in October, 1991, indicting two Libyans, the relief in certain quarters was almost palpable. Once again, Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, the West's favorite whipping boy, could be the scapegoat for an outrage, the ultimate mastermind of which may well be elsewhere. Strong evidence also linking the bombing to the Iranian government and to the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command faction headed by Ahmed Jibril seemed to be brushed aside.
Most denunciations of Israeli practices have centered on the building of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, which the Administration made clear it regarded as "an obstacle to peace." The most notable development during the year in this key relationship was President Bush's decision to hold up for 120 days an Israeli request for $10 billion in loan guarantees to help resettle Soviet Jews. It remains to be seen whether that blocking action will be renewed in January, when the delay period expires, if there is little progress at the peace table and settlement activity continues.
In the view of Middle East Watch, much closer linkage should be created between the provision of financial assistance by the United States, other Western countries and multilateral lending institutions and respect for human rights by the recipient country. Israel, as the largest aid recipient worldwide, can be faulted on grounds of prolonged arbitrary detention and torture as a perpetrator of gross abuses of human rights; but so, too, can other regional U.S. allies such as Egypt and Turkey that also receive large sums every year. If the key requirements of the Foreign Assistance Act were honestly matched against the record of these three countries, all would be in danger of losing their allowance from the U.S. taxpayer.
The Work of Middle East Watch
Inevitably, Middle East Watch's work in 1991 was heavily skewed toward Iraq and occupied Kuwait, the Gulf war itself, and the aftermath of the war in Iraq and Kuwait, where major human rights violations took place. Allocation of resources to these crises meant that ongoing work elsewhere was either temporarily shelved or slowed down.
In cataloguing Iraq's human rights record during the year, Middle East Watch sent a total of seven missions abroad, much of the time interviewing refugees. In February, a researcher spent three weeks in Jordan interviewing foreign workers fleeing Iraq; in March, a mission to Kuwait divided its time between documenting Iraqi atrocities during the occupation and ongoing Kuwaiti abuses against suspected collaborators; in April a joint mission with the U.S. Committee for Refugees spent a similar period on the Iran/Iraq border, talking to those Kurds and Shi'a who had escaped the brutal repression that followed the failed uprising; in June, researchers went to Britain and Israel, to meet Iraqi exiles and to examine Scud attacks against the Jewish state; in September, a land-mines expert entered northern Iraq clandestinely to study the use of this weapon against civilians; and, finally, in December, a joint mission with Physicians for Human Rights traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan to look into numerous discoveries of mass graves of suspected victims of security forces.
While part of this extensive research work is still being prepared for publication, a report entitled Victory Turned Sour was published on Kuwaiti violations in the post-liberation period, and a major, four-hundred-page volume was issued on the air war in the Gulf. Under the title of Needless Deaths: Civilian Casualties in the Gulf War, the report provided an extensive analysis of the two sides' conformity with international law governing the aerial bombardment of Iraq and the Iraqi missile attacks on its neighbors. The report also examined discrepancies between the claimed scrupulousness of the allies in avoiding civilian casualties and the actual record on the ground. In conjunction with Physicians for Human Rights, research was also carried out into the nature and effect of U.N.-imposed trade sanctions against Iraq, particularly with respect to the availability of food and medicine for civilians.
Newsletters were issued on the bombing of the Ameriyya air raid shelter in Baghdad, in which two to three hundred civilians died; the treatment of prisoners-of-war and sick and wounded combatants by both sides; Britain's detention of dozens of Iraqis and Palestinians, either as prisoners-of-war or pending deportation; and Israel's misuse of an extended curfew over the occupied territories. An article was published in The New York Review of Books in May on Kuwait's last forty-eight hours under Iraqi occupation. Opinion pieces were also published in The New York Times on post-liberation abuses in Kuwait.
Two books arising out of the Gulf War intended for commercial publication were begun during 1991. The first will cover the gamut of human rights violations in Iraq and the region as a result of the war; the second will present an historical and social overview of the Kurdish people throughout the region, in the form of text and photographs. Much research time was devoted to both projects during the latter half of the year. The Kurds' book forms part of a series of initiatives by Middle East Watch to promote greater public awareness of the mistreatment of this people, the largest ethnic group in the region without its own homeland.
In the case of Morocco, short newsletters were issued on the expulsion of a prominent Moroccan writer from France and on the denial of permission to travel abroad to former prisoners of conscience. Regular contact was also maintained during the year with officials and local human rights organizations in Tunisia and Algeria.
A report on prison conditions in Israel and the occupied territories was published in February, following a mission the previous year. The report noted the exceptionally high incarceration rate of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as the sharp discrepancy between conditions in Israel Prison Service-run detention facilities and those run by the army. A series of newsletters also addressed different human rights aspects of the occupation, continuing the themes of excessive force and accountability that had been the hallmark of Middle East Watch's work on Israel over the previous two years.
Work on Egypt in 1991 consisted of a number of protests to the Mubarak government over specific rights violations, as well as a focus on the closure of the Arab Women's Solidarity Association. Two newsletters were issued on the subject, highlighting the inequities of the case. Efforts were made to coordinate pressure to reverse the decision through other channels, including Human Rights Watch's Women's Rights Project and an amicus brief presented to Egypt's State Council Court, which is hearing AWSA's challenge of the dissolution order.
In mid-summer, following indications that a long-standing impasse blocking a resolution of the Lebanon hostage crisis appeared to be breaking, Middle East Watch worked to assist that process, often in conjunction with the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Among other things, an opinion article was published on the issue in The New York Times, and a brief newsletter was released in December on the unfinished business remaining in Lebanon after the release of the Western hostages.
Denmark's threat to deport approximately 125 Palestinians who had sought refuge there from Lebanon, fearing arrest at the hands of either the Lebanese or Syrian security forces, also prompted interventions by Middle East Watch. Part of a regular theme during the year of addressing European governments guilty of rights violations against Arab residents, two lengthy protest letters were dispatched to the Danish government in support of the Palestinians' request for asylum.
The convening by the United States and Soviet Union in late October of a Middle East peace conference, with its opening sessions in Madrid, presented Middle East Watch with the challenge of putting rights issues onto the agenda. With barely a week's notice after the announcement that the conference would definitely be held, a report on the human rights record of six principal regional participants _ Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians _ was put together. The report was released at a press conference in Madrid, on the eve of the inauguration of the peace conference itself. For the next week, two Middle East Watch staffers engaged in an intensive effort to speak directly to the different delegations and to brief some of the five thousands journalists attending this event.